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What happens when you turn off Beijing's pollution?

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(Read caption) Hazy skies over China's Olympic village on August 6, two days before the start of the Games.

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It's not every day that a major urban center suddenly puts the brakes on its industrial emissions. As Beijing tries to clear the air for the Olympic Games, one researcher is jumping at the chance to observe how the atmosphere is responding to what's being called the "great shutdown."

V. Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric sciences professor at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography is taking advantage of this singular opportunity. He and his team are sending unmanned aerial vehicles into the pollution clouds that spread from Beijing and other Chinese cities. The flights take off from South Korea's Cheju Island, about 725 miles southeast of Beijing, and fly directly into the smog plumes.

The unmanned aircraft are equipped with micro- and nano-sensors that will gather information about the sun's energy and the interactions between various pollutants and clouds.

"Thanks to the concern of Olympic organizers, the Chinese government, and the cooperation of the Korean government, we have a huge and unprecedented opportunity to observe a large reduction in everyday emissions from a region that is very industrially active," said Mr. Ramanathan in a press release from Scripps.


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