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Inversion Education

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Suppose thousands of people come to Salt Lake City for the Olympics but they can't see the city because of a smoggy temperature inversion. Olympic organizers are worried enough to prepare a promotional video.

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The video is intended to help the city avoid getting an international black-eye. Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst has more.

Smoggy inversions tend to happen less often in February than in December and January. But, it could happen during the Olympics. And organizers hope their scientific spin will keep the media from spinning a negative image.

Most of us in Utah are familiar with temperature inversions in our mountain valleys. But what about reporters from New York, Russia or Jamaica?

DIANE CONRAD GLEASON/SLOC: "WELL I THINK IT'S GOING TO BE IMPORTANT FOR THE PRESS TO UNDERSTAND WHY THEY OCCUR. THEY'VE BEEN GOING ON SINCE BEFORE THIS VALLEY WAS CIVILIZED OR SETTLED. AND THAT THE INDIANS USED TO CALL THIS THE 'VALLEY OF THE SMOKE'."

To underline the point that inversions are natural, not man-made, SLOC prepared a video.

"WITH YOUR HOST, BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY."

The Science Guy uses a model of the Salt Lake Valley.

BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY/SLOC VIDEO: "NOW WATCH WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE ADD A LITTLE SMOKE...." (smoke goes in) "YOU WANNA PUT A CORK IN IT? THANK YOU." "SEE HOW IT'S COLDER DOWN HERE THAN IT IS UP HERE. A LAYER OF WARM AIR TRAPS SMOKE AND OTHER POLLUTING GASES IN THE VALLEY."

The video is primarily for schoolkids. But, if an inversion hits during the Olympics.

DIANE CONRAD GLEASON/SLOC: "THEN I'M GOING TO START HANDING OUT THE BILL NYE VIDEOS TO ALL THE PRESS."

SCHOOLGIRL: "THESE BOTTLES HAVE COLD CLEAR WATER IN THEM. THESE BOTTLES HAVE WARM WATER WITH RED FOOD COLORING IN THEM. AND THESE CARDS KEEP THEM FROM MIXING, I'LL PULL THESE CARDS OUT. WATCH."

Cool water on top, warm below, the waters mix.

BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY/SLOC VIDEO: "SEE. WARM ON TOP, COOL ON THE BOTTOM AND THERE'S NO MIXING. JUST LIKE THE AIR. NOW HUMANS DON'T MAKE THE INVERSION LAYER. BUT WE CAN ALL DO OUR PART TO REDUCE AIR POLLUTION."

DIANE CONRAD GLEASON/SLOC: "THERE'S REALLY NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO TO LESSEN THE IMPACT OF THE INVERSION.WHAT YOU CAN DO, HOWEVER, IS MAKE SURE THE AIR QUALITY STAYS PRETTY GOOD. AND YOU DO THAT BY ASKING PEOPLE TO RIDE MASS TRANSIT OR TO CAR POOL WHEN THEY'RE GOING TO VENUES, THAT SORT OF THING."

BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY/SLOC VIDEO: "IN FACT, DRIVING CAUSES MORE AIR POLLUTION THAN ANYTHING ELSE WE DO! AND IT GETS TRAPPED DOWN HERE!"

Industry is a factor, too. And SLOC has persuaded several companies to give the Olympics credit for their reductions in pollution.

DIANE CONRAD GLEASON/SLOC: "YOU CAN GET A CREDIT IF YOU REDUCE WHAT COMES OUT OF YOUR SMOKESTACK. YOU APPLY TO THE GOVERNMENT, YOU GET AN EMISSION REDUCTION CREDIT. THOSE ARE WORTH MONEY. YOU CAN ACTUALLY TRADE THEM ON THE OPEN MARKET. IN THIS CASE, THEY'RE DONATING THEM TO US TO OFFSET ALL OF OUR EMISSIONS."

In other words, SLOC will be able to claim credit, on paper at least, for reducing air pollution. It may not make any significant difference to actual air quality... if Mother Nature clamps a lid on the Olympics. But it does put SLOC a step ahead in the image-making business.