Scientists May Have Solved The Mystery Of 1952 London's Killer Fog

Posted: Nov 16 2016, 4:44am CST | by , Updated: Nov 16 2016, 4:50am CST , in Latest Science News


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Scientists may have Solved the Mystery of 1952 London's Kille
Credit: Texas A&M University

New study pinpoints the chemical processes invovled the in the famous London fog. Similar air chemistry can also be seen in China today

In 1952, a thick, mysterious fog covered the capital of UK for five days. Despite the fact that it reduced visibility and caused troubled breathing, the fog was not thought to be an unusual event. It looked no different from the familiar fogs that have swept over Great Britain for thousands of years. However, it turned out to be a killer fog and at least 4,000 deaths in London are attributed to it. The fog caused the transportation to shut down and sent more than 150,000 people to the hospitals. Thousands of animals also chocked to death in the fields.

The 1952 fog is still considered the worst air pollution event in European history. While the exact cause and nature of the fog always remained a mystery, scientists have attempted to solve it and now a team of international researchers claims to have found the actual reason of the killer fog.

In the latest study, researchers have pinpointed the chemical processes involved in the 1952 London fog and the same air chemistry can also be seen in different parts of China today.

Through laboratory experiments and atmospheric measurements in China, researchers have showed how natural fog intermixed with the toxic particles of coal burning and created a deadly haze the turned skies across the London completely dark.

“People have known that sulfate was a big contributor to the fog, and sulfuric acid particles were formed from sulfur dioxide released by coal burning for residential use and power plants, and other means,” explained lead researcher Renyi Zhang from Texas A&M University.

“But how sulfur dioxide was turned into sulfuric acid was unclear. Our results showed that this process was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, another co-product of coal burning, and occurred initially on natural fog.

“Another key aspect in the conversion of sulfur dioxide to sulfate is that it produces acidic particles, which subsequently inhibits this process. Natural fog contained larger particles of several tens of micrometers in size, and the acid formed was sufficiently diluted. Evaporation of those fog particles then left smaller acidic haze particles that covered the city.”

China is also battling from haze for decades and similar chemical processes have to interplay for this haze as well. However, the London fog was highly acidic compared to current Chinese haze.

In contrast, London air appears much cleaner today but it is still dangerously polluted. Researchers beleive that a better understanding of air chemistry may hold the key for making effective strategies against pollution in London, China and elsewhere across the globe.

"We think we have helped solve the 1952 London fog mystery and also have given China some ideas of how to improve its air quality,” said Zhang. “Reduction in emissions for nitrogen oxides and ammonia is likely effective in disrupting this sulfate formation process.”

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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