Air Pollution in Asia Could Be Causing Extreme Storms in the U.S.

Asian air pollution could be responsible for that horrible winter we just had, according to a new study. 

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Asian air pollution could be responsible for that horrible winter we just had, if a new study is correct. According to the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the growing number of air pollutants in Asia is affecting weather patterns in North America, and could be linked to the recent and hated polar vortex. 

The authors explain that "using a multiscale global aerosol-climate model (GCM) we demonstrate long-range transport of the Asian pollution," and detail in the paper's abstract the types of weather events that the air pollutants can trigger: 

Simulations of two aerosol scenarios corresponding to the present day and preindustrial conditions reveal long-range transport of anthropogenic aerosols across the north Pacific and large resulting changes in the aerosol optical depth, cloud droplet number concentration, and cloud and ice water paths. Shortwave and longwave cloud radiative forcing at the top of atmosphere are changed by −2.5 and +1.3 W m−2, respectively, by emission changes from preindustrial to present day, and an increased cloud top height indicates invigorated midlatitude cyclones.

Basically, this means that the dense air pollutants were blown towards the North Pacific, where they merged with condensation in the upper atmosphere. The pollution increased the clouds' density, making storms in the region more severe. The authors conclude in their abstract that "this work provides, for the first time to the authors’ knowledge, a global perspective of the effects of Asian pollution outflows from GCMs." 

According to lead author Yuan Wang, "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." So as pollution in Asia gets worse, our storm's will become more severe.

Several Chinese cities suffered days of extreme smog last year. One city, Xingtai, saw 129 days of "unhealthy air" or worse. Hopefully, a number of new rules adopted by the Chinese government in June of last year will help combat the country's severe smog problem. So far, however, China's wealthy are simply opting to leave the country — which doesn't seem like it's going to be an option for much longer.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.