Thick smog engulfs Beijing.

Asian pollution drives storms in the Pacific

While pollution is most felt locally, where its produced, some of it eventually winds up in remote locations proving to be a global hazard even places in the world where there isn’t any kind of fossil industry. For instance, a while ago I reported how 29% of San Francisco’s pollution comes from China – be you didn’t know that. Air pollution from China and other heavy burning Asian countries travel through the Pacific on their way to mainland North America. Apparently, these pollutants are strengthening storms above the Pacific Ocean, which feeds into weather systems, thus posing a significant threat.

China is one of the most polluted countries in the world. It’s enough to look at their most populous and most industrialized city, Beijing to get an idea. Here, smog can get so thick that most of the time you can’t see the sun directly from ground level; other times, smog intensifies so much that cars can’t run anymore and people need to be off the streets. The local government reports an air quality index (AQI) of 500, the highest possible reading – basically, the pollution is so high it’s off the charts. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that life expectancy is cut by 15 years for those living with the smog.

Pollution intensifies storms in the Pacific, and elsewhere

Things are rough, no doubt about it, and the government is making steps to curve the smog and pollution, but in the face of massive and rapid industrialization of the whole country, there’s no chance they’ll pollute any less than now. When pollution is concerned, this isn’t a problem that affects China alone – it becomes a global peril.

Yuan Wang and team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology have gathered important evidence that suggests East Asian pollution is moving further afield. These were reached after the researchers performed computer models of the effects Asian pollution might have on weather systems.

The tiny polluting particles interact with water droplets in the air above the North Pacific and cause clouds to grow denser, resulting in more intense storms above the ocean. What this means is that global climate is becoming threatened by this sort of pollution and the effects of them are only recently beginning to be understood.

Dr Yuan Wang said: “Since the Pacific storm track is an important component in the global general circulation, the impacts of Asian pollution on the storm track tend to affect the weather patterns of other parts of the world during the wintertime, especially a downstream region [of the track] like North America.”

Commenting on the study, Professor Ellie Highwood, a climate physicist at the University of Reading, said: “We are becoming increasingly aware that pollution in the atmosphere can have an impact both locally – wherever it is sitting over regions – and it can a remote impact in other parts of the world. This is a good example of that.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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