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
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.