Byproduct of Middle Eastern Conflicts: Cleaner Air

WORLD

Civil unrest and humanitarian crises can now be detected from space—because of, somewhat surprisingly, cleaner air. (New York Times)

Customize our map of the Middle East to identify where (reduced) air pollution has corresponded to conflict. This is a great way to get your students thinking holistically about current events, geography, and the environment.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

These maps show changes in the density of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the atmosphere over the Middle East. Consult the entire, fascinating, and easy-to-read report here. The top image displays changes between 2005 and 2010. It is dominated by yellows, oranges, and reds, indicating increases in NO2. The bottom image displays changes between 2010 and 2014. The blue colors indicate a drop in the density of NO2. Map by Jos Lelieveld, Steffen Beirle, Christoph Hörmann, Georgiy Stenchikov and Thomas Wagner

These maps show changes in the density of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the atmosphere over the Middle East. Consult the entire, fascinating, and easy-to-read report here.
A) The top image displays changes between 2005 and 2010. It is dominated by yellows, oranges, and reds, indicating increases in NO2.
B) The bottom image displays changes between 2010 and 2014. The blue colors indicate a drop in the density of NO2.
Map by Jos Lelieveld, Steffen Beirle, Christoph Hörmann, Georgiy Stenchikov and Thomas Wagner

Discussion Ideas

  • Why is nitrogen dioxide, an environmental indicator, also used as an economic indicator?
    • Nitrogen dioxide is a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels may indicate:
      • greater trade and economic exchange. Fossil fuels provide fuel for cargo planes, trains, and ships.
      • greater access to transportation. Most personal and public transportation (cars, buses, etc.) are at least partly reliant on fossil fuels. As a city, region, or nation’s economy develops, it often corresponds to greater demand for transportation infrastructure.
      • greater access to electricity. The electric grid of most cities, regions, and nations is driven largely, though not exclusively, by fossil fuels. As economic opportunity spreads to a wide population, more individuals, families, and communities demand access to electricity for light, electronic devices, clean and abundant water, and infrastructure from heated swimming pools to medical equipment.
      • greater domestic productivity. Factories and other centers of industry (such as stock market trading floors) rely on fossil fuels to provide infrastructure for growth.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions were growing in the Middle East between 2005 and 2010?
    • It was a rapidly developing part of the world. Oil production and export, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, led to increased shipping in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have decreased in Syria?
    • A civil war has expanded into a major regional conflict that has especially devastated cities such as Damascus and Aleppo. Cities, home to millions of people and thousands of industries, are leading sites of NO2 emissions. (Agricultural areas, for instance, produce far fewer emissions of this type.)

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have increased in Lebanon?
    • Syrian refugees have sought asylum in the neighboring country. This massive and rapid increase in population has led to greater industrial activity in cities such as Beirut and Tripoli.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have dropped in Iran?
    • More than a dozen countries have joined the United States in imposing economic sanctions against Iran, largely to influence the development of its nuclear program. Sanctions imposed against the arms, banking, shipping, and energy industries have reduced Iran’s economic growth.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have dropped in Iraq?
    • Over the past five years, Islamic State, or ISIS, has taken control of cities such as Tikrit and Samarra. This brutal conflict reduced the industrial economies of these regions.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have dropped in Kuwait?
    • Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have all implemented new air-quality standards to reduce emissions from the petrochemical industry.

 

  • Why do you think NO2 emissions have dropped in Israel and the Palestinian Territories?
    • new Clean Air Law
    • conflict and decreasing industrial development in the Palestinian Territories
    • economic restrictions in the West Bank

 

  • Is cleaner air a minor positive outcome of tragic situations?
    • NO. No, no, no.
    • Two experts quoted in the New York Times are very clear.
      • “‘War is always an ecological catastrophe . . . Even if some air pollutants are reduced as economic activities decline . . . dangerous chemicals in the land and water ‘are likely on the rise due to the use of modern weapons of war.’”
      • “This is not the ‘silver lining of war.’ It’s just an indicator of what’s going on.”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

New York Times: Study Finds Surprising Byproduct of Middle Eastern Conflicts: Cleaner Air

Nat Geo: Middle East outline map

(extra credit!) Science Advances: Abrupt recent trend changes in atmospheric nitrogen dioxide over the Middle East

NASA: Aura (Scientists analyzed data from this satellite, which studies ozone, aerosols, and other key gases in our atmosphere.)

One response to “Byproduct of Middle Eastern Conflicts: Cleaner Air

  1. What’s up, just wanted to tell you, I loved
    this blog post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

    Like

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