Coordinator Name: Thomas Lyons
This paper examines the air pollution problem in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Heavy pollution in the city has become a concern because of the increasing cases of health problems. Many babies are being born with defects in vital organs, pregnant women are miscarrying and the level of respiratory disease cases has risen. Although burning of coal in homes, during winter, causes pollution other sources of pollution contribute as well. The high altitude and the mountains surrounding Ulaanbaatar worsen pollution in the city. In winter, the Siberian anticyclone causes the city to have temperature inversion and high pressure, which do not favor the blowing of wind and the dispersal of air pollutants. Due to the extremely low temperatures, particulate matter forms smog, which hangs over the city for all the winter months. To fight the cold, people have to warm their houses by burning coal and other sources of heat. This causes a lot of pollution. The increasing number of cars in the city also contributes to high levels of particulate matter and harmful gases in the air. There are many other pollutant sources that cause air pollution in the city as well.
Air pollution is an increasing problem in the modern world. Air pollution occurs when biological materials, chemicals, particulate matter and other harmful materials are introduced into the atmosphere. Normally, the resultant effect can be diseases and health complications, death to people and destruction of vegetation and other organisms (Gurjar, Molina & Ojha, 2010). Pollution also destroys the built and natural environment. The worst toxic problems facing the world today include urban air quality and indoor air pollution. Air pollution is particularly a huge problem in the major cities of the world. The 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) report shows that globally, in 2012, 7 million people lost their lives through air pollution. Air pollutants are categorized as; gases, liquid droplets or solid particles. Ulaanbaatar, the largest city in Mongolia is among the world cities affected most by air pollution (Warburtona, Gillilandb & Dashdendevc, 2013). Air pollution in this city has become such a big problem that the city is classified as the second most polluted in the world. The problem of smog is prevalent in winter because during this time, there is a lot of pollution caused by stoves used for heating to generate warmth in houses. This paper examines a poor air quality episode in Mongolia and the meteorological conditions that contribute to air pollution.
Background of Air pollution in Ulaanbaatar
On some bad days, the pollution in Mongolia can be so bad that people cough as they walk outside. Sometimes, motorists switch on their headlights as late as 10 a.m. because of poor visibility caused by low clearness levels (Fig. 2). World Bank data shows that from October to April of the following year (20xx?), people residing in Ulaanbaatar’s ger (nomadic tent) districts generate 50-60 percent of the pollution (Badarch, Zilinskas & Balint, 2003). These areas of residence on the peripheries of the city have approximately 150,000 households. Most of the people here live in traditional gers or yurts which are not connected to the city’s central heating system and therefore, burn coal and wood to generating heat. The coal stoves produce a lot of particulate matter which contribute a lot to pollution.
According to a study done in Ulaanbaatar, source production of PM 2.5 in a non-residential site was: coal burning 92%, motor cars 3%, soils 3% and burning of biomass 2%. In the non-residential site, the basic source producers of PM10-2.5 were: soil at 92%, motor cars and road dust at 5% and burning of coal at 3%.” The same study also found that “source production of PM2.5 in a residential site were: soil at 47%, coal burning at 35%, motor cars and road dust 13% and burning biomass 4%. In the residential site researchers found that the biggest source producers of PM10-2.5 were soil at 71%, coal burning at 10%, and motor cars and road dust at 19% (Gunchin, Sereeter, Dagva, Tsenddavaa, Davy, Markwitz & Trompetter, 2012).
Based on the World Bank report of December 2009, Ulaanbaatar has some of the worst particulate matter levels in the world rising 2-10 times higher than Mongolian and international air quality standards. For example, “in 2010 there were 62,000 tons of fine PM, 55,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 89,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions” (Kamata, Reichert, Tsevegmid, Kim & Sedgewick, 2010.). Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution results from improved stores, gers, household heating systems, coal and briquettes, power plants, industrial boilers, garbage burning, transport and brick kiln operations.
Air pollution episode
There are many cases of respiratory diseases and birth defects that are directly caused by the polluted air of the city. Air pollution causes many problems including health complications and diseases (Batmunkha, Kima, Jungac, Parka & Tumendemberelb, 2013). In Ulaanbaatar’s maternity hospitals, there are frequent cases of birth defects and children born with health problems. Children are continually being born with underdeveloped vital organs, cleft palates and weak bones. Doctors have complained about the increase of congenital birth defects that have grown to up to 30 percent in the last 10 years and this is because of the high rates of pollution in the city. According to a government study, 56 percent of children born with heart problems die in their 1st year (Guttikunda, Lodoysamba, Bulgansaikhan, Dashdondog, 2013). A specific case was the birth of a boy in Ulaanbaatar’s Maternity Hospital who after being born had to be put on oxygen tubes because his heart was not strong enough to function properly.
Many hospitals have to shoulder a very heavy burden in winter because at this time, the levels of pollution are at the peak. The number of patients may double in some hospitals due to increased cases of disease. Most of the patients complain of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial pneumonia and bronchial asthma. Ulaanbaatar is rated as being among the most polluted cities in the world with its harmful dust being 6-7 times higher than the lowest WHO standards. “PM10 and PM2.5 monthly concentrations in Ulaanbaatar are higher than 0.1 mg m−3 in the winter” (Gurjar et al., 2010).
People living in the gers breathe the thick poisonous smog in Ulaanbaatar. Their lungs filter the air and store the “particulate matter” and this is the cause of the many disease cases in the city. Particulate matter of less than 2.5 microns results in severe respiratory diseases. Children in Ulaanbaatar today suffer from many strange diseases that are caused by air pollution. “The annual health impacts based on the modeled average PM10 concentrations are estimated at ~7,000 premature deaths and ~US$ 290 million in incurred costs for the city in 2006” (Guttikunda et al., 2013).
Nurses working at the leading maternity hospital in Ulaanbaatar blame air pollution for the tremendous rise in the babies being born with brain damage and other birth defects. Nurses explain that since 2000, there has been a significant increase in congenital and birth defects. During the Soviet times newborns having cleft palates, birth defects and cleft lips were not common. Birth defects such as preterm births are now very common. Research has shown that preterm birth can tremendously increase in places where mothers are exposed to carbon monoxide from the burning of coal (Awaji, 2006; IMF, 2003). “Today almost all newborn infants are being born with brain damage due to oxygen deficiency to the brain and heart problems to a certain extent” (Warburtona et al., 2013). With such infants, the nurses have to take the required measures to give them the oxygen they need to reduce the effects of potential damage to the brain. Some women in Ulaanbaatar hospitals give birth to underweight children due to the effects of air pollution. Pregnant women living in Ger district suffer most of the effects. They are also known to suffer from large numbers of miscarriages. Doctors also testify that the number of still birth cases in the city has greatly increased (Colls and Tiwary, 2009).
Meteorological conditions causing poor air quality
Ulaanbaatar city is found along the Tuul River valley with 4 four mountains surrounding it. (mountain chain? Height?) It? sits (The city is situated/located)at an altitude of approximately 1300 meters above sea level. Its The average yearly temperature is -1.3°C (29.7°F). Because of its high altitude, high latitude (figure 12) and the fact that the nearest coast is hundreds of kilometers away, it has a cold semi-arid climate (Oxford Business Group, 2012).
This climate is also due to the effects of the Siberian High. The summers are normally short but the winter season is long, very cold and dry. The coldest temperatures in the month of January are normally between −36 °C (−33 °F) and −40 °C (−40 °F). The average annual temperature for Ulan Bator is −2.4 °C (27.7 °F). The city has extreme temperatures ranging from −49 °C (−56 °F) to 38.6 °C (101.5 °F). The table below shows these temperature variations (Holgate, Koren and Samet, 1999).
During the winter season, there are inverse cyclone flows coming from central Asia to Mongolia. Consequently, there is a dramatic reduction in the rate of circulation of air. This causes temperature inversion in the atmosphere above Ulaanbaatar, which in turn, reduces the rate of dispersion of air pollutants (Nishikawaa, Matsuia, Batdorjb, Jugderb, Moria, Shimizua, Sugimotoa and Takahashia, 2011).
These? pollutants which normally include a lot of particulate matter combine with water vapour in the air to form smog (reference). The air masses flowing from central Asia towards Mongolia cool faster than their surroundings and this results in the contraction of air which then becomes more dense. Because of the high density of air over Ulaanbaatar, there is created high pressure on the surface. The air masses flowing from Central Asia lose infrared radiation over the land in winter because at this time there is very little sunlight, from which they can obtain heat (Benton-Short and Rennie-Short, 2013).
The anticyclone is responsible for the very low temperatures in Ulaanbaatar. Since the anticyclone has lost all heat, it is denser and heavier and therefore sinks as the warmer air rises above it. This is the cause of the temperature inversion phenomenon. The resultant effect is that in Ulaanbaatar, near the surface there are extremely low temperatures but high above, the temperatures are warmer (Guttikunda et al., 2013). Ulaanbaatar is affected by the Siberian anticyclone. The Siberian anticyclone is an enormous collection of extremely cold dry air that collects on the Eurasian terrain especially on its northeastern part roughly between September and April (Reference). This anticyclone is strongest during winter when the temperature at the center of the air mass is less than −40 °C (reference). The Siberian High causes severe dry and cold winter conditions in Mongolia (Benton-Short and Rennie-Short, 2013). In summer the anticyclone fades and its place is taken by the Asiatic low. Since Ulaanbaatar is a mountainous and high altitude area, the temperature inversion phenomenon causes cold air to underlie warm air. Rising cool air currents become less buoyant and are prevented from rising any further when they encounter the warmer light air in the higher layers of the temperature inversion. As shown in the figure below, temperatures are generally low, and they can drop to very extreme levels of less than - 30 degrees celcius (Jugdera, Sugimotoc, Shinodab, Kimurab, Matsuic and Nishikawac, 2012).
Figure 4: Changing levels of particulate matter between 2007 and 2011.Source: Batmuntkha et al., (2013).
In conclusion this paper has discussed the air pollution state in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Due to air pollution, there is smog for the 7 winter months, which results in many respiratory diseases and birth defects in newborns. In winter people cough when they breathe in the polluted air. Doctors in hospitals complain of rising cases of newborn babies with health complications. Ulaanbaatar is a high altitude area and is surrounded by mountains. It registers very low temperatures in winter which force people to use stoves for generating warmth in their houses (are the houses aerated?). These stoves together with other sources produce the particulate matter that forms smog in winter. Air pollution is exacerbated by the fact that Ulaanbaatar suffers from the meteorological effects of the Siberian anticyclone. The anticyclone causes temperature inversion which creates high pressure and high density zones that hinder the dispersal of pollutants because there are no winds. Winds can only blow when the air is warm enough and the pressure and density are low.
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