A Beijing artist Liang Kenang recently auctioned off a jar of fresh air that he brought home from a business trip to Provence, France. The rubber-sealed jar of fresh mountain air fetched an astonishing auction price of 5,250 yuan (or $860 US funds). This was Kenang’s artistic way of protesting against the dangerously high levels of air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Now, new research finds that this pollution laden air from China and other Asian countries could be to blame for the recent changes in American weather.
The study findings indicate that Asian air pollution is directly impacting the storm patterns over the Pacific Ocean. According to Yuan Wang, a post-doctoral fellow at the U.S. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, the impacted Pacific storm track, in turn has major effects on global weather patterns. In fact, it is quite possible that the recent spate of freak winter storms that have repeatedly hit large parts of the US, were caused by foul Asian air.
While the conversation about Asian air pollution is not new, with constant reports of ever-rising levels of particulate matter, this is the first time that scientists have established a direct link between western weather patterns and dirty air from Asia. Wang and his fellow scientists have asserted that all the air pollution being generated by Asian cities can quickly become a global problem.
Recent reports from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing stated that the city’s air contained 18 times the recommended amount of hazardous particulate matter, as established by the World Health Organization (WHO). Similar reports from India’s cities, especially Delhi have sparked global debate about the use of fossil fuels and petrochemicals in these powerhouse economies. These activities generate aerosols, which are fine particles that remain suspended in the air. There is plenty of evidence that local weather and health conditions are being adversely impacted by these pollutants. After all, a Chinese recycling tycoon is selling “Good Person” a branded fresh-air-in-a-can for $3 each. Now, there is increasing concern that the global environment is also being changed by Asian pollutants.
If the recent study by Wang and his co-researchers is any indication, the impact of Asian air pollution is to blame for the changes in America’s weather patterns. The study used simulated climate models that were generated using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those models show how a build-up of aerosols cause thicker and taller clouds, which further manifest as heavier precipitation.
Extrapolating their research findings, the scientists theorize that while this specific study looked solely at the impact of Asian air pollution on the Pacific Ocean region, it is likely that global weather patterns could be impacted in the same manner.
According to Wang, the study focused on the mid-latitude cyclone system, which is known to transport moisture and heat from low latitudes to the higher ones. The assumption is that if this system of transfer is impacted by Asian air pollution, then global heat distribution is likely to be changed. This, in turn will alter weather patterns across the world.
With further studies in place, the climate experts will assess the full impact of Asian pollution by creating more detailed climate models, satellite monitoring and making atmospheric measurements. With Chinese scientists recently saying that the country’s air pollution is somewhat akin to “a nuclear winter”, the importance of these studies are beyond measure. Hopefully, the study will generate solutions to curb Asian air pollution that is being blamed for changing America’s weather, as well as that of the world.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay.