Vital climate change data “ruined” by Hanimaadhoo rubbish fires: MCOH resident scientist

Krishnakant Budhavant, Resident Scientist for the Maldives Climate Observatory – Hanimaadhoo (MCOH), has revealed that smoke from rubbish fires on the island is “ruining” vital climate change data recorded at the station.

The world-class ‘super-observatory’ in Hanimaadhoo, Haa Dhuaalu Atoll serves as a key background site for atmospheric and climate studies in South Asia.

However, the data recorded by MCOH is being corrupted “at least twice a week” by local islanders who are burning rubbish in the fire-restricted area near the observatory, Resident Scientist Budhavant has claimed.

The smoke from these fires – depending on the wind direction – drifts towards the station and interferes with the data being recorded by the observatory’s highly sensitive equipment, Budhavant told Minivan News.

“These fires are becoming a regular occurrence here, and more recently they are being lit closer to the observatory,” he said.

“We can normally expect to lose roughly two to three days worth of data per week, but in some instances the smoke is ruining our data for the entire week,” Budhavant added.

MCOH serves as a receptor site monitoring long-range transport of pollutants from the emissions regions of South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

According to Budhavant, MCOH is “the best” observation site downwind of South Asia for the study of long-range transport of air pollution.

It is jointly operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Maldives and an international team of scientists organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP’s) Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC) initiative.

The observatory employs 11 local Hanimaadhoo residents.  According to co-chair of the science advisory board of the MCOH, Professor Örjan Gustafsson, the site provides important information on “imported” versus domestic air pollution, which is “helpful” to assess the air quality status throughout the Maldives.

Burning Issue

During a recent visit by the Ministry of Environment and Energy, Budhavant was “promised” that something would be done to move the fires and that “necessary action” would be taken.

Hanimaadhoo Island Council President Abdul Salaan Ali explained that islanders have been asked to stop burning rubbish as the smoke from these fires often drifts towards the observatory.

Despite being designated a new area to burn biomass, Hanimaadhoo residents are yet to comply.

A rubbish fire lit within the 500 metre fire-restricted area of the observatory.

“We have made a new dumping ground for the rubbish to be burnt, but there is no road connecting it to the community yet. This is why they are still burning rubbish.

“Currently the road to the new site is blocked by trees belonging to the islanders and we [the island council] will need to compensate them for their removal,” Salaan added.

“We have asked the government for the money, but still they have not paid.”

Whilst claiming the best option would be to move biomass burning away from the vicinity of the observatory to another area of the island, Budhavant has stated that an interim option would be to have islanders burn the rubbish on certain days of the week.

“Even if they restricted burning the rubbish to certain days, it would mean that we wouldn’t collect data during the period. It would save us a lot of trouble,” Budhavana added.

Various scientific organisations from around the world have contributed to the observatory, providing it with around 29 different instruments to measure changes in the atmosphere.

“It’s difficult to know just exactly how much money is being spent on this observatory because there are several groups involved. However, I do know it is a very large amount of money, millions of US dollars,” added Budhavant.

He claimed that through the establishment of the MCOH, the Government of Maldives had gained global recognition for scientific collaboration, while the wider scientific community was given an opportunity to study regional climate using the long-term data measured at the site.

“There is now collaboration between UNEP-ABC and the EPA to increase the use of MCOH data for national air quality assessment as well as using MCOH as a local resource centre for science education,” added Budhavant.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Environment and Energy told Minivan News this week that issue of biomass burning “had come to our attention and we are working to resolve it”.