Asia's Pollution Is Strengthening North American Storms, Apparently, Which Is Exactly As Bad As It Sounds

A new study has found that pollution in Asia strengthens North American storms, meaning that the weather we face in the Northern Hemisphere is heavily affected by the environmental policies of our distant Eastern neighbors. Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research found that air pollution, which is noxiously thick in some places throughout Asia — Beijing in particular — is blown in tiny particles out over the northern Pacific Ocean, where they begin to interact with water in the air. The result is denser clouds, which can lead to more intense storms.

According to the study, the average strength of a Pacific storm has risen by ten percent over the last three decades — a period of time tied to the rapid explosion of industry and manufacturing within Asia, China and India in particular.

The study's lead author, Yuan Wang of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, worked to determine the effect of aerosol emissions on cloud formation. Wang came to the conclusion that monsoon winds were whisking the particles out over the ocean. According to Wang, North America may bear the brunt of these smog-enhanced storms, which move from west to east. In other words, the chilly winter faced by many this last year may have been linked to the smog.

Wang told Live Science:

The increasing pollution in Asian countries is not just a local problem, it can affect other parts of the world. ... This cold winter in the U.S. probably had something to do with stronger cyclones over the Pacific.

The level of aerosol emissions across Asia has become a major environmental story in the last many years, with China as the foremost culprit. While emissions have decreased throughout the U.S. and Europe in recent years, largely thanks to government regulations hemming them in, those numbers are going the other direction on the Asian continent.

Of particular concern are sulfate aerosols, which the team determined to be the most consequential sort of pollution in the formation of storms. It spurs more moisture condensation in clouds.

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This research seems to show that air pollutants are not simply bad for your respiratory or cardiovascular health, but for the relative "health" of our weather patterns, too. It harkens to a certain, well-worn philosophy about conservation and the environment — that everything is connected, and as such should only be altered or tampered with under the strictest of controls.

Seeing as Beijing's pollution is routinely 400 times the acceptable level stated by the World Health Organization, it's safe to say those controls aren't exactly in place.

The research has proven illuminating in academic circles. Professor Ellie Highwood, a climate physicist at the University of Reading, told the BBC:

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. There have also been suggestions that aerosols over the North Atlantic effect storms over the North Atlantic, and that aerosols in the monsoon region over South Asia can affect circulation around the whole of the world.