My recent foray into the document folder turned up bits of writing from one of my favorite blog events from Aprils past –the A to Z Challenge. They’re pretty interesting, if I do say so myself. I’ll be sharing a few until life quiets down around here. I hope you enjoy. Scroll back to read earlier From The Stacks posts.
L for London Fog of 1952
As a child visiting relatives in San Fransisco in the 1960’s, I remember watching the fog roll in off the ocean. It was exciting for this Midwestern girl to see such an awe-inspiring thing, as if the ocean wasn’t amazing all on its own. The fog came rolling in like a cloud wall until you could only see a few feet in front of you. That’s basically what fog is — a ground cloud. It’s my understanding that the atmospheric conditions concocting a heavy fog only requires a 4° difference between air temperature and dew point. Air cooled to the dewpoint can no longer hold all of the water vapor it contains. Water droplets condense, and that makes fog. Were these ground clouds in the cold upper sky instead, we might have rain. Weather creates extraordinary phenomena.
The weather conditions that came into play over the UK in December back in 1952 created a fog of another kind — a killer fog.
Smoke + fog = smog
Earliest Roman accounts mention the fogginess of Britain. Islands often have heavy mists and fogs. They’re called advection fog — air that’s been warmed over land meets the cold surface of the ocean. As Britain is surrounded by sea, so common are fogs to this island, the fogs even have names. Along the Northumbrian coast the fog is called the fret. In southeastern Scotland it’s the haar.
With much of the land deforested in its long inhabitation, the populace turned to peat and coal to cook with and warm their hearths. This put soot into the foggy air. So heavy and persistent the smoggy fog of 1807, Charles Dickens wrote it into his novel Bleak House. A popular name for the fog during that time was the London particular. In 1813, a fog “smelling of coal tar” was so unrelenting, the prince regent on his outing had to turn his carriage around and go home.
Not just a bad smell
The economic recovery came slow during the post-war reconstruction and money was tight. Around 1952 London had just given up its electric buses for cheaper diesel. At the time, the nation’s high-grade cleaner-burning coal was exported and Londoners were left to burn a lesser-grade high-sulfur coal to heat their homes. From here I’ll paint you a picture…
The cold fog rolled in December 4th and Londoners paid it little mind. As mentioned above, fogs and mists were a regular feature in their lives. An early cold snap saw coal-fired plants and houses cranking up the heat. As midday approached, the fog mixed with thousands of tons of soot in the air and soon took on a yellowish cast. Little did anyone realize this fog wouldn’t be clearing anytime soon. A temperature inversion had formed 1000 feet above the city and acted like a dome that trapped the noxious air inside. But it was cold, and the factories and homes continued to burn their cheap coal. Before long a 30-mile wide blanket of sulfurous carbon monoxide stink enveloped London.
For four days the entire city was immobilized by this toxic fog. River traffic stopped as did all transportation outside of the London Underground. At one point, men walked with lanterns ahead of the buses for a time to keep traffic moving, but that too stopped cold. Schools closed. Movie theaters closed because patrons couldn’t see the screens. Accounts in some parts of the city say people couldn’t see their hand before their eyes nor their feet as they walked. Worse, death had come.
A black oily soot smudged faces and every corner of London. Several prize heifers died at the famous Sheffield Show. In desperation, farmers took to rigging makeshift gas masks for their animals. People too were beginning to perish. Initial estimates put the death toll at 4000, mainly those with respiratory problems, infants, and the elderly. On December 9th, a cold wind blew the the smog out to sea. The after-effects lingered and the death toll rose to approximately 12,000.
Unbelievably, change came slow. Though an investigation determined they had a serious pollution problem, the government didn’t want to change things at first. It took nearly four years for Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act of 1956 that restricted coal burning in urban areas. Transitioning from coal to gas, oil, and electricity took years and during that time other deadly fogs would come. The killer fog of1962 claimed 750 lives.
They had an idea something was wrong before the tragedy of 1952.
Here’s another clip
An extra 2⊄: Mankind is certainly a short-sighted creature. In my portion of the world we have politicians determined to repeal the Clean Air Act. As an environmentalist, this infuriates me because it’s all profit motivated. Yes, money talks. It always has. But what good is money if breathing, a process so necessary to life, becomes impossible? One need only look at China where air pollution is choking the populace even as I write this. We’d all better make some changes soon.
“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends,
have become global garbage cans.”
~ Jacques-Yves Cousteau
L — L for Lascaux.
Art stems from man’s capacity to interpret and give meaning to his surroundings. The earliest evidence of this can be found in caves in France and Spain. It was in the 1940’s when 17 -year-old Marcel Ravidat and three of his companions stumbled upon one of the greatest paleolithic finds in the world — The cave of Lascaux.
Well-respected archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil was one of the first to study the site. Along with bone fragments, oil lamps, and other artifacts, he found nearly 2000 artworks — paintings done with mineral pigments and engraved images of horses, bison, aurochs, mammoths, ibex, deer, bears, lions, and wolves. It is believed such images served spiritual needs or ceremonial purpose. Research puts most of the artwork done in Lascaux cave at around 15,000 ago. The oldest such paleolithic cave paintings are found at Chauvet cave in France. Discovered in 1994, these works were painted at least 32,000 years ago.
For the next few decades following WWII, the Lascaux cave was modified and opened to the public. It closed in 1963 after it was determined the carbon dioxide of thousands of breaths had created an environment of mold, bacteria, and fungi that were eating away at the precious artworks.
Take the virtual tour.
Then stop at Chauvet cave.
Watch The Cave of Forgotten Dreams on youtube
It’ll blow your mind.
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