Asia's air pollution has become so bad researchers warn that it is affecting global air circulation in such a way that it could be intensifying storms - including those far beyond the continent itself.
"Huge amounts of aerosols from Asia go as high as six miles up in the atmosphere and these have an unmistakable impact on cloud formations and weather," said Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.
The discovery, published in Nature Communications, uses both climate models and data on aerosols and meteorology collected over the last 30 years.
"The models clearly show that pollution originating from Asia has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make such storms or cyclones even stronger," Zhang said.
During the last several decades, China's economy has undergone a revival, leading to the construction of massive factories, power plants, industrial plants and other polluting facilities, the researchers explained. In some places such as Beijing, the Air Quality Index has soared to as high as 755 (anything below 50 is considered a safe zone for everyone, including those with sensitivities). According to the scientists, conditions are generally worse during the winter due to a mix of stagnant weather patterns and higher levels of coal burning.
"This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity and other factors and eventually impacts climate," Zhang said. "Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America."
There is still more to be done, Zhang said, explaining that he and his team "need to do some future research on exactly how these aerosols are transported globally and impact climate. There are many other atmospheric observations and models we need to look at to see how this entire process works."
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