Study: Pollution In One Place Felt The World Around

Ganjiaxiang Pollution To USA

It’s not only the products made across Asia that make their way to America; the pollution created from making all those products finds its way across the Pacific Ocean too.

In a study published Monday, April 14, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from several North American and Asian universities report that pollution originating in the world’s industrial hotbed of Asia affects the climate and weather in the Pacific Ocean and, as a consequence, in North America.

The scientists used a global aerosol-climate model to show how pollution in the form of aerosols is transported out of Asia to increase rainfall and intensify cyclonic events in the Pacific Ocean, as well as to speed the movement of hot air from tropical regions to the North Pole.

Because of this, National Geographic is told by Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University who co-authored the study, “it’s almost certain that weather in the U.S. is changing.”

In the 2006 graphic below, provided by NASA’s Earth Observatory, the areas of the greatest aerosol concentrations are the darkest.

2006 Aerosol Concentrations

The aerosols, which are small particles of soot or dust suspended in the atmosphere, not only are known to block the amount of sunlight that reaches the Earth but also degrade the air quality for those breathing on the surface.

High aerosol concentrations happen for different reasons in different areas. For instance, according to NASA, the high aerosol concentration shown over West and Central Africa was created from the smoke of agricultural fires and Sahara Desert dust; whereas, those high concentrations over India and Asia stemmed from urban and industrial pollution. The high concentration over North Russia was tied to an increase in forest fires that year.

One of the discoveries made in this most recent study was that aerosols created naturally due to deserts or fires are highly outnumbered by those created by industrial or urban pollutants. The most dangerous of these processes, according to the study, are the sulfates created by coal-fired power plants; however many others are created by vehicle emissions.

This may come as a surprise to some, but not to Zhou and his team of scientists. In a 2007 study also published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, atmospheric aerosol concentration due to industrial processes in Asia was shown to increase the frequency and intensity of thunderstorms in the North Pacific Ocean, all of which “impacts the global general circulation [of weather patterns] due to its fundamental role in… heat transport and forcing of stationary waves.”

So maybe President Richard Nixon was able to open up China to making all of our dirtiest products, but he wasn’t able to wash our hands to the aftereffects.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]