Oil Palm Plantations in the Bas-Congo Province: An Unknown Threat of Air Pollution in the Congo.

With an annual global production of over 50 million tons, palm oil has become the most important vegetable oil globally. Nearly 30% of the world’s production of vegetable oils is contributed from palm oil. The demand of the palm oil is expected to rise approximately to 70 Mt by 2020 because of its favorable characteristics. More than 14 million ha of oil palms have already been planted across the tropics. The global need for palm oil is likely expanding additional 4 Mha of palm oil plantation by 2020. Being a common cooking ingredient in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil, the palm oil cultivation in an industrial scale caused great damage to the rainforests and forest peoples and even urban areas of South-East Asia. The expansion of oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2005 caused the deforestation of 1.1 million ha and 1.7 Mha in Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively. 50-60% of all oil palm expansion in the two countries during this period occurred at the expense of natural forests and most of it has been done by Sime Darby, Goodhope, Wilmar, and FELDA. The same investors are now turning their attention to the Congo rainforest. Meanwhile the investors invested in Southeast Asia, then tried in Brazil as it was seen as a natural pick for expansion; however, the pressure from green groups who say no to planting oil palms because it speeds up deforestation in the Amazon. We can see the oil palm plantations around the tropics. The forests in Southeast Asia are mostly exploited, and some parts of Africa are showing the signs of explosive growth.

A study done by rainforestfoundationuk.org is the update information about the oil palm plantations in the Congo region. On one hand, seeing them as potential new sources of prosperity and job creation, the governments in the Congo Basin, one of the world’s poorest regions, welcome the oil palm developers with open arms. It is true that palm oil production is potential to boost the economic growth through FOREX returns, but the damage it may bring about to the ecosystem and the human health needs to be balanced. In practice, the contracts signed between governments and oil palm developers are being kept the secret, reducing transparency and democratic accountability. Those contracts that have come to light show that the governments have already signed away some of the potential economic benefits, by granting developers extremely generous tax breaks of 10 to 16 years and land for free or at highly discounted rates. It is far from clear that national economic benefits of palm oil will be shared equitably or compensate for local livelihoods lost by communities in the Congo Basin due to development, or that granting large land concessions to foreign companies is a real solution to rural poverty and food insecurity in the region. It looks like the local governments do not want to consider any negative consequences of these decisions.

On the other hand, with limited options for further growth of new palm oil plantations in South-East Asia, currently the Southeast Asian producers of palm oil, are now looking to expand their activities in the Congo basin, particularly in the Green Heart of Africa (Cameroon, Gabon, DRC, CAR and the Republic of Congo). The Congo Basin is thus currently a small player globally in terms of palm oil production. The region has less than 2 percent of the world’s oil palm-planted land and accounts for less than 0.5 percent of global palm oil production. However, the problems already exist in connection with oil palm plantations in Equateur province that the Canadian listed agribusiness company Feronia bought from Unilever in 2009. In addition, new players are entering the market along with agricultural commodity traders seeking to break into the industry. Whilst new oil palm investments in Liberia have received attention, developments in the Congo Basin have been largely unremarked. Confirmed projects alone identified will result in 0.5 million ha of new planting in the Congo Basin – a fivefold increase in the current area of productive industrial oil palm in the region. This is a new threat to the Congo rainforest.

The place, Moyembe massif is a potential logging area and the presence of logging companies may encourage conversion to oil palm, with profits derived from the sale of lumber used to pay for the cost of converting forest into plantations. It is estimated that between 1.6 and 3 Mha of the DRC’s forests could be converted to industrial oil palm in the near future. In another instance, the governor of Bas-Congo province in the corridor of Boma-Matadi-Kinshasa allocated a 10,000 ha to Congo Oils & Derivatives for oil palm and soya in the Muba and Kiemi reserves. Their website mentions that their mission is to positively contribute to the transformation of traditional production of palm oil in the bottom-River (Boma-Matadi-Kinshasa corridor) region in the province of Bas-Congo to industrial modern production. The CONGO OIL is campaigning for self-sufficiency in products derived from palm oil in the Bas-Congo province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Therefore, oil palm plantations are very likely in the region.

My Ph.D. dissertation showed that the surrounding forests are prone to increase ground-level ozone pollution. However, there should be considerable research has to be done before having solid evidence. The crucial drawback I found is that the region is very poorly observed, so I suggest the universities or other organizations planning to set up the observation stations in the region. I wrote this blog to encourage local researchers to focus on air quality studies in the region and advice the policymakers according to your research findings to save local people from airborne diseases and the rest of the world.

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Oil Palm Plantations on Health and Wealth of Ecosystem and Humankind in the Tropics.

The biosphere has a critical influence on society, and the environment through its capacity to modify the air quality. Land-use change significantly affects air pollution because of the transport of the biogenic emissions and its intermediate oxidative products, thereby impacting on the society through its detrimental effect on human health, and the ecosystem. Environment and human health are precedences over economic prosperity. However, the aggressive investors and the governing body in the poor/developing countries, like in the Congo basin, India and China, are lacking the concern towards the environment and public health. The investors usually may ignore the consequences as far as they achieve their return and the latter just put the cart in front of the horse in terms of the environment/human health and economic prosperity. The replacement of million hectares of the forest by oil palm plantations, and palm oil companies in Malaysia and Indonesia is a clear example. Presently, India, China, Nigeria, and several countries in the Congo basin are vastly spreading the oil palm plantations. So far, Nigeria lost more than 90% of forests in the short period of time for the oil palm plantations. China and India are aggressive to feed the largest populations in the world. The deforestation in the Congo has been happening rapidly, and the oil palm plantation and palm oil are likely to be booming businesses, as the foreign investors are looking for the ideal place for the oil palm cultivation. However, these nations do seem to be lacking the basic research efforts.

My dissertation indicated that the biogenic emissions in the Bas-Congo significantly affect the ground-level ozone in the twin cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa in the Congo. It is known that the emissions from the oil palm plantations are more than the tropical forest so the effect of the oil palm plantations might affect adversely. However, state-of-the-art models for the atmospheric chemistry studies have critical issues, in terms of both meteorology – parameterizations of cloud microphysics, and convection, and chemistry – parametrization of biogenic emissions processes and chemical mechanisms. The present studies are looking at the problem in terms of both meteorology and chemistry. The resolution of the modeling efforts considered may not be sufficient for the cloud and convection processes. Also, the chemical mechanisms that are crucial to the formation and destruction of the secondary interactive pollutants- ozone and PAN, but they are poor in the representation of the important chemical transformations. Without having such mechanisms in the numerical models, the models meet difficult time to quantify the LULCC on the human and ecosystem health. Furthermore, evaluation of the effects of the oil palm plantations on the ozone levels before planting is paramount for both the businesses and the people. Oil palm plant provides the oil for the period of 25-35 years; therefore, the research has to provide the scientific evidence of the consequences to the policymakers well before so that the damage to the investors, environment and human health may be avoided. The grinding questions would be: How are these unexplored changes going to affect on the ground level ozone and PAN in the region? Is the replacement of the forest by oil palm plantations going to affect the environment/human-health adversely? Despite having studied in Southeast Asia, the effect of the oil palm plantations on the environment and human health is dubious until rectifying the issues in the modeling systems.

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Quantification of Impact of Urban Green Infrastructure on Ozone Pollution in Barcelona.

Air pollution in Barcelona comes mostly from motorized transport and industrial activities. Over 60% of nitrogen dioxide comes from daily vehicle traffic. Although Barcelona announces Europe’s largest ban on older vehicles, the increase in the number of cars on the road has more than offset the cleaner combustion.

The Bes’s area has been the highly industrial where they have now largely been replaced by service companies, producing a marked drop in atmospheric emissions. With the 25th most visited cities in the world, Barcelona, in July, the second warmest month just after August, when the ozone pollution (OP) levels are high, and the peak tourist season, is jam-packed in sun-filled beaches, open-air dining and outdoor concerts. To this end and improving the ecological infrastructure, the City Council has established its Program for Promoting Urban Green Infrastructures (UGI), a government measure aiming to improve the quality of life for citizens by increasing greenery in the city. According to the Ecology, Urban Planning and Mobility Area (EUPMA) (1), there are 0.24 million trees, and the Tree Master Plant for next 20 years is to increase the number to 1.4 million covering 25.2% of the city surface. In this plan, 54 new spaces of natural interest in the city center have been found. Furthermore, 67% of roofs in Barcelona has available to make them green. The UGI undoubtedly has several benefits; however, it is unknown or not quantified rigorously on how the UGI affects the OP. Depending on the quantity and the variety of the anthropogenic emissions (e.g., CO, NOx, VOCs), the UGI either facilitates or destroys the ozone formation processes in the summer months. In this fellowship, keeping the human health effects by the OP, which is directly linked to the Natural Resource Management in Barcelona, I intend to quantify the effect of the present UGI, and several UGI scenarios recommended by the EUPMA on the ground-level ozone for the month of the peak out-door activity in Barcelona.

The UGI responds to meteorology and impact on the local chemistry in a complex way. Hence, they have to be quantitatively demonstrated using meticulous numerical experimentation with good observations of both meteorological parameters and emissions of critical pollutants mentioned. The whole region of Catalonia is observed by meteorological parameters horizontally with stations, satellites, and radars, and vertically in Barcelona with radiosondes. While in the case of pollution, the emissions of the ozone precursors such as CO, NOX observations are more concentrated on urban Barcelona. However, the VOCs observations are very sparse; therefore, the VOCs is synthesized from different sources (e.g., AirBase-The European Air Quality Database, Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research, RETRO inventory, etc.). The researchers who are interested and expert in numerical modeling of the atmosphere can use the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) with Regional Atmospheric Chemistry Model (RACM). However, the RACM is poor in case of handling of the biogenic chemical reactions. Therefore, Mainz Isoprene Mechanisms (MIM) will be coupled to RACM to handle the plant-atmospheric chemistry. This WRF-RACM-MIM is very complex, computationally expensive, but suitable for the purpose.

I spent a great deal of time to write this proposal; however, I could not get this project funding. Therefore, I am writing it as a blog thinking that it will be helpful to someone looking for the research problems.

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Conversion of Units of Air Pollutant Concentrations.

The air pollutants are represented in either volume fraction/total volume or weight/volume. The former one may be of several types. For example, moles of pollutant/ total moles of air (mole fraction) in specific volume, number of molecules of pollutant/total number of molecules in the specific volume, etc. Overall, the concentration has quantity but no units. For example, 400 ppmv of CO2 is a representation by 400 moles of CO2 / 1000000 moles of air in a given volume. Therefore, it just a number. Another way of expressing the gas concentration is the weight of pollutant/volume (g/m3 or mg/m3 or μg/m3).

The conversion of ppmv, ppbv to mg/m3 or μg/m3 respectively will depend on the molecular weight of the pollutant, and atmospheric temperature and pressure as follows.

(PPM/1000000)*(1000mg/1g)*(MW g/1 mole)*(1 mole/22.4L)*(1000L/1m3) at STP

Canceling out the numerators and denominators will yield the following equation.

=> PPM*MW/22.4 mg/m3 at STP. This equation clearly shows that molecular weight is very important to convert. However, atmospheric properties change dramatically. Therefore, by using the equation of state, we can calculate the volume occupied by 1 mole of gas as follows.

PV= nRT, where P is atmospheric pressure in hPa, V in Liters, n is a number of moles, T temperature in Kelvin and the R is gas constant of 83.144 L hPa/K mole.

V= RT/P because n is 1 mole. Substituting this at 22.4 L in the above equation will give the full controlled equation of MW, P, T that can be used to convert the pollutants into weights/volume.

Concentration in mg/m3 = ppm*WM*P/83.144*T

In the same way,

(PPB/1,000,000,000)*(1000,000 μg/1g)*(MW g/1 mole)*(1 mole/22.4L)*(1000L/1m3) at STP

Cancelling out the numerators and denominators will yield the following equation.

Therefore, the concentration in μg/m3 = ppb*MW*P/83.144*T


What is the concentration of CO2 in mg/m3 when it has 400 ppmv and the atmospheric temperature and pressure are 298K and 1010 hPa, respectively?

Concentration of CO2 = 400*44*1010/83.144*298 mg/m3

= 717.44 mg/m3

Problem 2:

What is the concentration of Ozone in μg/m3 when it has 80 ppbv, and the atmospheric temperature and pressure are 298K and 1010 hPa, respectively? The molecular weight of O3 is 48.

Concentration of O3 = 80*48*1010/83.144*298 μg/m3

= 156.5 μg/m3


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Do You Really Think That Urban/Peri-urban Green Infrastructure Planning Combats Ozone Pollution?

What is Green Infrastructure? It is nothing but green vegetation. It includes crops, forests, green rooftops, plants, etc. Do they really help to reduce ozone pollution? Not really! Whether the green infrastructure is boon or curse depends on several factors. The previous blog “Gradual Increase of Complexity in the Ground-level Ozone Pollution Modeling Studies” showed some of the interactions between meteorology and chemistry in the formation of the ground-level ozone. As you learn the tropospheric chemistry, you will begin to understand that chemistry is very non-linear. Depending on the state of the chemistry and the meteorology of a specific location, the ozone may either form or destroy. As the blog “Gradual Increase of Complexity in the Ground-level Ozone Pollution Modeling Studies” explained, the vegetation, aka green infrastructure, modifies meteorology due to the effect of roughness on the transport and the moisture fluxes, which critically influence on the state of the surface layer atmosphere. Because of being both the inherent nature of fluxing VOCs and their dramatic effect by the state of the surface layer atmosphere such as humidity and temperature, the green infrastructure non-linearly affects the ozone-chemistry-without-the-vegetation. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the urban/peri-urban green infrastructure is going to combat ozone pollution of the city.

In a nutshell, there should be rigorous city-specific research on the pollution emissions, meteorology, and the chemistry of the region. Meticulous modeling studies are to be planned for the urban and peri-urban green infrastructure for understanding the effects of these changes on biogenic emissions and meteorology those significantly affect the ozone chemistry.

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Gradual Increase of Complexity in the Ground-level Ozone Pollution Modeling Studies.

Ground-level ozone is a serious pollutant especially in the summer season in the tropical and extra-tropical regions. It is to be noted that the ozone is not a primary pollutant, meaning that the ozone is not directly emitted from the activities at the surface. However, it is a secondary pollutant formed in the atmosphere by primary pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under the sunlight, the chemical reaction speeds are augmented by atmospheric temperature. Therefore, we can now understand that the ozone levels are controlled by the emissions of NOx, VOCs, cloud-cover, air temperature, season, and the time of day.  In this, the season and the specific time of the day are invariant, but the NOx, VOCs, cloud-cover and air temperature are variables. While studying the ozone modeling studies, these should be critically taken care of.

Let’s now dissect these variables in terms of meteorology and chemistry. The former two are pure chemicals and the latter two are meteorological variables. What many air pollution modelers miss is the interaction between the meteorology and chemistry. Let’s see what it is. Although there are specifics of each of the variables, all are commonly controlled by the transport phenomenon, which is complex and the intern is controlled by several things. For example, a complex surface structure such as mountainous terrain, the roughness of the surface by forests, urban building, etc., etc. significantly impact on the transport of heat, moisture, momentum, and chemical tracers. Although the heat and moisture fluxes are controlled by the land surface characteristics, for example, plants and water bodies, and the transport influence on both air temperature and cloud cover.

The NOx and VOCs are emitted by both human activities and natural sources. Vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, biogenic emissions are the sources of NOx and VOCs, despite having other sources such as lightning, agri-pesticide sprays, etc. The main mechanism of the ozone formations is that the OH radicals in the troposphere react with VOCs (CO) to form peroxy (hydro-peroxy) radicals. These peroxy radicals react with NO to form and NO2 and this NO2 dissociates in the presence of sunlight to form nascent oxygen, which can easily combine with an atmospheric oxygen molecule (O2) to form ozone. It looks simple but the chemistry is very complex and complexity increases with the meteorology as explained. In addition to this, the complexity is further increased by the sea-sprays at the Ocean surfaces as these contain reactive halogenated compounds that tightly interact with the ozone itself and destroys.

In a nutshell, while modeling the ozone, one has to keep in mind that the emission levels of the precursors, season, surface terrain, surface characteristics such as vegetation and roughness, water bodies and the most importantly the chemical mechanisms.

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Is impact factor of a journal really important?

Research shows that, on average, the impact of any journal is impacted by only 15% of articles and the rest of 85% enjoys the impact without any contribution. Furthermore, many of highly cited articles usually have more than one author and interestingly it is unknown about the percentage of contribution of each of the authors.

The impact factor is increased by the increase in the number of citation. It is to be noted that the research is neither for getting more citations nor for getting famous; it is for contributing to science. Let me explain with an example. A numerical model builder gets a lot of citation as it is used by a number of researchers, but it is to be noted that the model builder is a just compiler of numerous research done by a number of researchers. However, the builder gets more citations but the real researcher gets very fewer citations. Is the number of citations really matter?



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