The polluted, pristine, the in-between: Diverse California

California is America’s 31st state. Synonymous with opportunity the Golden State is and has been that way since day 1.

But California is also a land of contrasts: The highest of highs – Mount Whitney (14,505 feet in elevation); the lowest of lows – Death Valley (at a -280 feet); and the in-between – all that’s left (the middle ground, if you like).

Landmarks abound both big and small. The Capitol building and dome, Coit Tower, Disneyland, Generals Grant and Sherman trees, Golden Gate Bridge, Half Dome, Hearst Castle, Lone Cypress tree, Los Angeles City Hall, Morro Rock, Mount Shasta, Transamerica building, and on and on the list goes. There are the 21 missions, Hollywood, the redwood forests, mountains, volcanoes, geysers, deserts, cities of every description, and the not-to-be-forgotten and forever popular melodies: “I left my heart in San Francisco” and “California, Here I Come.”

Yes, California is diverse.

So, let’s now take a tour of the state to see exactly what we’re talking about.


Northern California is, for purposes of this discussion, bounded by Oregon on the north, Nevada on the east, San Jose-Modesto-Bridgeport on the south and the Pacific Ocean on the west.

The north being the source for much of state’s water supply, it also offers ample salt- and fresh-water boating, fishing, swimming and white-water rafting recreational opportunities, Lake Tahoe being the most popular, perhaps, of all inland-based, fresh-water attractions. The area has a reputation for being quite the tourist draw too.

High-tech here rules, particularly on and around the San Francisco peninsula, the area known colloquially as Silicon Valley. Agriculture and ancillary services connected to the industry in addition to oil drilling and refining activity pretty much define the region’s more interior parts. One of the state’s major higher-education academic institutions resides here: Stanford University. And, there is quite a bit of trade conducted especially at Bay Area-dotted ports. Limited manufacturing takes place here too.

Really briefly, the area has heavy governmental and commercial activity, has medium or moderate industrial and light agricultural activity. Tourism plays a major role in this part of the state.


Central California, meanwhile, is bounded by San Jose-Modesto-Bridgeport on the north, on the east by Nevada and Arizona, on the south by Santa Barbara-Barstow-Needles and, as with the north, the mighty Pacific to the west.

Agriculture dominates here, no question. There is a moderate amount of commercial activity while there is quite a lot of oil drilling activity in the region. And, the area has a moderate tourism component.


The south state, lastly, is ringed by Santa Barbara-Barstow-Needles on the north, Nevada and Arizona on the east, Mexico on the south and like in the case of north and central, the Pacific Ocean on the west.

It is a location known for its depiction in film. And, an offshoot of this: tourism. The district is known for its notorious traffic congestion and maze of highways.

Prominent are higher-education academic institutions. Several University of California campuses exist along with those in the California State University system.

Aerospace, trade, manufacturing, oil drilling and refining, agriculture, and entertainment, in the southland, they’re all big business.

As it has to do with recreation, no place in the lower 48 even comes close in terms of offering the types of recreational opportunities that the south state does – make no mistake. You name it, it can probably be found there.

California: A pretty diverse lot it is.

A polluted air profile

For California, in looking at the above map, it is easy to see where there resides the air-pollution “hot spots.”

With so many more people living in the state’s southern third one would think this region would top the air pollution hot-spot list and where ozone is concerned, at least, one would be correct. The air basin contains anywhere from above a third to almost half of the entire population, much of the traffic and the majority of driving in state. But, interestingly, for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in aerodynamic diameter (PM 2.5) an area one might not expect to be tops is the state’s middle – the San Joaquin Valley, it, however, is. It doesn’t mean that ozone in the Valley isn’t a problem – there is that too. It’s just not as pronounced as in the area east of the Pacific Ocean and just south of the Tehachapi Mountains – the L.A. basin.

It is important to remember that ozone is a warm-weather phenomenon and whereas the smog precursor is most prevalent in the Golden State between April and October, PM 2.5, on the other hand, is most problematic from November to April.

A primary reason the Valley has the particulate problem it has is because of the burning of wood in fall and wintertime. In fact, up to almost a third can be traced to that depending.

California’s San Andreas Fault

Thinking of the mountain regions to the Valley’s east, one would be inclined to think this wilderness area would have some of the state’s cleanest air and one would be correct. Except for the fact that areas like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks quite often have pollution problems of their own. Though true, the air pollution that’s there is not of the wilderness area’s own doing: It’s because of the phenomenon referred to as transboundary drift – it comes from the Valley and other places.

To the west, meanwhile, uh, that’d be everything that’s left (refer to the map at right) – basically what lies west of the San Andreas fault. Like that which was outlined above, it’s ditto; that is, a mixed bag it would be also.

Three’s a crowd, apparently

For the record and what it’s worth, just last year, in 2018, there was an effort to break the state in three’s. Not to worry, for at the polls, that proposal, plan, prospect failed. It, however, did present possibilities if not raise a few eyebrows?

As it relates and in reference to that, I composed: “What turning 1 California into 3, could, (and most likely) would mean for air.” That article can be accessed here.

I think one very important observation: Besides an all “new” California (most of it coastal), there would also presumably be South California (a part desert and a part no so much so) and North California (whatever is left, basically). Based on where boundaries would have been drawn had the breakup been successful, “new” California would have been associated with or maybe recognized or characterized by its enormous wealth. Another (South) would have been marked by the considerable lack thereof not to mention the country’s most polluted air, with the third (North) no question being the section betwixt and between. If nothing else in that post, some interesting points made.

Nowhere else on Earth like it

Ah, California, land of contrasts and nothing if not diverse.

Images: U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Jo Weber (upper); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (middle); U.S. Geological Survey/photo by Kate Barton, David Howell, and Joe Vigil (lower)

– Alan Kandel