"working on my faults and cracks..."

1.12.2011

send in the canaries

clean as a whistle above 8000
Utah is a beautiful place, home to the "best powder on earth." But the unique geography and climate here that give powderwhores the world over something to get radical in and write home about, is also responsible for a unique brand of "inversion" - something a little more sinister than a few powdery face shots. The legendary high-pressure systems over the Great Basin that bring in retarded amounts of fluffy gnar, are also responsible for weeklong periods of stagnant temperature inversions (an air "sandwich" of sorts, with temperatures being the breads, and smog being the bologna) over the Salt Lake valley. This effect is worsened, given the bowl-shaped topography of the valley, one which happens to be filled to the stained brim with every make and model of inefficient, four-wheel-drive hooptie known to man. So now that we have our little inversion "sandwich," think of the valley as a roundish tupperware bowl. Place the sandwich inside, and we'll pop the aforementioned airtight lid of our high-pressure system on, and you'll begin to understand why SLC (despite it's comparatively small size to other cities on the list) is a surprising number six on the illustrious "most polluted" cities of the US. Granted, if you're a meteorologist or a fan of lunch-based metaphors, I'm sure this is all sorts of fucking fascinating. However, if you're a year-round cyclist such as myself, to put it rather bluntly, riding SLC inversion blows a bushel basket of beaver dicks.

It's gotten so bad, that the state even has its own daily monitoring website for the air quality. Ignore the warnings, and suffer the consequences. Symptoms of prolonged exposure on inversion's "heavy flow" days range from (but not limited to) mild eye and lung irritation, to serious eye and lung irritation, to outright death. Oh, and/or brain disease too. Luckily, most of my experienced symptoms to this point have been held to mostly the former two, and lots of dirty multicoloured boogers, with obviously none of the most latter. Yet.

Riding full messenger afternoons enveloped in smog, and it feels painted on by the end of the day. Nightly commute rides home from the vast trailer park that is West Valley fare no better, as once the warmer air has left the valley floor and trapped itself in the ceiling, turning the world below into a moist, foggy petri dish with exceptionally poor visibility and flurries of questionable quality. Some nights, the highway looks as though it were pulled straight from the lifeless, ash-strewn, brownish/gray set of Terminator 4. Except in this life, earth wasn't invaded and subsequently nuked by an army of insentient, time-traveling robots. Others nights, it's more akin to a Silent Hill, with visibility only in the tens of inches. But from both, it is always eerie and still, droplets of poison suspended lifelessly in the air. No, these metaphors do not strangely parallel real life, and no I'm not being melodramatic.

Thankfully, a team of benevolent nerds (presumably led by Jeff Goldblum) from the University of Texas A&M, stumbled across several frustrated tweets of mine, taking pity on my predicament, and offering me a respro mask to wear, in exchange for being allowed to later use the mask to gather data samples for what I can only presume to be research that will someday save the planet. That's my n00b shorthand; here's the 1337 longhand version wherein Dr. X explains the tedious process he and his indomitable researchers will undertake:

"We'll use the characteristics of soluble or insoluble of each pollution particles to get aqueous extract and pellet extract after procedures of agitation and centrifugation. Once the aqueous and pellets parts are obtained and collected separately, they will be lipholyzed, weighted [sic] and stored at -80C for further investigation. For the elemental analyses of carbon, sulfur, bene, nitrogen in both soluble and insoluble will be accomplished via infrared or thermal conductivity assay. For the metal contents (such as lead), they will be transported back to the Starship Enterprise and measured and identified via inductively alien technology known as ICPES spectroscopy."

Granted, while such rousing scientific terms as "aqueous extract," "centrifugation," and "procedures" sound wholly fascinating and all, it's when these boys head to outer space and start lipholyzing shit when I really start to get moist in the nethers. A most noble undertaking for the intrepid souls at the great A&M - I am only thankful that the aqueous and pellet by-product being eventually harvested, will be from a filter and not from the pores of my skin, or the polluted, diseased cells in my lungs. Again, no melodrama here.

going to war for science
Anyway, the kind researchers go on to say that the findings of this yearlong study (enough time to study the severity of some seasonal effects) will be correlated with findings from other major cities, and could be used in later breakthroughs to eventually create both active, and passive means of both short-term, and long-term prevention. Totally bitching. And I didn't need a scientific glossary for any of the terms in that sentence either.

Not even Captain Planet had it this good.

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