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Rudi Kiefer's Earth Sense: Climatic change brings plenty of smog
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The term “global warming” is slowly fading as it becomes clearer that “climatic change” is more accurate.

We won’t see warmer conditions throughout. Instead, more weather variability will be the rule. Extremes have been seen before, but will happen more often.

A recent discussion with Brenau’s graduate students of physical therapy uncovered some topics that aren’t in the news often, but have a definite impact on health and wellbeing.

One of those is the occurrence of temperature inversions. Weather conditions that bounce around more are likely to bring extra cold fronts to Georgia, especially during the El Niño conditions that have been predicted for this winter.

After a cold front passes through the area, we tend to get clear, cold nights. The ground loses heat rapidly, causing the dry air above it to settle down heavily. Because temperatures are coldest at ground level, with warmer air remaining at higher altitude, the atmosphere becomes stagnant near the surface.

Smoke, exhaust and pollutants don’t disperse as readily as they would on a warmer day. As we can expect a greater number of these so-called temperature inversions, following the increase in frontal systems, it is also likely that there will be more smog days.

Smog, the combination of “smoke” and “fog,” is at its worst when moisture meets cold air and the inversion is strongest. That’s usually the case early in the morning, just before sunrise. Due to the work schedules that most of us have, it also coincides with peak traffic times on the highways.  

Smog causes bronchial irritation, breathing problems and possible lung damage, particularly in people who suffer from asthma or other breathing disorders.

Currently, the country with the most severe smog problems is China. Internet news pictures that show workers doing their morning exercises in a park while wearing breath masks are a warning as to how far air quality is deteriorating in some places.

In the U.S., conditions haven’t gotten quite this threatening yet. But we’re no stranger to smog. The worst episode occurred in 1948, when thousands of residents in Donora, Pa., became seriously ill as a “killer smog” spread its veil over the town for several days. Twenty died.

If the current prognosis holds true, predicting “more of everything” for the climatic changes in progress, then more inversions and smog episodes are in the cards for heavily industrialized northern Georgia.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at