WMO Workshop on Regional Transboundary Smoke and Haze in Southeast Asia, Singapore, 2-5 June 1998


WMO Workshop on Regional Transboundary Smoke and Haze in Southeast Asia,

Singapore, 2-5 June 1998

Executive Summary

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) organized a regional workshop on transboundary smoke and haze in Southeast Asia, as part of its continuing response to the 1997 Forest fire episodes which caused widespread air pollution and environmental problems throughout the region. The Workshop held in Singapore from 2 to 5 June, and hosted by the Meteorological Service Singapore and co-sponsored by the Asian Development Bank, brought together representatives from the National Meteorological and Hydrometeorological Services (NMHSs), the ASEAN Specialized Meteorological Center (ASMC), Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMCs), invited experts as well as other agencies that are directly involved with fire-related activities, and other organizations that are helping countries to address the smoke and haze and related transboundary pollution issues.

The workshop focused on the 1997/98 smoke and haze episodes which interfered with civil aviation operations, maritime shipping, agricultural production, and the tourist industry. It also affected the health of populations in the region. The workshop was designed to further foster regional and international cooperation through the review of what has been learned during the latest fire season, and to plan and coordinate implementation activities aimed at improving the NMHS’s ability to manage transboundary smoke and haze episodes. This included discussions of regional plans such as the WMO programme to Address ASEAN Regional Transboundary Smoke (PARTS) and the Regional Haze Action Plan (RHAP).

The workshop focused on operational aspects with emphasis on:

  • The assessment of the current monitoring and measurement systems and improvements which could be made to enhance regional capability needed to support smoke and haze health and environmental assessments;

  • The regional capabilities to provide needed meteorological support during episodes of severe smoke including the performance and improvement of daily smoke trajectory and dispersion forecasts from the Atmospheric Transport Models (ATMs);

  • The role of satellite remote sensing in detecting fires, and the aerosols and other pollutants emitted from fires, and in tracking the movement of the resulting smoke and haze envelopes;

  • Improvements in the exchange of information and coordination of activities among national authorities, NMHSs and other international and regional agencies concerned with smoke and haze and other transboundary pollution events.

One major lesson learned from the episode was that weather, climate, and smoke and haze do not recognize national boundaries. The fires last year were exacerbated by the El Niño related drought in the region which provided favourable conditions for large scale fire. A second major lesson from this episode was that the Meteorological Services played a critical role in the response and management of the regional and national smoke and haze problem. They contributed in valuable ways through: (1) traditional activities related to meteorological monitoring and forecasting; (2) through monitoring and surveillance functions, including hot spot identification using satellite imageries, haze trajectory modelling, compiling monthly and seasonal climate prediction information, and activities related to air quality monitoring; and (3) through effective and prompt dissemination of information to environmental and other agencies, engaged in fire and smoke and haze response and management, and the general public through Internet activities and press releases.

The fires of 1997/98 were looked at in perspective with earlier events. While the fires of 1997/98 were severe, they were not the first. Records in the region have shown that there have been at least 9 episodes of widespread smoke and haze episodes in the region since the 1970s, and that they occurred most frequently during El Niño periods. Looking at this trend, it is very possible that such fires and widespread smoke and haze episodes will occur again, as present land use plans in the region call for continued large scale land conversion. Thus there is a pressing need for the region to maintain its vigilance, and to further develop and implement haze-related action plans.

A critical importance to the region is the need to further strengthen the capacities of the Meteorological Services to better provide the timely warnings and forecasts needed to anticipate risks of widespread burning and resultant smoke and haze episodes, and assist decision makers in managing smoke and haze episodes. Towards this end a series of recommendations were developed at the Workshop.


A. Enhance the regional capabilities to provide needed meteorological support in the form of improved predictions of ENSO and climate variability, and daily smoke trajectory and dispersion forecasts from Atmospheric Transport Models (ATMs), through:

  • Further developing regional climate prediction capabilities to interpret and locally enhance predictions from global forecasts, and provide more frequently global climate predictions and improved climate products.

  • Development of flexible, situation-dependent, measurement programs which allow for the provision of enhanced meteorological measurements (expanded frequency and spatial coverage) during periods of severe smoke and haze, and expanded use of satellite-derived meteorological products.

  • Installing trajectory / dispersion modelling capabilities at local meteorological services, and utilization of local area modelling (LAM) capabilities in the region.

  • Improving model performance through case studies, model evaluation exercises, and by conducting dry run exercises and possible tracer experiments.

B. Improve the ability to characterize fire activity and track the movement of smoke and haze by strengthening present satellite-usage capabilities by:

  • Improving the operational aspects through provisions for back-up hot spot analysis capabilities, harmonization of fire counts by use of a single detection algorithm, through real time transmission of high resolution data on fires derived from NOAA satellites, and efforts to verify fire counts and burn-area information, through ground-truthing activities.

  • Expanded efforts to estimate aerosol and trace gas emissions from fires by combining fire counts with burn-area, along with a better characterization of source characteristics from diverse ecosystems and land-use systems.

  • Promotion of the development of the next generation of satellites. This includes the need for a new NOAA channel-3 detector optimized for fire studies, dedicated fire satellites to monitor fires more precisely, and the use of space-borne radar for area burned determination and vegetation dryness assessment, and the use of lidar systems to measure the vertical distribution of trace gases and aerosols.

C. Strengthen regional monitoring efforts to assess the effects of smoke and haze on human health, to evaluate ecosystem impacts, to help validate atmospheric transport models, and characterize emission sources, by:

  • Enhancement of existing monitoring networks to measure smoke and haze related quantities including aerosol mass (PM2.5, PM10), visibility, optical depth, and meteorological parameters; and at selected sites, targeted chemical quantities including aldehydes, aerosol composition, and UV-B, and other trace pollutants (CO, O3, NOx, SO2, VOCs, CO2). Two levels of observing stations are envisioned, a base level comprising fewer measurement parameters but with a high level of consistency across the network, and a second level with a more comprehensive measurement suite.

  • Establishment of additional and population-based monitoring stations at areas not presently covered by existing networks (e.g., Kalimantan)

  • Promotion of the scientific exchange of the validated measurement data, and the harmonization and regional coordination of the air pollution indices (API) used in regional smoke and haze alerts, and

  • Formulation of uniform protocols for sampling, including temporal resolution and reporting procedures, and expand efforts directed at QA/QC, building upon the WMO/GAW program components.

D. Improve the management of smoke and haze (and other transboundary) pollution events through enhanced efforts directed at improved information exchange and coordination, including:

  • Enhancement of the current system for dissemination of data, products and other relevant information through the use of GTS for meteorological data and gridded model outputs, and the Intranet and/or Internet systems for non-standard products.

  • Efforts to increase the exchange of critical information including meteorological data (especially rainfall), air quality data (including air pollution indices), and trajectory and plume forecasts. A critical element is to promote harmonization of data and output products to support effective real-time decision making.

  • Further coordinate emergency response responsibilities and activities between national and regional meteorological services, with primary responsibility for the provision of information and forecasts to reside with ASMC, but with the option of seeking further input from other RSMCs, and with provisions for bi-lateral arrangements.

  • Improvements in existing mechanisms to regularly review the operational coordination between the NMHSs and activities related to the Regional Haze Action Plan, and recommend changes and/or improvements to the plans.

  • Fostering linkages between the meteorological services and other national, regional, and international organizations and scientific programs, such as (ICBP/IGAC), with common interests.

Follow-up discussions have lead to a tentative implementation plan presented in Table A.

The Workshop further recognized that large-scale forest fires and the associated socio-economic and health-related problems occur frequently in other parts of the world, notably in South and Central America and Africa. It was recommended therefore that the deliberations and recommendations of this workshop be reviewed and evaluated by the organizations and agencies (including NMHSs) concerned in those regions. It was further recommended to organize as soon as possible an expert-level meeting to address the current situation in South and Central America, and the existing and/or required coordination/collaboration mechanisms.

The Workshop concluded with a plenary session which was joined by a delegation from the Bi-Regional Workshop of Haze-Related Air Pollution, organized by WHO Regional Offices for South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, held in Kuala Lumpur during 1-4 June 1998. The objectives of that meeting were to: Review haze-related air pollution problems and research findings; Identify further research needs to support haze-related decision-making; and Develop health reduction measures/strategies. That workshop concluded that the haze episodes constituted a substantial health risk to the public as evidenced by the widespread exceedances of health-related air quality standards and guidelines for particulate matter (PM10 & PM2.5) , increased frequency of respiratory-related hospital visits in the most heavily impacted regions; increased frequency of attacks among asthmatic children; and reported persistent decreases in lung function among school children. The risks of long term health from these events is much more difficult to discern.

The WHO workshop stressed that from a health perspective, information on the nature and extent of human exposure to environmental pollutants is essential. Standard monitoring protocols are needed, and data analysis and presentation formats need to be harmonized and easily understood to be useful in health studies. The lack of consistency between the air pollution indices used in the region impedes inter country comparability. From the measurement perspective priority needs to be given to measurements of PM10 and 2.5, and the reporting of actual concentrations. They also concluded that more attention should be directed to filling in gaps in the measurement networks in the region, with emphasis on population-based locations to facilitate the health impact studies. Measurements are also needed to estimate apportionment of sources of particulate air pollution exposure, especially the relative contributions of biomass and motor vehicle-related urban pollution mixture sources.

The representatives at the Workshop recognized that the set of recommendations developed by the two workshops are complimentary, and strongly encouraged closer cooperative activities between the meteorological and health related aspects of transboundary pollution. The delegates pledged to continue to work towards closer collaborations.


WMO contacts:

Dr. John M. Miller
Chief, Environment Division
World Meteorological Organization
41 Av Guiseppe Motta
CH – 1211 Genève 2

Fax: ++41-22-734-2326
Tel: ++41-22-730-8240
e-mail: millerjm@wmo.ch Dr. Liisa Jalkanen
Scientific Officer
41 Av. Giuseppe Motta
Case Postale No.2300
CH – 1211 Geneva 2

Fax: ++41-22-7400-984
Tel: ++41-22-7308-587
e-mail: Jalkanen_L@gateway.wmo.ch

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