Tasmania has some of the cleanest air in the world -- but it's not as clean as it used to be

Sam Cleland, the officer in charge of the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, posing in Cape Grim, Tasmania. Photo: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

The northwestern tip of Tasmania on the Cape Grim Peninsula is where you’ll find the cleanest air in the world.

The coastline has been home to the Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station since 1976. The station measures the quality of air so we know what Earth’s “baseline” is as pollution levels rise.

“Our job is essentially to find air as clean as you’re likely to find anywhere in the world and measure just how polluted it is,” Sam Cleland, the officer leading the station’s operations, told AFP on Monday.

The nearest landmass to the west is Argentina, to the south Antarctica. When winds blow up from the southwest, Cleland and his team take readings using instruments that are so sensitive, truck movements in town are logged in case they skew the readings.

The air is so clean in fact, that the region bottles and sells its air and water as a counterpoint for areas impacted by heavy pollution.

But even the cleanest air from the southwest is starting to change.

Pollution from winds that blow in from other major cities, like Melbourne or Sydney, can be detected at the facility. The station has even picked up readings of increased greenhouse gas emissions from as far away as China, Cleland told AFP.

“You can see over the last 2,000 years that Co2 levels in particular – but all of the major greenhouse gases – were at a fairly steady level,” said Cleland.

“By the time we started measuring Co2 here, in 1976, it was already up to 330, since then we have progressed to where we are now, about 405.”

Before the industrial revolution, Co2 accounted for around 275 parts per million in the atmosphere. Now, the levels of carbon dioxide at Cape Grim resemble that of some towns pre-industrial revolution.

“What we’re seeing in the atmosphere now is probably unprecedented in Earth’s history,” he warned, according to AFP.

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