Sam Cleland, the officer in charge of the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, posing in Cape Grim, Tasmania. Photographer: William West/ AFP
As much of Asia wheezes, coughs and sniffles its way through another smog season, one isolated and windswept corner of Australia is serving as the global standard for clean air.
With panoramic views of swaying tussock grass and the vast crystalline expanse of the Southern Ocean, Tasmania's beautiful Cape Grim peninsula is an unlikely reference point for the scientific world.
But since 1976, this wild and blustery spot has been home to the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station — a small Australian government facility with the seemingly eccentric task of bottling air.
"Our job is essentially to find air as clean as you're likely to find anywhere in the world and measure just how polluted it is," Sam Cleland, the officer in charge of the station, said.
Looking out from his office atop the high sea cliffs, the nearest landmass to the west is Argentina, and there is nothing to the south except Antarctica.
The facility's isolated location makes it perfect for collecting what many have dubbed the cleanest air in the world — what air would be like without choking exhaust fumes or industrial smoke.
"In normal spring water, you'll have high magnesium, you'll have some naturally occurring nitrates, phosphorus, and potassium
When the wind blows from the southwest, Cleland and his team capture a sample using finely tuned instruments. Their kit is so sensitive that delivery trucks chugging down the dirt track from the nearest town — an hour away — are all logged, in case they potentially skew the readings.
CLEAN AIR ECONOMY
While the world's most polluted cities struggle to attract talent or manage chronic illnesses, residents around Cape Grim have made a virtue of their relatively pristine environment.
Local beef is marketed with links to scientific papers on air quality, the number of wind farms has increased, and tourism is a growing sector.
Mike Buckby, a "rain farmer" from the Cape Grim Water Company, has taken things to another level, harvesting water falling "from Earth's purest skies."
"Most waters of the world are spring waters," he explains as he looks out over a system of tarps, sluices and reservoirs set back from the coast.
"The rain that comes off the Great Southern Ocean, that's what we depend on," Buckby said, adding that his remarkably sweet-tasting water is little more than H2O and trace amounts of sodium picked up from the sea.
"It will have a little bit of sodium but it's very neutral and it's very soft," he said. "In normal spring water, you'll have high magnesium, you'll have some naturally occurring nitrates, phosphorus, and potassium."
Buckby says the monitoring station and the clean air it measures have helped local produce stand out in a competitive market.
Cattle mustered along a beach as they head to fresh grazing pastures in Cape Grim, Tasmania. Photographer: William West/ AFP
"This probably wouldn't work without the monitoring station at Cape Grim," he admitted.
"Yes, we sell the romance," he said, adding: "But look, there's 43 years of data that says this is the cleanest mix of air in the world."
But even Cape Grim is not immune to rising levels of pollution.
When the wind blows from the north — coming from Melbourne or Sydney — it is possible to pick up the chemical signature of individual factories in operation that day.
The facility has detected a rise in ozone depleting gases originating from as far away as China, Cleland explained.
Even the cleanest air from the southwest is changing rapidly.
"You can see over the last 2,000 years that Co2 levels in particular — but all of the major greenhouse gases — were at a fairly steady level," he said.
Ice cores show that Co2 was around about 275 parts per million for most of the last million years.
"By the time we started measuring Co2 here, in 1976, it was already up to 330, since then we have progressed to where we are now, about 405," he added.
Passing that level of four hundred parts per million earlier this decade echoed worldwide, serving as an ominous warning that climate change policies were insufficient.
The levels of carbon dioxide found at Cape Grim now are akin to those found in some towns at the start of the industrial revolution.
Cleland warned: "What we're seeing in the atmosphere now is probably unprecedented in Earth's history."
Britain has announced it will enshrine a new commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 into law, marking a first among G7 nations facing increasingly severe impacts from the climate crisis. With global carbon emissions at record highs despite decades of talks aimed
Mexico’s government ordered schools in and around Mexico City to be closed on Thursday in an extraordinary step taken due to elevated levels of pollution in the smog-wreathed capital.
As rivers surge and floods overpower, as forests burn and glaciers melt, and as wild animals enter human habitats, there is still no urgency among us as humans to find solutions to the immense crisis that is looming large over us. A recent study published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research states that no economy
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it would expel two German diplomats from Moscow in a tit-for-tat response after Berlin last week ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats.
China and the United States are in close communication on trade, its commerce ministry said on Thursday, declining to comment on possible retaliatory steps if Washington imposes more tariffs on Chinese goods this weekend.
More than 4,000 polling venues across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including a windmill, several pubs, a hair salon and a chip shop, opened their doors for a day of voting that ends at 2200 GMT.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government has said the so-called Citizenship Amendment Bill that was approved by parliament on Wednesday was meant to protect besieged minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.