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A series of maps indicates a sulfur dioxide trend reversal over the Arabian Gulf between 2005-2014. (Credit: Lelieveld et al. Sci. Adv. 2015;1:e1500498)

A series of maps indicates a sulfur dioxide trend reversal over the Arabian Gulf between 2005-2014. (Credit: Lelieveld et al. Sci. Adv. 2015;1:e1500498)

If there’s any silver lining to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, it may come in the form of fewer smog clouds. Political upheaval, economic recession and armed conflict over the last five years drove down air-pollution levels, especially smog, across the Middle East, according to an open-access report published recently in Science Advances.

“If you look at the Middle East, you get such an entirely different picture from anywhere else on the globe,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric physicist and the report’s lead author.

To monitor long-term trends of air contaminants, Lelieveld and colleagues turned to the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA’s Aura satellite, which flies in low orbit around the planet 14 times a day, measuring air quality.

When researchers looked at satellite data collected from 2005-2014, they noticed a decline in both NOx and SOx pollution over the Middle East. Moreover, the decrease in pollutants began in 2010. Prior to that year, pollution in the Middle East rivaled that of Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s, when smog levels boomed in the California metropolis. When the team compared satellite measurements with economic and energy-use data from the World Bank and U.S. Energy Information Administration, they concluded that the sudden drop in emissions was mostly triggered by socioeconomic instability.

Read the full article here.

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