November 13, 2007, Updated September 13, 2012

The ‘Beam of Light’ can be seen in Aqaba, Jordan, across the bay from Eilat.Some issues are too large to be tackled within a single country’s political borders – and the environment is one of them. The problem of air pollution is a case in point, with a recently launched study of air quality around the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba involving scientists from both Israel and Jordan in a striking example of regional co-operation.

Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Administration (ASEZA) have joined with scientists from the Desert Research Institute of Reno, Nevada, in the US in the intensive, trans-boundary air monitoring project. Since the study began earlier this month, the Israeli team has been operating a mobile laboratory near Eilat, and the Jordanians have been continually measuring air quality in the southern city of Aqaba – just 3 miles to the east.

As part of the experiment, the Hebrew University team projects a powerful light from the Israeli side to the Jordanian side, the returning rays of which are then submitted to spectral analysis. This analysis enables the group to determine the composition of the air over the Red Sea that lies between the two measuring sites. The scientists have nicknamed the one-month study “Beam of Light”.

According to Professor Menachem Luria, who heads the Israeli team, the project aims to develop co-operative efforts to improve air quality in the region and reduce trans-boundary pollution transport. This can be achieved through joint scientific efforts and the generation of public awareness, he said.

The teams also recognize that the outcome of this study will serve as a basis for government officials on both sides to address air quality issues in this rapidly developing recreation area. Dr. Bilal Al Bashir, ASEZA’s deputy chief commissioner for the environment, said that good air quality is an essential factor for the continued success of the region’s tourism-driven economy.

The current project, which is supported by the US AID MERC (Middle East Regional Cooperative) funding framework, will be followed by a similar program across the northern Jordan Valley next year involving additional scientists from Israel, Jordan and the US. The second phase will focus on developing a better understanding of the trans-boundary transport of air pollutants as predicted by model simulation in a previous MERC-funded study by Erez Weinroth as part of his Hebrew University Ph.D. dissertation.

Based on the success to-date in bringing together scientists from both sides of the Jordan River to address these mutual environmental issues, Prof. Alan Gertler of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute said that he has been impressed by the co-operative spirit of the team and believes it will serve as a model for future regional studies.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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