Special Reports
Chinese Pollution Makes American Storms Worse

By Jonathan M. Gitlin
Ars Technica
March 12, 2007

Aerosol pollution from China and India is strengthening storm production over
the Pacific Ocean.

They say all politics are local, but perhaps they should also say that pollution
is global. We already know that the more severe effects of climate change won't
be on the countries that contribute the most carbon but the poorest parts of the
world, and that's not the only example. Although the past few decades have seen
huge improvements made in air quality in the US, booming industrial production
in China coupled with much more lax environmental regulation has seen the air
quality in that nation plummet.

But the consequences of this pollution aren't just being felt in China and the
surrounding regions. New research from a team at Texas A&M University has looked
at the effect of pollution from power plants in China and India and demonstrated
an effect on the Pacific storm track. Aerosols and soot from coal power stations
are seeding clouds leading to alterations in the frequency and severity of
weather events over the US. Comparing satellite data between two 10-year
periods—1984-1994 and 1994-2005—there was a significant increase in storms of
between 20 and 50 percent in the latter period, especially around winter.
There are also knock-on effects predicted to influence climate change in the
arctic, where dark soot deposits can change the albedo and further exacerbate
the fast warming trend we are seeing in this region.

As the polluters in this case are India and China, there isn't a huge amount
that the people affected by these increasingly strong winter storms can do, but
there are some signs that attitudes in the region are changing. China in
particular has been making more noises about cleaning up its act, and certainly
has the political structure whereby changes can be forced through with much
greater ease than the horse trading we see in the West. Still, with the
oft-quoted figure of one new coal-fired power-plant coming online each week in
China, the problem may well get worse before it gets better.


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