Wednesday, October 20, 2010

When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Lungs)

The Gray Haze--  Our view of downtown Singapore (Chinatown) from our kitchen window.  Air quality has degraded recently with smoke coming from fires in Indonesia.
In recent days the air quality in Singapore has taken a turn for the worse.  It brings on a little home sickness, as it is a reminder of Boise in times when there are forest or grass fires burning in the region.  Not a particularly good reminder, however.  As Boise is located adjacent to mountains, the smoke is drawn down into the valley in the evenings with the cooler air.  It is also reminiscent of the skies of Shanghai, which always had a gray haze in the days while we were visiting.
In Singapore the smoke is coming from the Riau province of Sumatra, Indonesia with the prevailing south westerly winds, where according to the news report, there are currently "80 hot spots".  (Hmm... no kidding.  I guess where there is smoke there IS fire.)  The Pollution Standard Index (PSI) reached 72 today, which places it squarely in the "moderate" category (range 51 to 100).  Seems worse than "moderate" to me.

Singapore NEA (National Health Agency) web site shows PM10 (PM10?  Is that "smoke"?) as the major pollutant.  The PSI reached 72 on 20 October.
There is no indication in the news report of WHY there are 80 hot spots burning-- whether these are naturally caused fires, or human caused.  However, according to my brief research the Riau region has experienced considerable population growth in recent years, and significant deforestation.  Fires are frequently set to clear land for palm tree plantations.  Palm oil is a major cash crop for southeast Asia.

FIRMS (satellite web site for fires run by NASA) mapping of fires burning in Sumatra, Indonesia on 20 October, 2010.  These are apparently the "hot spots" causing air quality issues for Singapore.
I suspect anything greater than a PSI of "moderate" will require chewing air rather than breathing it.

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