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January 23, 2014 | By:  Samantha Jakuboski
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The Impact of Asian Air Pollution On The World’s Weather

When Americans heard on the radio and read in the newspaper that China surpassed the United States as the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world in 2006, they were overcome with a sense of pride and accomplishment-or at least I was. A load was lifted off the United States' shoulders, because now, it was China's turn to sit in the ‘international hot seat' and take the blame as the main culprit for anthropogenic global warming. As long as China stayed the world's greatest emitter of pollutants, America had one less problem to worry about, right?

Wrong! No matter what country or on what continent a person lives on, when pollutants are released, everybody is affected. After all, we do share the same atmosphere and breathe the same air. Even the world's greenest country, Iceland, which depends on coal for only 18% of its energy, suffers from the actions of other countries, such as China which depends on coal for 70% of its energy. Once pollutants are released, global problems arise.

Air Pollution in China

A developing country in the midst of industrialization and urbanization, China requires a substantial amount of energy to run their industrial plants, factories, and power plants. Relying heavily on coal, the dirtiest energy source, to fulfill these energy requirements, China is now the largest consumer of coal and the leading producer of greenhouse gases in the world. Each year, its emissions rise 10%, and in cities such as Beijing, the air pollution levels are 100 times higher than the limits set by the United Nation's World Health Organization. Additionally, 40% of cities are exceeding their residential area air quality standard. Looking up at the sky, one can expect to see a thick, haze of lingering smog, so is it really a wonder why only 1% of the Chinese population in cities breathes clean air? Do the thousands of Chinese deaths each year due to respiratory illnesses still seem bizarre, and is it now understandable why cancer is the leading cause of death?

On an even larger scale, Asia is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases out of all seven continents, and because of this, plays an instrumental role in the global environment. Recent findings published in Nature Communications suggest that Asia's high level of pollution influences worldwide weather patterns. Gathering and analyzing meteorological data and climate models from the last thirty years, Yuan Wang and his team found that Asian air pollution rises six miles into the upper atmosphere and affects cloud formation and storm intensity, which in turn impacts global air circulations and climate. Simulations run by a supercomputer showed that the strengths of storms, particularly winter cyclones over the northwest Pacific, became greater in the presence of Asian pollution, and that precipitation increased by 7%.

More research is needed to fully understand and explain the specifics of this phenomenon and the magnitude of Asia's influence. However, we should look to these early findings as a wakeup call. The decisions and actions of one country and region affect the whole world, so as a global community, we must work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What are your views on these new findings? How are/should the countries of Asia, particularly China, cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions? What are some ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint?

For a real-time air quality index visual map, click here.

Picture Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (via Flickr and available for use under the CC license)

Picture Credit: Air pollution (Tributary to the Yellow River in Wuhu City, Anhui Province, China) Robert Thompson (via Flickr and available for use under the CC license)


"Air Pollution From Asia Affecting World's Weather" Texas A&M University January 21, 2014

Borenstein, Seth "China's Carbon Emissions Directly Linked To Rise In Daily Temperature Spikes, Study Finds" Huffington Post April 12, 2013

Evershed Nick "World Carbon Dioxide Emissions By Country" The Guardian July 15, 2013

Kahn, Joseph; Yardley, Jim "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes" New York Times August 26, 2007

Kemsley, Tamarra "Asia's Pollution Affecting Global Air Circulation" Nature World News January 21, 2014

Overturf, Jordan"Researchers Find Connection Between Asian Pollution, Changes In Weather" The Bryan-College Station Eagle January 22, 2014

Wang, Yan, and Yi-Sheng Zhang "Air Quality Assessment by Contingent Valuation in Ji'nan, China." Journal of Environmental Management (2008)

Wang, Yuan, Renyi Zhang, and R. Saravanan. "Asian Pollution Climatically Modulates Mid-latitude Cyclones following Hierarchical Modelling and Observational Analysis." Nature Communications (2014)

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