7 August 2006

Sticking one's head in the sand smog?

I started a reply to John Chilton's post on the UAE Community Blogsite, but by the time I had finished, my response was longer than John's post, so I decided to put it here!

I had to shake my head in disbelief when I read this the other day which starts by stating: Experts from various universities, including a professor from the American University of Sharjah, have launched an international research paper, saying the dangerous levels of ozone in the UAE come from Western Europe.

The report goes on: The purpose of the research was to explore the inherent characteristics of the photochemical and dynamic structures of the lower atmosphere (up to 15km above the earth's surface) of UAE urban areas, according to Dr. Majeed, assistant professor (at American University of Sharjah) of physics.

Before they went into the costly exercises of launching ballooons (carrying expensive testing and monitoring equipment) towards the stratosphere, I would have suggested that they take a helicopter ride and sample the air a bit closer to the ground - in the troposphere. I know how this is done. I've been in a helicopter in New Zealand gathering samples of air and water with a friend who worked for the Auckland Regional Authority's monitoring department.

Take a look at this diagram which I found on the Environmental Protection Agency's website.

It shows that most smog happens closer to the earth's surface, with the higher ozone layer being mostly affected by CFCs and halons caused by things like air conditioners - and I doubt that we will see the day when this region will turn those off!

The UAE smog isn't happening 15km above the ground - it's sometimes no more than 15 storeys up. On some days I can't go out onto our balcony without my eyes stinging and my sinuses getting blocked up.

Click onto this image taken from our 21st storey office in December 2005. The top of the smog, that layer of brown crud above the natural horizon, is parallel with our office. Look how it bisects the Burj Al Arab!

It's not caused by the European smog - the air above is clear. This is a local cause, and it's mostly from all the construction traffic which spits out copious amounts of muck 24/7.

When the construction traffic wasn't around for 3 days during the mourning period for Sheikh Maktoum, (and also for Sheikh Zayed), the air was beautifully clear, like this:

Conjuring up international research papers and concentrating on Balloon-Borne Electochemial concentration cell (ECC) Soundings will be subversive to identifying the real issues. As John Chilton points out, smog from Europe would not make its way down here to just hang around urban areas, as the Gulf News article would suggest!

The authorities should be clamping down on the actual majority cause - the vehicles which emit fumes that are way above the safe levels for roadworthy vehicles.

It's the same in the sea too. There's this little gem about the yachts at the Dubai Marina with 2-stroke engines causing fouling in the water. We're talking about 50+ mostly small sailboats whose engines are rarely used for more than getting them on and off their moorings/berths. The true sailors who own these smaller vessels like to do just that - sail!

Talk about detract from the real issues!

We have greater problems caused by people with their own agendas spurting on about how the turtles aren't affected by the Palm construction, because they only come ashore on remote islands, however they are planning to build an island for the natural habitat where turtles will return to the area. So can we deduce from this statement that there were turtles here before and now there aren't any, because of the disturbance to their environment?

Longtime members of the Emirates Diving Association will tell you of protected green turtles coming ashore between Dubai and Jebel Ali to lay eggs. It's not happening now. Once while walking around the breakwater at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, I saw a green turtle as it was eating algae from the rocks about 15' down. But that was over 2 years ago when the water was still clear enough for me to see 30' away. A turtle could now be 2' away from me and I wouldn't be able to see through the muck in the water and by now, any self-respecting turtle should have high-tailed it out of the area and gone to Oman.

A ship discharging its ballast water into the gulf can cause far more damage to the environment than 50+ 2 stroke engines ever will. If the ballast is taken onto the ship in foreign waters, it may contain marine organisms that are not present in the gulf waters and which could potentially do a lot of damage in this area if they are predatory or toxic to the native flora and fauna.

The beach area in front of the Royal Mirage Hotel used to be beautiful - little waves crashing onto the beach and sparkling water. Since the Palm development, the area looks more like a stagnant pond - there is very little flow of water now.

The smog in the UAE is now comparable to what I've seen in more developed cities such as Los Angeles. It will only get worse here if nothing is done.

I was in LA during and after 9/11 - unable to return to New Zealand due to the airports closing down. The prevailing Marine Layer, (which hovers over LA, traps the smog and blocks out a lot of the sun's heat), disappeared within a day of LAX airport being closed. Astronomers in the US reported the best viewing conditions of the celestial heavens in the 3 days after 9/11 - there were no planes in the air spewing out their toxic waste.

The new Jebel Ali Airport will swing into life in the next few years. It's going to move more people and freight than DXB, and will eventually be the combined size of London's Heathrow and Chicago's O'Hare Airports. That's HUGE! It will also mean even more pollutants added to the air over the UAE.

It's about time that the authorities stopped playing games and addressed the real issues.

The water quality and marine environment is being affected by the artificial islands.

The air quality is being affected by local conditions and not Europe.

We need comprehensive studies on the cause and effect process which will be undertaken by independent agencies that do not have existing business affiliations with the UAE - although the monitoring should have started about 6 years ago if we're to get a true representation of the changes. Only then can the real issues be identified and, she writes hopefully, addressed.


Shaykhspeara Sha'ira said...

NZM going enviromental!

The pictures speak for themselves. You should inform the UAE. lol

Honestly it is very typical to place blame on other people for one's own mess.

John B. Chilton said...

Correction: There is the University of Sharjah, and there is the American University of Sharjah. There is no Sharjah University. Dr. Majeed is at the American University of Sharjah.

Sandie said...

Did you know that if you take out the smog we would also be in trouble! yes! Global warming, sun heat! I saw a BBC documentary saying that they studied the temperatures during these few days of 9/11 when there was no flights, so less smog and pollution which is great but on the other hand the temperatures were soaring! it was quite a big difference in temperatures. Do you think we are either way doomed?

Sandie said...

I like the way you changed your template. I want to do the same but is it not risky? how did u do it? and would u still have your info saved?

The Lady said...

m&s: does that mean that if Dubai wasn't covered with so much smog and dust, we would burn to death in searing heat?! The temperature officially hit 49.5 last on August 5th!

nzm: Enlightening to see someone talk with rationality and just pure common sense, instead of out of their a**. With that said, this city has never been one to carefully weigh the various aspects of any project. The attitude is always "do now, think later" - exhibited through the once sinking Palm, wider bridge extensions, and shoddy property development...amongst others ofcourse.

Jin said...

I personally think someone somewhere should have a deadline, a STOP date on the development of the UAE, because at the moment it seems that no one will be happy until they've ruined everything that was once natural about this place. It's incredibly sad to see & hear of things like the turtles & the attitude of 'oh well, we'll turf them off their own island & build them another one'.

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Nzm; great to read a senisble intelligent and thought provoking article on the problem. Well done.


nzm said...

SS: the Germans have a saying which roughly translates to: it's easier to sweep in front of someone else's house than it is to clean your own. :-)

And I'm a long way off from being an environmental crusader - I just can't see myself camping in trees and chaining myself to bulldozers! What is happening does concern me, especially when a lot of it is preventable.

John: I accept advice from one who knows! Duly noted and amended - thanks.

Sandie: I believe that the earth would find a balance again with no smog - after all with no smog, it did once have an ice age, although theories do suggest that this was caused from volcanic dust blocking the sun. So we run the risk of too much smog causing it to cool too much also! And I'd much rather not be breathing all that crap too!

I've emailed you on how to change the blog template.

The Lady: you're right - there is a lot happening here without much longterm thought on the impact that it has. For instance, if they continue with the greenification projects, how is going to impact on the eco-climate of the region? And already there are serious water supply issues arising.

Jin: there was talk that Sheikh Mohammed was to issue a ruling that no further plans for buildings were to be approved until all present construction that had already been approved was completed. This was about a year ago that I heard this, but I don't know if it was ever made official, or whether it was just another rumour.

I wonder how they're going to market the new island to the turtles? Maybe they'll go out in their submarines, round them up and drive them onto the island? lol

HMHB - thank you. I have occasional moments of sanity! Welome back - looking forward to your fois gras recipe which starts with: first kill your goose!

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Nzm, actually by the end of the week I would have happily killed as many geese as I could find. The noise they make is unbelievable, all night and all bloody day too!


Mise said...

M&J...I believe that environmental protection starts at home...with small things like recycling, buying cars with smaller engines, using fewer pesticides etc...etc..now I'm no card carrying member of the Green Party or Greenpeace, and wouldn't fancy chaining myself to the Golden Gate Bridge either, but individuals can have an impact if there are enough of them to put pressure on local political representatives ...of course I'm talking about in countries where there are political parties and where people have a right to protest about civic issues...unfortunately, and I know it sounds cynical, but it seems that in the case of Dubai, the best way to get better air quality is to find it somewhere else...

halfmanhalfbeer said...

Nzm, a quick note of sincere thanks for helping me out with my blog! You really are a star.


Seabee said...

M, you must notice the same when you sweep your balcony as I do when I sweep around our place...it's not sand, it's cement dust. The air is full of cement dust all the time - noticeably a little better on Fridays when construction work is much less, and as your photos show it was almost clear during the mourning periods.

Kishor Cariappa said...

This makes an interesting reading. Thanks for sharing.

You have been tagged. Please check my blog for details.

Paresh said...

NZM - Nice solid pictures to drive your points home. Now - when can I get siad copies of clear air Dubai Gleaming pics?! :)

nzm said...

mise: you're right - it does begin at home, and I was reminded of that when back in NZ in June. Suddenly I was recycling cans, bottles, papers, plastics because there is a system for this to happen.

HMHB: you're welcome!

seebee: Don't I know it! I spent an hour on Saturday cleaning the balcony and it's already getting dirty with cement dust again. It smells too. Our end of the marina has got better because a lot of the buildings are being completed. But it will worsen again now that the 2 twisted towers are due to rise.

kishor:: thanks! I'll try to get around to the tag soon.

paresh: I still owe you the NY images too! I'll get a disc together and see what I can do!

halfmanhalfbeer said...

M&J, congrats on appearing in yesterdays' Gulf News! You are now officially famous. Can I have your autograph?


Kishor Cariappa said...

Congrats on being featured in Gulf News. BTW, I am going to blogroll you. Hope it is ok with you.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

You have a home in New Zealand, so why are you living in the desert country!!! I like New Zealand - though I've only seen Auckland and Hamilton. So many Fiji people around!
Well, now I know where Dubai is - there was a program on our TV about it and what a strange place. There was this reference to the Palms! Now who would want to alive like that? I hope you're not one of the architects.
I noticed in the program that women can wear full cover, head-cover, or modest clothes, there's a kind of freedom it seems.
The pollution sounds very bad and I love turtles too.
Melbourne gets smog occasionally and Geelong very little though when we drive up the country then we notice the cleaner air.

Grumpy Goat said...

I'm sure that someone who's just bought a 36 foot speedboat with a pair of Yamaha VX250 two-stroke outboards is going to be delighted. After all, the equivalent pair of four-stroke outboards might use less fuel and make less noise and smoke, but they weigh and cost roughly twice as much.

Take a look around any marina just about anywhere in the world, and you'll find most outboards have two-stroke engines.

This decision by Dubai Marina to ban two-strokes with immediate effect looks to me like nothing more than an attempt to drum up trade down the four-stroke outboard souq.

And I wonder if the two-stroke ban extends to jetskis? Their motors aren't outboards, and at least some jetski engines are two-strokes.

Oh, and would Gulf News care to appoint someone who knows at least something about internal combustion engines when writing on the subject? Emmanuelle Landais doesn't seem to understand it: "Two-cylinder" engines indeed!

Unless I've totally misunderstood, and my brace of two-stroke V6 outboards on the back of my Tupperware rocket-ship is OK after all.

nzm said...

HMHB: thanks for the congrats - our blog visitor traffic has considerably increased due to Gulf News, as well as John Chilton at The Emirates Economist linking to here.

kishor: thanks for the link - I'll reciprocate when I update our template.

Wendy:Despite all its foibles, and what place doesn't have them, Dubai is a great place to be - we do love it here. It is most probably one of the most westernised Arab countries, although the standard of dress has slipped considerably and I'm often embarrassed by the lack of courtesy and respect shown by scantily dressed people walking through malls and other public places. We can see The Palm from our apartment, and if you want to live like a sardine, then this is the place to go! No thanks - not for me.

Grumpy: - I honestly think that this banning of 2-strokes is a move to try and drive some of the smaller less showy boats out of the marina area. You're right - jetskis are more of the culprits, but then they don't moor in the marina! Obviously the person who wrote the article has no idea what he's writing about. You have a tupperware rocket ship with V6 engines? I'm so jealous!

Grumpy Goat said...

I would like a Tupperware rocket ship. Any serious boat that I'm ever going to own is more likely to have a pair of inboard diesels.

As dreams are free, I'm entitled to have big expensive ones...

Robin said...


dun beleive everything your read from word-of-mouse,

Unless u are a cat.. Meow..

A world of Symphony said...

With this construction craze, I doubt things would get any better. For now escape to Hatta & Al-Ain are our best bets to breath easy for a while.

nzm said...

Robin: - welcome! I love your blog and your photos and dogs are just gorgeous. Bodhi reminds me a lot of a Tibetan terrier called Basil who I used to look after in NZ. He was my soul-dog!

Louis: have a great time this weekend. With Sunshine arriving home, it's a good reason to go away and celebrate!

Last night when I was driving home on Al Sufouh Road, the whole area was covered in a low-lying black/brown fug of exhaust fumes from the buses and trucks. It's especially bad around the entrance to the Dubai Marina. I imagine that out on the Emirates Road it would be worse. I thought to myself, "Gosh, those pesky European countries, look at all that muck they've sent to us." :-)

John B. Chilton said...

nzm - I missed the Gulf News article r.e. your blog. Can you post the link? Thanks.

nzm said...

John: it's here as part of the weekly blog round-up, and they picked the Jebel Hafeet article as the one to promote.

Pandabonium said...

Interesting post. Thanks.

Tainted Female said...

I remember something a few years back, where Iran was forced to take 'off days' or something like there, where people weren't allowed to drive because pollution levels were so high people were dying on the spot. I wondered then, when it would be like that here.

Recently, the concerns over the devastating effects on marine life from the construction of the Islands, and proof with all the dead fish washing up in Sharjah, have caused no changes at all.

I can't help but think this country is killing itself with all the warnings.

This and your most recent are highly interesting and they've been my pleasure to read.

nzm said...

tainted: Thanks for your comments. That's scary about Iran, and I remember reading about other cities where this has occured - although their names escape me. In conditions like this, at most risk are the young and the aged, and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema.

There's untold damage being done by the island building which is just simply being dismissed. The ships dredging for sand are causing most of it as they are sucking sand off the bottom of the gulf to deposit into piles to make the islands. The dive centre that we dive with has some horror stories to tell of the devastation out there. Whole feeding grounds for fish have been stripped out.

I would hope that they have a good sewer system out on the islands to catch waste water - especially when it rains, otherwise there's going to be all sorts of crap being discharged into the water.

It's good to see your blog back up. Insh'allah that things will be alright for you as you work through your issues.

Tainted Female said...

Thank you much.

I don't know much about the devastation of the construction on marine life, but common sense says the coral reefs are being damaged beyond repair, and that's a scary, scary thought to me; since destruction of these can and will lead to other dangers.

Sharks making their way into swimming water, much, much easier because of the destruction is one of the fears that first hits me...