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Clean air over Europe? People polluted the atmosphere long before the industrial era

A new study, combining data from collected parts of the glaciers and historical information from the plague period, brings a non-traditional view of the origin of the current air pollution. According to results published in GeoHealth magazine, the causes of declining air quality over Europe must be sought much earlier than with the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

The Association of American Geophysicists (AGU) has for a long time been doubting that the origin of air pollution was due to the onset of the Industrial Revolution era. But the evidence was missing. The dense chimney of the factories in the sky has not been successful in the air, but, as it turned out, traces of pollution lead to the past. Specifically, before the period between 1349-1353, when Europe was decimating the so-called Black Death epidemic. For the first time, on the basis of sound data, AGU researchers questioned the claim that concentrations of toxic lead in the atmosphere were virtually zero before the Industrial Revolution, and the onset of serial production in large factories began to cause obvious environmental damage.

Long ago, iron ore was extracted and their melting significantly reduced the air quality over relatively developed regions of Europe. "Our current data now suggests that human activities have been involved in air pollution virtually uninterrupted throughout the two millennia," writes Alexander F. More, lead author of the study. For proper comparisons, geophysicists have been missing the "old climate imprint" on which human activity would not be noticeable. They found it in the form of information stored in European glaciers. From the collected nuclei of the Swiss glaciers, it is well-known that during the plague epidemics in 1349-1353, all the air polluting activity associated with the processing of metals ceased.

"Virtually it was the only period of the past 2000 years when the total disintegration of the human population and the collapse of the economy as a result of a pandemic stopped air pollution," More writes. "During these few years, the concentration of pollutants decreased so much that we were able to determine the real natural background of pollution. Respectively, what is the concentration of pollutants in the air over Europe, without human intervention . " From this let's say the methodical shift now has significant impacts on the present. Why?

In the case of concentration of lead compounds in the atmosphere, the onset of the industrial revolution (at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries) has always been considered a "zero point". Measured concentrations that preceded this era were considered natural, natural. And from them, too, the limits were calculated, according to which we calculate the cleanliness of the air today. However, this knowledge needs to be re-evaluated now, as significant pollution has been evident before this historic era.

Glaciologists' information is a real information fountain. "In various parts of Europe, Black Death struck with varying intensity, in several waves and different seasons," More explains. "In some regions it has wiped out half of the human population. In purely civilian terms, this epidemic stopped all industrial activities, including the extraction of iron ores and its processing, at a number of locations. " Several such" clean "windows can be read from the glacier record. For example, in 1460, when the plague came again, during the economic crisis of 1885. And also in the 1970s when the first laws on limiting gasoline were adopted.

Author: Radomír Dohnal

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