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Buildings are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013 in Lianyungang, China.

Buildings in Lianyungang, China, are shrouded in smog on December 8, 2013. Aerosol pollution from Asia is likely leading to stronger cyclones in the Pacific, more precipitation, and warming temperatures at the North Pole.

PHOTOGRAPH BY CHINAFOTO/GETTY IMAGES  

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published April 14, 2014

What happens in Asia doesn't stay in Asia, a new study warns. Pollution from booming economies in the Far East is causing stronger storms and changing weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean, which in turn is changing weather in North America, scientists report.

"Whether the weather [in North America] will change in a good direction or bad is hard to say at this time," says Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station. Zhang is a co-author, along with several scientists from the U.S. and China, of a study released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

The scientists say pollution from Asia is likely leading to stronger cyclones in the midlatitudes of the Pacific, more precipitation, and a faster movement of heat from the tropics toward the North Pole. As a result of these changes, "it's almost certain that weather in the U.S. is changing," says Zhang.

Smaller Drops, Bigger Storms

Zhang and his colleagues used computer modeling to study the effects on the weather of aerosols, which are fine particles suspended in the air. The main natural aerosols over the Pacific are sea salt tossed up by waves and dust blown off the land.

But those natural particles are now increasingly outnumbered by human-made ones. According to Zhang, the most significant aerosols the team considered are sulfates, which are emitted primarily by coal-fired power plants. Other aerosol pollutants are released by vehicle emissions and industrial activities.

In the atmosphere, such aerosols scatter and absorb sunlight, and thus have both cooling and warming effects on climate. But they also affect the formation of clouds and precipitation—and the magnitude of that indirect effect on clouds is one of the biggest uncertainties hampering scientists' ability to forecast climate change.

Clouds form when water vapor condenses around aerosol particles to form liquid droplets. Because pollution increases the number of particles, it leads to more water droplets—but smaller ones. Those smaller droplets in turn rise to greater heights in the atmosphere—and even form ice—before they precipitate back out.

In an earlier paper, Zhang and his colleagues used satellite data to show that the amount of "deep convective clouds," including thunderstorms, had increased over the North Pacific between 1984 and 2005. The most likely reason, they concluded, was an increase in aerosol pollution from Asia. "The intensified Pacific storm track likely has profound implications for climate," they wrote.

Global Effects

In the recent study the scientists took a first stab at considering those global implications. Standard global climate models simulate the atmosphere at grid points that are too widely spaced to resolve the fine-scale processes involved in cloud formation—which is one reason clouds remain such a knotty problem for climate scientists. But the researchers found a way to embed a "cloud resolving model" into a conventional climate model.

They then used that "multiscale" model to compare the preindustrial atmosphere of 1850, when levels of aerosol pollution over the Pacific were low, with the present atmosphere.

The simulations confirmed that human-made aerosols are now spreading across the Pacific and having large effects on the storms that sweep east during winter. The storms are more vigorous than they would be without pollution, with more ice and a broader "anvil" shape to the cloud tops. And those more vigorous storms are having a significant effect on the global atmosphere: They're increasing the flow of heat from the equatorial region toward the Arctic, says Zhang.

What about North America? The Pacific storm track has a big effect on American weather, and large-scale natural changes like El Niño and La Niña are known to disrupt its usual pattern, leading to floods and droughts.

"What we have shown is that aerosols from Asia can get transported over the Pacific and change weather in North America," Zhang says—but nailing down the nature of the change will require more research.

"We've been getting some weird weather, such as a very cold winter [in the eastern U.S.], so the next question is, does that have something to do with Asian pollution?"

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

64 comments
Rajendra Goorye
Rajendra Goorye

Does the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change has any reason to exist if it cannot enforce laws to protect the planet.....Is China a country above all laws.....?

Then China has no right to be invited to such great conventions if he cannot engage itself to preseve the environment...we shoud put embargo towards china...stop importation from china.

张 静
张 静

国家地理的一些文章会看到这样的描述:世界食物短缺,因为发展起来的亚洲对肉类的需求增加,或者,世界环境的恶化,因为发展起来的亚洲对环境的污染。这是歧视,是自欺欺人,是可笑的说法。这一点也不科学,是政治。

张 静
张 静

美国引爆原子弹的时候为什么不讨论下这对世界环境的影响?

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

It's time to stop pointing fingers and arguing about it. It's time to accept that this is a global issue and will require global cooperation to address it. It's time to take the, "Politics" out of the equation. It's time that the world starts realizing we all share the same space. It's time to trash the rhetoric and start to do something together about it in earnest.

Then again, when is the last time the countries of the world all cooperated to do anything? Strikes me as this is the perfect place to start.

Have we reached our Waterloo? I hope not, for the sake of our future generations.

Jang Hun Oh
Jang Hun Oh

one of the main emitting pollution nation is china.


the china should make a better policy.

Mike Tyburski
Mike Tyburski

Care to swap some fresh air for economic growth?

mark talmont
mark talmont

Curiously I have seen no mention of this on any of the news networks, though the PBS news  hour devoted a portion of its show last week to the UN climate change report and let White House science advisor Holdren talk for 15 minutes about how the U.S. must make dramatic changes immediately. Not a word about China.


I'm getting to the point where I don't think these "chicken littles" running around promoting a panic actually believe what they say themselves. It's a big political play to control U.S. citizens. If they REALLY believed we face imminent catastrophe then they would campaign for immediate measures like taxing Chinese imports to reflect the damage their production is doing to the environment. Their proposals will spike U.S. electricity to the point where all manufacturing will be driven offshore; how they plan on ever paying the debt much less finance current expenditures is something of a mystery. 

Marina Islam
Marina Islam

Every people and every country needs to bear the responsibilities for pollution of this earth and environment. We should start to reduce our luxury to save this Earth from pollution and global warming. To save this Earth for our next generation be protector of Environment.

John Trew
John Trew

Anyone want to swap some fresh air for some economic growth?

Mary McCloskey
Mary McCloskey

Having traveled to Asia and other developing countries many times, the air pollution one is confronted with is not only alarming, but frightening.  Read this article...

Camil Divante
Camil Divante

It's likely that Asia is one of the biggest contributions in this crisis, but like its been forenamed; its one of them. This is a global problem hence "Global Climate". Even though they are illustrating north americans as victims (which is just not true); they never said that North America is not part of this contribution. Heck, they may beeven the second or third most polluted. Even though it sounds like they are blaming Asia, which they are, but its well-known that the blame is partly shared; they are just focusing on THIS continent and the effect for its abundance of pollution through not only North America but globally.

yang qing
yang qing

Environmental pollution is a worldwide problem

Haruko Kobayashi
Haruko Kobayashi

In Japan weatherforecasts also provide the information of p.m.2.5 (particular matter 2.5) from China when it seems to come to Japan too much. That is not because it changes the wheather here but because it is so small and so damaging to our body. Like radiation from Fukushima and Chernobyl, everything spreads into the air and we all share the same air. 

Waqar Ahmad
Waqar Ahmad

I am very happy that I will receive updates of Environment


Enah Mae Dayanan Taran
Enah Mae Dayanan Taran

whether we're from Asia or the US or any other place on Earth, we all have to take action even through our simple, little ways to prevent further damage to our environment and adverse changes to our weather. we share the same planet so why not share the same effort of saving it while we still can? the article might be offensive for Asians like me but the point is, we all have to work together instead of fight and blame each other...

JiYong Park
JiYong Park

so blame everything on Asia now! just.. wow...

Roiikka-Ta P Globetrotter
Roiikka-Ta P Globetrotter

i would think it would make more than just the pacific storms stronger, but, i think thats kind of obvious ..

andrew qaunaq
andrew qaunaq

if this study was done by any usa or any form or shape of usa.  it should be void research because usa is not the leader

Joe G.
Joe G.

As we say these comments we are all on computers run by electricity that probably came from a coal, nuclear, or natural gas power plant. Why not switch to renewables so we don't screw up weather patterns. 

Gregory S.
Gregory S.

What seems to be happening is that the arctic is disproportionally warming as opposed to lower latitudes. Normally cold air would get bottled up at the north pole during the winter, and occasionally it would break out and rush south as short-lived arctic fronts. The mid-latitude winds (jet stream) would normally move briskly around the large polar vortex. But now warmer air is infiltrating northward during the winter, displacing more cold air in isolated pockets further south during the winter. Mid-latitude winds are not as brisk and blocking patterns emerge. A fairly large pocket of cold air can now sit over a continent for months without moving, resulting in an abnormally cold winter in that portion of the globe, whereas the rest of the globe, including the arctic has a milder winter. Over the last winter Alaska  had a remarkably mild winter. The U.S. winter last year (2012-13) was quite mild whereas Western Europe was frigid.  In 2011-12 Eastern Europe and Asia froze whereas things were fairly mild elsewhere. If smog in Asia is forcing more warm air to the poles, than it could be partly responsible for this phenomenon of warm air infiltrating further north, subsequently driving pockets of colder-than-normal air southwards into random regional areas each winter.

dave powelson
dave powelson

Regarding the effect of Asian pollution on eastern U.S. cold, possibly the rising air in the western Pacific comes down in the eastern Pacific, creating the blocking high that deflected the storm track toward Alaska and then down to the eastern U.S.  What goes up must come down.

April Hunt
April Hunt

I got a wiff of an air born chemical in a hot spot while walking past a corn field.  I recognized the smell from prior employment at a company, but not in my department. Wondering how far it traveled and which direction it originally came from.  There wasn't anything in the near vicinity other than a car repair shop.  Ghost buster later ran thru my mind.  Thinking it most likely had a chimney origin.


Stan Chaz
Stan Chaz

However in the Atlantic, large increases in Saharan sand blown across the Atlantic have played a large role in curbing the growth of hurricane formation the last couple of years.

It's likely that there are more pieces to the puzzle...

Manuel Lukingan
Manuel Lukingan

this is stupendous article blaming someone else for some reasons when those scientist are riding on a running engine burning natural resources, stop the manufacturing of engine and lets go back to the basic way of living. can we do that? u know where we are going to? the human society is just making monkey business at the expense of the mother earth. destruction of natures beauty for the showdown of a split seconds of enjoyment. 

Aris Putra
Aris Putra

it is pretty cute on how they bring up the heat problem that affect north pole and US, while the fact is, Europe and US have been producing pollution from industrial effect, and also taking gas and oil from earth, very much long before the Asia do it. what I see is, they are trying to blame all to Asia for the mistake they've done for a long time ago (until now). JERK...

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@Rajendra Goorye Good day sir. Let me offer the following thoughts;

China is relatively new to the, "Global" community, in that until Nixon opened the door, China was pretty much misunderstood and treated somewhat as an unknown entity, isolated from the rest of the world.

Once the,"Western" world recognized China, of course we pushed for the, "Westernization" of China, which included an invite to the newly emerging, "Global" economy, (this apparent push to Westernize the world bothers me, it's an insult to those Peoples and Countries that have established cultures that in some cases, such as China, have been developing for Millennia). Western corporations jumped on the bandwagon, moved many manufacturing operations over there, for the sole purpose of producing products that could be made much cheaper, therefore could be sold cheaper yet at a much higher profit. One of the many reasons that this is so, is because China did not have to meet the stricter manufacturing laws that the rest of the Western world had to deal with. Even though there were people screaming that they were losing their jobs to China because of such, we still accepted China's goods with open arms. That is NOT China's fault.

Well, since the matter of, "Global" warming has come to the forefront,  it seems we are being very quick on the gun to point our finger at China and say, "This is your fault", stop it. It's not like China doesn't recognize the problem and quite frankly is making efforts to better the situation, but these changes do not happen overnight. How long did it take the US to start implementing changes with regards to manufacturing and alike, which addressed known pollution concerns, or the handling of hazardous materials? How long was the US the MAIN contributor? We should be doing everything we can to HELP China address the concern, as opposed to be divisive by pointing fingers and talking about sanctions, that will simply not work and for good reason, to a large extent it is the pot calling the kettle black. There are still many countries in the West, the US still being towards the top of the list, that could be doing far more to, "Clean up their own house" as it were. The fact of the matter is, here in the West we have had a much longer time to deal with the issue of, "Pollution" in general, although we are making progress, we still seem to be dragging our feet on the issue.

Granted, China, is one of the main emitters of CO2 today, but by the same token, they are the newest member of the, "Industrialized" nations. It took the Western World quite some time to somewhat get a handle on the issue of the pollution associated with manufacturing, and we still do not have it right, there is a hypocrisy in pointing fingers and that is never a good way to promote cooperation.

Perhaps, if instead of demonizing China for the emissions they produce, we make an effort to include them as an, "Equal" partner in these concerns, concede that ALL the Industrialized Nations need to ramp up their efforts, take the, "Politics" out of the equation, work as a, "Global" community for the betterment of ALL,, East, West and all in-between, with the recognition that it would be beneficial to everyone on this Green Earth which we all share, we will find a new level of understanding and respect for each other.

It's a tall order which obviously will not be easy and require concessions from both sides of the table. Pointing the finger at China is NOT the way to start if there is any hope of accomplishing this.

One world, one humanity, all sharing the same space, understanding each other, which will go a long way to respecting each other, recognizing that none of us are perfect, recognizing we can learn from each other, understanding that we have different cultures, different histories that brought us to where we are, that basically, despite being culturally different, we are all the same under the skin with the same desires, hopes, wishes and dreams for a better tomorrow for our heirs and only by working together towards this common goal, THEN and only then will true cooperation and a better tomorrow be realized.

It's Ideological thinking for sure, and is very easy to state, a different matter entirely to initiate, but there is little doubt that the current attitudes, frankly about many of the Worldwide issues we face, are just not working. It's time for a REAL change if we are at all serious about making the World better, frankly making Humanity better,  and not just, "Talking" about it.

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@张 静  ;你是正確的,問題是出於政治動機。不幸的是,這是一個真正的問題。看來,我們通過生產人造二氧化碳改變我們的環境。我們不應該指向我們的手指在亞洲。這是所有工業化國家的共同責任。美國包括在內。我們需要拋開政治。
事實是,我們是在同一個家庭,“人”。事實是,我們都共享同一個空間,我們珍貴的地球。事實是,我們擔心我們的孩子的未來。 大家都是一樣的,在皮膚下。恭恭敬敬,傑夫

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@张 静  我希望我的意思是不是在翻譯中丟失了,正是我想說的是,我們應該尊重和互相幫助成為更聰明

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@张 静  請讓我們放眼未來期待只會劃分了過去。並不是所有的美國人希望是這樣。沒有一個國家無辜的”,我們必須改變我們的思想和態度,如果我們希望達到彼此真正了解。

muthama muisyo
muthama muisyo

@John TrewI think the weather is changing each and every new day.Measures should be taken to control this or....

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@Camil Divante  Let me premise by saying I am American, I feel blessed to be so, I believe the American people are for the most part caring, charitable,  concerned and reasonable. That being said I also believe our, "politics" leave allot to be desired. We come off as being too arrogant. We tend to be critical of others when we should be critical of ourselves first. In many cases we can have the attitude of do what I say, but not as I do. We are working on it. The changing of minds takes time and from a political point of view, many Americans are tired of the same old, same old. In this respect we too are a developing country.

That being said, the issue of "Global warming" in a critical stage, it's time for all countries that are contributors to green house gases, CO2 in particular,  to look to the future, get rid of the, "Politics", and work together. Regarding, "Global warming" the primary focus, just as in any neighborhood, is clean up your own yard and help others to clean up theirs. It's a community effort and maybe if we learn to deal with this issue, as a community, that will open the door to cooperation on other, "Global issues". I think that the vast majority of citizens of the world are ready for a change, now it's, Governments' turn.

muthama muisyo
muthama muisyo

yeah.And it,s really affecting human geography .

mark talmont
mark talmont

@andrew qaunaq

and who does China steal all it's technology from? Though China certainly leads the way in mass executions and organ harvesting. 

David Myers
David Myers

@Sebastian Isaksen It's not as bad as China obviously. We have a lot more restrictions against how much emissions factories can have. But I understand what you're saying. They also have double the emissions that we have, but we are second.

Noah Hirsch
Noah Hirsch

@Aris Putra  You are right, but the problem is population differences, and which resource they utilize to get their power. Asia has a huge population, and  the coal is the main resource that is burned, which has highest pollution from any other resource. It is no doubt that the U.S has contributed to this problem.

Marianne Homan
Marianne Homan

@Aris Putra  I don't know about Europe but I know Germany has very very strickt enviromental laws. We here in the US should be ashamed of ourself's constantly blaming others. If we don't soon wake up and do the right thing were doomed.

Zhang Qiang
Zhang Qiang

@David Myers @Sebastian Isaksen My friend, let me tell you something: there is a old saying in China which says that "Please do not laugh at the one who ran a hundred meters when you have run fifty meters if you both ran away after losing the war". So, it is not necessary to always blame one country for what it did, and we even don't need to make a ranking to show who did worse. I do not deny what China has done in polluting the environment, but I do also remember that most of the  developed countries have experienced the hard time when they do harmful things to the environment. So, we all should stop blaming each other, this maybe useless. The most important thing is taking the actions to protect our "hometown", to do what we are able to do, not spend our time in saying what we needn't to say( Sometimes it's important to say something.) What's more, if you really want to blame some countries include China about destroying the environment, I suggest you go to that country firstly, and make a good survey or observation, and to discover the two sides of the fact, not only one side as you have had. At last, I want all of us could abandon the extreme ideas and set our minds together to do something with our hands, start in doing every pieces of things. Things will be fine, if we do it together.

Doug Hornby
Doug Hornby

@Marianne Homan @Aris Putra The key word there is not has, its had. Germany is in the process of repealing these idiotic laws that are stifling their economy and costing billions for NO Wind and Solar are pipe dreams, being proven over and over. Just ask Ireland.

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