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See the Heavy Haze That is Choking China

Oct 29, 2014 05:49 PM EDT

New images from NASA's Aqua satellite stunningly illustrate the air quality problems that an increasingly industrialized China faces. Interestingly, the latest of these images shows that agricultural practices, not just industry, heavily contribute to the smog and haze that is literally choking the county's citizens.

The image, captured by the NASA Aqua satellite on Oct. 29, shows China engulfed in a thick and smoky haze. The US Consulate in Beijing recorded an air quality index (AQI) of 226 for Thursday, placing it at "very unhealthy" for Chinese citizens. Things even worsened around 4 am (Beijing time), spiking to an index of 322 (hazardous for all).

When the AQI rises to such a high level in the country, citizen are advised to stay indoors, preferably in an air conditioned building. For a "very unhealthy" AQI, "significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly" have been noted to occur. Asthmatics, elderly, and children are also advised to stay inside during these times.

So what's the problem? According to NASA, the thick haze that Aqua spotted is not actually from China's infamous industry and coal power plants. Instead, the "slash and burn" method of Chinese agriculture has been noted to heavily degrade air quality during autumn and winter months.

This method is considered extremely effective, as it rids fields of leftover plants while returning nutrients to the soil in preparation for the next growing season. However, the consequence is quite visible.

NASA reports that "haze in this region tends to worsen in the fall and winter, when cold, heavy air traps pollutants near the surface," making it a poor time to employ such an agricultural practice.

This just goes to show that even as one of the world's top polluters, famously leading the charge for cleaner and greener industrial practices, China still has quite a lot of work to be done. The World Health Organization reported back in May how only about one in 10 urbanites across the world are breathing air that can meet the recommended safety levels, with China and the United States both showing some dangerous times of the year for their citizens.

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