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‘Hold your breath’: Study reveals Kashmir air is most polluted in autumn, winter

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Srinagar: Behind the breathtaking view of golden leaves and white carpet lies the specter of noxious air which create breathlessness during autumn and winter in Kashmir.  

A new study has revealed that air pollution level is two to three times higher than the permissible levels in autumn and winter.  Entitled, “Particulate pollution over an urban Himalayan site: Temporal variability, the impact of meteorology and potential source regions”, the study was published in Science of the Total Environment, an internationally acclaimed journal published by Elsevier.


The study examines particulate matter (PM) data of five years (2013–2017) at Srinagar to examine the temporal variability, meteorological impacts and potential source regions of PM.

 PM consists of a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. It includes PM10, which are inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller; and PM2.5, with diameters of 2.5 micrometers and less.

 “It was found that the annual PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations were two to three times higher than the annual Indian National Ambient Air Quality Standards (PM10 = 60 μg/m3 and PM2.5 = 40 μg/m3) in autumn and winter,” the study reveals.

Geologist and co-author of the study Professor Shakeel Romshoo said this is a long-term study and provides a more accurate picture of the situation based on thousands of observations.

“People think the air quality in Kashmir is very good. However, it deteriorates in autumn and winter. This is primarily because of biomass burning, coal braziers, and horticulture burning. Besides, the potential source regions of PM at the site are neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of Iran and Trans-Gangetic Plains, which could contribute to a high concentration of the PM,” he said.

He said, however, there is a natural phenomenon too that contributes to PM pollution. “In winters, a shallow planetary boundary layer (PBL) is formed. PBL, also called the atmospheric boundary layer, is the region of the lower troposphere where Earth’s surface strongly influences temperature, moisture, and wind through the turbulent transfer of air mass. It prevents vertical circulation of air particles,” Romshoo said.

 He said the factory emissions or automobile emissions don’t escape this layer.  “Our valley is shaped like a cup. The planetary boundary layer covers the valley like a lid and when we burn coal and pruned leaves in winters, the air pollution gets trapped. This further results in the deterioration of air quality,” he said.

 An environmental expert said wood burning can be replaced by other eco-friendly measures.  “Also an efficient public transport system should be developed so that vehicular emissions are curbed. Besides, the pruned leaves can be converted into manure or bio-fertilizer rather than large-scale burning in autumn,” he said, wishing not to be named.