The apocalyptic scenes from China's smog-infested cities have spurred numerous innovative ideas for how to fix the problem, ranging from technologically advanced (a smog vacuum) to crazy (cans of clean air) to fun (a bike that cleans the air).
But one scientist has an idea for mitigating the harmful effects of smog that could be the most practical yet. The idea, published in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters, suggests using sprinklers on top of tall buildings and towers to spray water into the atmosphere, mimicking the benefits of natural precipitation to remove hazardous particles from the air in smoggy cities.
"With careful and considered evaluation beforehand for each area in the cities, this geoengineering approach can be environmentally safe without significant side effects. It can also be deployed easily within communities and on a massive scale at low cost," writes Shaocai Yu of Zhejiang University, author of the article. "If you can spend half an hour watering your garden, you can also spend 30 minutes watering your ambient atmosphere to keep the air clean with this technique."
The most obvious issue here is that China is already facing a severe water shortage. China is rolling out a new pricing scheme that charges more to the biggest users to help conserve water. But citywide sprinklers across China's megacities would only exacerbate the problem even if, as Yu says, the water could be collected and reused. Another would be the use of chemicals in the water (which Yu doesn't suggest) which could lead to other environmental issues.
Still, it does seem more practical and effective (cost and otherwise) than a plan by China to fire rockets into clouds to produce artificial rain.
Of course, the most sustainable solutions in the long-term are to fix the root problems of air pollution -- coal, road congestion, and heating. But those solutions are also extremely costly (China has already pledged nearly $500 billion to tackle the smog problem) and takes time to implement.
For Chinese living among life-shortening smog, I'm sure tower sprinklers -- anything really -- which Yu said he found to be effective in a "very short time period," would come as welcome relief.
Photo: Flickr/ oliverlaumann