You were expecting, maybe, a cloud of noxious gas?

Remember that big ol’ blackout in 2003, the one that left 50-some-million people without power in North America? Where a more or less catastrophic collapse of transmission lines led to those neat shot-from-space photographs with a cancerous-seeming black growth in the northeast quadrant of the U.S. (and into parts of Canada)?

You know, when the power plants stopped spitting out juice?

Well, it turns out—and I know this is going to come as a shock to you—that the pollutants in the air (the ones you’d expect to see from power plants) were seriously curbed.

In a blackout!

Imagine that.

(Now, in fairness to the fine researchers who took on this project, this investigation did turn up some potentially useful information. Since, for instance, we apparently don’t actually know how much of air pollution is from automobiles vs. power plants, or how [exactly] power plants effect air quality. Also, it looks like what these scientists found could be helpful in improving models that let us track the movement of atmospheric pollution, which has to be a good thing. But I don’t think that a correlation between a blackout and cleaner air should come as a surprise to anyone, unless they happen to think we’ve already reached 100% clean power generation [in which case they’re quite possibly beyond hope].)

(New Scientist: “Blackout gave cities a breath of fresh air” by Jenny Hogan [May 29, 2004]; also, the Harvard Electricity Policy Group has a fairly comprehensive resource on the 2003 Blackout)