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Pacific storms

Asian pollution levels impact severity of Pacific storms

Friday, March 23, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: pacific storms, weather patterns, air pollution

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Spiking air pollution in Asia, driven by rapid industrialization and urbanization, has changed the atmosphere over the North Pacific enough to cause stronger-than-usual thunderstorms in the winter and may even have wider effects on the global climate, according to a study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences."

Jump directly to: conventional view | bottom line

What you need to know - Conventional

• Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California-San Diego analyzed satellite data and found that the number of deep convective clouds in the north Pacific was 20 to 50 percent higher in the decade between 1994 and 2005 than in the previous decade.

• This is the type of cloud associated with the Pacific storm track, a region of the northwest Pacific where extratropical cyclones form in the winter. The increase in clouds paralleled the increase in the severity of Pacific storm track weather.

• The scientists found no relationship between the stronger storms and other patterns, such as El Niņo, or changing sea temperatures, but the trend did match up with increasing levels of aerosol pollutants entering the region from Asia.

• Previous research has shown a link between atmospheric aerosols -- sulfur and soot expelled from the burning of fossil fuels -- and the formation of storm clouds.

• The researchers pointed out that the interaction of aerosols in the Pacific storm track could lead to wider climatic effects. The storm track carries atmospheric particles all the way across the Pacific to North America and from there other weather systems can spread them all over the world.

• Lead author Renyi Zhang warned that if soot is deposited on the polar ice caps, it could speed the process of polar melting.

• Quote: "This pollution directly affects our weather. The Pacific storm track plays a crucial role in our weather, and there is no doubt at all that human activity is changing the world's weather." - Renyi Zhang

Bottom line

• Heavy air pollution from the growth of Asian cities is leading to more severe storms in the North Pacific.

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