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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+.

54 comments
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...

LaRissa Bigman
LaRissa Bigman

Now it's just finger pointing; we are all to blame for what's going on with the climate change. We have polluted this world and it has to balance it's self out somehow. I think we all forget that this earth is just as fragile as humans are. We consume unhealthy product and our bodies react to it; this earth is just the same. We are all to blame because US imports from China and China imports from the US.

Madeleine Devenyi
Madeleine Devenyi

Isn't it obvious that we need to use our consciousness to stop counting money and return to an existence where primary needs will be more important ?   

Christian Kolle
Christian Kolle

I recently heard the Air in Saigon was horrible though seems not long ago L.A. was similar nice fog shot and rhetoric.

daniel burns
daniel burns

There is no proof of this conclusion at all and it does need more research. We can't just blame the environmental or climate changes of US simply on the pollution of Asia instead of analyzing our own problems.

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.

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.

Alexander Harrison
Alexander Harrison

@LaRissa Bigman  It is Not Finger Pointing! Have You Ever Been To asia most of it is covered in smog! And They Never Said Only Asia Is To Blame They Said Thats It Is A Cause!

Alexander Harrison
Alexander Harrison

@daniel burns  NOBODY SAID THAT! What They Said Is Pure Proof And Many Hours Of Research Suggested That Is ONE Of The Causes! Nobody Said It Was All Because Of Asia And We Are All Perfect!

Ariston Darmayuda
Ariston Darmayuda

@daniel burns we just saw where the fire is rather than find out what the cause of fire. This article is like double side blade on NG because I've watch on NGC about environment and climate. There environment expert being ask "Is it right for these third country sacrifice their wildlife for farm and plantation?", he reply "From environment side is wrong, wildlife habitat will be decreased. But this country has duty for its people, fulfill their primary needs. Most country unable to fulfill as the population growth, so they need to import, by buying from other country. But how do they do it, they must open area and change it for farm or plantation". So, it's back again when the west country yelling at third country that they must watch their wildlife habitat but keep the primary needs price high as it is. How could third country fulfill their duty to their people, and then later got criticize for famine issue. Third country never charge O2 that generated by rain forest in their location, isn't it? Pollution can spread across the globe, and so does O2 that every single person in this planet inhale.

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.

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@Alexander Harrison @LaRissa Bigman  have you ever seen New York City or Los Angeles, for example, on a humid morning, talk about smog, it's surreal, very similar to the picture above. There is allot to be said about throwing rocks when one lives in a glass house.

Jon Winstone
Jon Winstone

@Alexander Harrison @LaRissa Bigman  


Most of Asia is covered in smog? Been to Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and I can confirm that I didnt see this Smog covered Asia that you have mention.

I am going to Philippines for a month in July.. I am guessing,most of the country isn't covered by smog.

A few parts yes, but... most of.. absolutely not.

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