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Study finds that air pollution is causing the Taj Mahal to turn brown

Air pollution is discolouring Taj Mahal, says study (Image: Sciencemag.org)

Air pollution is discolouring Taj Mahal, says study (Image: Sciencemag.org)

Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Sunday, December 14, 2014, 6:10 PM - Air pollution has turned the Taj Mahal brown, according to researchers form the United States and India.

The Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin, the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur and the Archaeological Survey of India collaborated in the study that analyzed the effects of pollution on the Indian landmark.

"Our team was able to show that the pollutants discolouring the Taj Mahal are particulate matter: carbon from burning biomass and refuse, fossil fuels, and dust - possibly from agriculture and road traffic," said Michael Bergin, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

To pinpoint the cause, researchers used air sampling equipment to measure what was in the air in the Taj Mahal complex from November through June 2012.

Taj Mahal in March 2004.jpg
"Taj Mahal in March 2004" by Dhirad, picture edited by J. A. Knudsen - see permission. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Filters from the sampling equipment were analysed for both fine particulate matter (smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter) and total suspended particulate matter. 

Researchers then placed small samples of pristine marble onto the structure at various locations near the main dome. 

After two months, the samples were analyzed using an electron microscope to measure the size and the number of particles deposited on their surfaces as well as their elemental signatures. The information collected allowed researchers to the likely composition of the particles. 

The carbon particles come from a variety of sources, including fuel combustion, cooking and brick-making, trash and refuse burning, and vehicle exhaust. The dust may come from local agricultural activities and vehicular traffic - or from distant sources, researchers said. 

Overall, the results suggest that the deposition of light absorbing particulate matter in regions of high aerosol loading are not only influencing cultural heritage but also the aesthetics of both natural and urban surfaces.


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