December 22, 2010

City Lights Exacerbate Air Pollution

We all know that city lights cause light pollution, but a new study has discovered they actually "boost" air pollution. According to the BBC:

Nature uses a special form of nitrogen oxide, called the nitrate radical, to break down chemicals that would otherwise go on to form the smog and ozone that can make city air such an irritant on the chest.

This cleansing normally occurs in the hours of darkness because the radical is destroyed by sunlight; it only shows up at night.

But new measurements taken from aircraft over Los Angeles indicate the energy from all the night-time light thrown out by this huge urban centre is also suppressing the radical. The lights may be 10,000 times dimmer than the Sun, but the effect is still significant.

"Our first results indicate that city lights can slow down the night-time cleansing by up to 7% and they can also increase the starting chemicals for ozone pollution the next day by up to 5%," said Harald Stark from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

Perhaps cities should pass ordinances to limit the amount of lighting left on all night long in areas where safety is not a concern. Perhaps motion sensor lighting could mitigate the effects.

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Posted by Jennifer Lance at December 22, 2010 1:31 AM

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