China v. Utah: Whose air is worse?

  • Salt Lake City or Beijing?

    Mark Ralston, AFP, Getty Images
  • Salt Lake City or Beijing?

    Ed Kosmicki
  • Quiz answers:

    Mark Ralston, AFP, Getty Images; Ed Kosmicki
  • High above the smog that blankets Utah's Wasatch Front.

    Ed Kosmicki
 

Quiz: Utah's Wasatch Front or Beijing?

1. Which area had the worst air quality in its respective nation during January 2013?

2. Which place prepared for hosting the Olympic games by expanding the public transit network?

3. Which region has real-time air quality data, frequently updated on Twitter?

For answers, see the bottom of this page.

Beijing? Or Utah's Wasatch Front? This winter it's been hard to tell the difference, since the air in both places has been so thick with pollution that you can't tell if you're looking at the Mormon Tabernacle or the Great Hall of the People. On Jan. 23, Provo, Utah's air-quality index hit 190, meaning there were about 130 micrograms of tiny particulates in every cubic meter of air, nearly four times the national ambient air quality standard. (Beijing is much worse, with an AQI sometimes exceeding 500.)

The phenomenon in Utah is caused, first, by particulates spewed into the air by cars, airplanes, wood-burning stoves and a host of industrial sources, including Kennecott mining and smelting operations and a couple of refineries. Then it's trapped by a temperature inversion.

Typically, temperature drops as altitude increases and warm air rises, taking pollution with it. However, during winter days with high barometric pressure, the pattern can be inverted, so that the temperature near the ground is colder than it is up high, creating a "cold air pool" in the Salt Lake Valley and neighboring Utah Valley. At the peak of this year's "mother of all inversions," as University of Utah Atmospheric Sciences Professor Jim Steenburgh called it on his "Wasatch Weather Weenies" blog, the temperature at 7,000 feet of elevation was 40 degrees warmer than it was on the valley floor, 3,000 feet below. That trapped all that nasty smog in the valleys for several days, slashing visibility and making breathing a dangerous pursuit.

Quiz Answers: 1. Both; 2. Both; 3. Beijing (the Wasatch Front has limited air-quality monitors, and a Twitter feed is updated just once per day).

High Country News Classifieds
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • CARBON RANCH PLANNER
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • EDUCATION AND OUTREACH DIRECTOR
    Education and Outreach Program Director The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic,...
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.