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Map Monday: 50+ Shades of Air Pollution

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In today’s installment of Map Monday, I wanted to focus on air pollution as mapped by Hsu et al and The Atlantic. Go to this link to see the full interactive map, which details air pollution by country and city. Below, I have copied in a global snapshot with some perhaps unsurprising shades of pollution severity, including China and India in dark hues.

One-fourth of the world is breathing unsafe air. Courtesy of Hsu et al/The Atlantic

Over the past year, you have probably seen numerous news stories detailing Beijing’s and other Chinese cities’ attempts to grapple with air pollution, as well as those pointing out that New Delhi actually has worse air pollution than Beijing. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 13 of the 20 dirtiest cities in the world are in India. In both countries, some blame has been put on food vendors cooking in open-air and others have pointed to emissions from industrial pollution, but certainly the power and road transport sectors are significantly contributing towards air pollution; but what are those shares exactly?

The short answer is: it’s hard to measure without proper monitoring. This is a global problem with wide-ranging local effects. However, there has been some good progress in analyzing these issues recently. Here are some of the headline findings:

These items together paint a grim picture, but they also highlight the substantial work now going into data collection and analysis: important steps towards combating air pollution.

However, I’d be interested in hearing what you find surprising from the map above? Check out the time series function, and toggle between cities and countries and you might come up with some unanticipated results. For example, have a look at Norway versus Oslo in 2012, and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

Tali Trigg About the Author: Energy and transport analyst who believes how you say it is as important as what you say. Opinions are his own. Follow on Twitter @talitrigg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Anchovy_Rancher 4:41 pm 06/17/2014

    Where are Alaska and Hawai’i? I thought there are 50 states in the U.S.. Was the data from those two states included? Or are they just: “imaginary states?” I’ve lived both places but, I thought I’d make sure it wasn’t all some weird dream…

    Link to this
  2. 2. Roadkilt 7:34 pm 06/17/2014

    that map doesn’t really illustrate concentration well. Canada and US look relatively pristine and certainly not worthy of protests over coal power plant emissions or oil sand development.

    Link to this

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