A recent video released by NASA shows how aerosols are emitted and transported across the world (aerosols refer to any man-made or natural airborne particles). The video depicts aerosol activity between September 1, 2006 and April 10, 2007 as captured by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Wildfires and man-made burning events are indicated by red and yellow dots.
As you can see, no matter where aerosols begin, in just a few months they can travel around the world. According to Yuan Wang, a researcher in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, China’s pollution is playing a significant role in U.S. weather patterns.
“We found that pollution from China affects cloud development in the North Pacific and strengthens extratropical cyclones,” he said in a NASA news release.
In a nutshell, more aerosols mean more clouds. As water condenses onto aerosols, energy is released in the form of heat. The heat, combined with the up and down airflows of a cloud, causes that cloud to become bigger. According to Jonathan Jiang, Wang’s co-researcher, as storms form in the northern latitudes and cross the Pacific from the southwest to the northeast, China’s polluted air contributes to heavier clouds and more extreme storms.
The cold winter along the U.S. east coast in 2013 and the recent snowmageddon caused by Winter Storm Juno may be the result, Wang believes. The NASA news release points out that storms in the Northwest Pacific have become about 10 percent stronger over the last 30 years, which correlates to Asia’s economic boom.
“Before,” said Jiang, “we thought about the North-South contrast: the Northern Hemisphere has more land, the Southern Hemisphere has more ocean. That difference is important to global atmospheric circulation. Now, in addition to that, there’s a West-East contrast. Europe and North America are reducing emissions; Asia is increasing them. That change also affects the global circulation and perturbs the climate.”
How China’s Pollution Is Harming Its Land & Its Citizens
China’s rapid industrialization has done its economy a lot of good – but it sure isn’t doing its lungs any favors.
This week, Reuters reported that 90 percent of China’s big cities failed to meet national air quality standards in 2014. As bad as that sounds, it’s still better than the year before. According to the nation’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, just three of the 74 cities it monitors met its national standards in 2013. Last year, that number grew to eight.
True, it’s not much of an improvement, but the change does reflect China’s awareness of the issue. Last year, growing illness and outcry among China’s urban citizens led Prime Minister Li Keqiang to declare a “war against pollution”
“Smog is affecting larger parts of China, and environmental pollution has become a major problem,” Li said during his 2014 work report, “which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
Several studies have revealed just how deadly China’s smog problem has become. Lung cancer rates in Beijing rose over 50 percent since 2002 – specifically, cases of lung adenocarcinoma, which are caused by exposure to air pollution. Research from Tsinghua University and others has also linked particulate pollutants from coal burning (i.e. smog) to 670,000 deaths in 2012. PM2.5, or particulates that measure 2.5 micrometers or smaller, are lodging in the lungs and soft tissues of Chinese citizens and leading to strokes, lung cancer and heart disease. The Boston-based Health Effects Instituted estimates the number is even higher. They calculate that outdoor particulates led to about 1.2 million premature deaths in the country in 2010.
The pollution is also impacting China’s food and climate. In November, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported that over 40 percent of the country’s fertile land has been degraded by air pollution, soil degradation and extreme weather. Industrial discharge has polluted the country’s waterways and poisoned its once fertile lakes. Now, after years of record heat waves and pervasive drought, scientists are saying these symptoms will continue unless serious action is taken.
China is already making strides, partnering with the U.S. in planning to limit and ultimately reduce its carbon emissions, shutting down coal mines and passing a nationwide cap-and-trade program that will take effect next year.