Arrival in India

29/12/2013

21 December. Summary. Arrived in Bangalore at 1:55 am and had to wait in the transit area for several hours before flying onwards to Coimbatore at 9:30. Met at airport by Dr. Mani and Mr. Arunkumar and taken via taxi to the ARS hotel. Took a brief walk in the neighborhood of the hotel, then fell asleep in the early afternoon. Woken by Arun at 6:00 pm and met Mr. Magesh. Arun called at ~8:00 to inform me that Dr. Mani would not be able to make our dinner engagement, so I took dinner at Sri Arivee hotel next door. There’s nothing terribly interesting to report today, so I’ll talk about air quality.

It used to be that the Los Angeles basin was persistently nestled under a blanket of yuck. I know smog. I grew up in it. Flying in or driving down from the mountains meant penetrating the soft, purple dome.

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This was the view from my window seat for the entire flight from Bangalore to Coimbatore. Looking straight down you could barely see through to the fields and towns.

Flying out of Bangalore at 9:30 am I saw something that I haven’t seen since the 1980s. We emerged from a layer of haze into clear blue skies, and the stratification—that inversion layer—was both remarkable because of its sharpness and the extreme contrast between the air below and above and nostalgic, though not in an especially good way.

As I expected, the air quality in Coimbatore is very poor. I suspect that it’s a combination of cooking and waste-burning fires, vehicular exhaust, and coal combustion for energy, but a mixture of gases and aerosols is definitely being trapped within the lowest layer of the atmosphere by thermal/density stratification. There was very little wind in the city and at first I had some discomfort in my eyes and lungs. But we would be leaving the city the next day, I was very, very tired after the long flight (leaving Thursday morning and arriving Saturday).

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At street level in Coimbatore air is clear enough, though there is a much “richer chemistry” than what I have become accustomed to since my days in LA in the 70s and 80s.

I suspect that the smog-producing practices here are the same as elsewhere in the tropics—the Amazon, for instance. The difference is that the population of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu (the two states that I flew over) is a thousand times more dense than the state of Loreto in Perú. Even so, there were bad air days in Iquitos as well, but here I suspect that it is the norm, with reprieves occurring only from rain.

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