Special Reports
Huge Dust Plumes from China Cause Changes in Climate

By Robert Lee Hotz
Wall Street Journal
July 20, 2007

Storms whip up silt from the Gobi desert of Mongolia
and the hardpan of the Taklamakan desert of western China.

Moving east, the dust sweeps up pollutants from heavily industrialized regions
that turn the yellow plumes a bruised brown.

Once aloft, the plumes can circle the world in three weeks.

One tainted export from China can't be avoided in North America -- air. An
outpouring of dust layered with man-made sulfates, smog, industrial fumes,
carbon grit and nitrates is crossing the Pacific Ocean on prevailing winds from
booming Asian economies in plumes so vast they alter the climate.

These rivers of polluted air can be wider than the Amazon and deeper than the
Grand Canyon. "There are times when it covers the entire Pacific Ocean basin
like a ribbon bent back and forth," said atmospheric physicist V. Ramanathan at
the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. On some days, almost
a third of the air over Los Angeles and San Francisco can be traced directly to
Asia. With it comes up to three-quarters of the black carbon particulate
pollution that reaches the West Coast, Dr. Ramanathan and his colleagues
recently reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

This transcontinental pollution is part of a growing global traffic in dust and
aerosol particles made worse by drought and deforestation, said Steven Cliff,
who studies the problem at the University of California at Davis. Aerosols --
airborne microscopic particles -- are produced naturally every time a breeze
catches sea salt from ocean spray, or a volcano erupts, or a forest burns, or a
windstorm kicks up dust, for example. They also are released in exhaust fumes,
factory vapors and coal-fired power plant emissions.

Over the Pacific itself, the plumes are seeding ocean clouds and spawning
fiercer thunderstorms, researchers at Texas A & M University reported in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March. The influence of these
plumes on climate is complex because they can have both a cooling and a warming
effect, the scientists said. Scientists are convinced these plumes contain so
many cooling sulfate particles that they may be masking half of the effect of
global warming. The plumes may block more than 10% of the sunlight over the
Pacific. But while the sulfates they carry lower temperatures by reflecting
sunlight, the soot they contain absorbs solar heat, thus warming the planet.

Asia is the world's largest source of aerosols, man-made and natural. Every
spring and summer, storms whip up silt from the Gobi desert of Mongolia and the
hardpan of the Taklamakan desert of western China, where, for centuries, dust
has shaped a way of life. From the dunes of Dunhuang, where vendors hawk gauze
face masks alongside braided leather camel whips, to the oasis of Kashgar at the
feet of the Tian Shan Mountains 1,500 miles to the west, there is no escaping
it. The Taklamakan is a natural engine of evaporation and erosion. Rare among
the world's continental basins, no river that enters the Taklamakan ever reaches
the sea. Fed by melting highland glaciers and gorged with silt, these freshwater
torrents all vanish in the arid desert heat, like so many Silk Road caravans.

Only the dust escapes.

In an instant, billows of grit can envelope the landscape in a mist so fine that
it never completely settles. Moving east, the dust sweeps up pollutants from
heavily industrialized regions that turn the yellow plumes a bruised brown. In
Beijing, where authorities estimate a million tons of this dust settles every
year, the level of microscopic aerosols is seven times the public-health
standard set by the World Health Organization.

Once aloft, the plumes can circle the world in three weeks. "In a very real and
immediate sense, you can look at a dust event you are breathing in China and
look at this same dust as it tracks across the Pacific and reaches the United
States," said climate analyst Jeff Stith at the National Center for Atmospheric
Research in Colorado. "It is a remarkable mix of natural and man-made particles."

This spring, Dr. Ramanathan and Dr. Stith led an international research team in
a $1 million National Science Foundation project to track systematically the
plumes across the Pacific. NASA satellites have monitored the clouds from orbit
for several years, but this was the first effort to analyze them in detail. For
six weeks, the researchers cruised the Pacific aboard a specially instrumented
Gulfstream V jet to sample these exotic airstreams. Their findings, to be
released this year, involved NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and nine U.S. universities, as well as the National Institute for
Environmental Studies in Japan, Seoul National University in Korea, and Lanzhou
University and Peking University in China.

The team detected a new high-altitude plume every three or four days. Each one
was up to 300 miles wide and six miles deep, a vaporous layer cake of
pollutants. The higher the plumes, the longer they lasted, the faster they
traveled and the more pronounced their effect, the researchers said. Until now,
the pollution choking so many communities in Asia may have tempered the pace of
global warming. As China and other countries eliminate their sulfate emissions,
however, world temperatures may heat up even faster than predicted.

China's blooming algae swamping Olympics (creeping back into areas weeded).
DailyMail, Jul 3, 2008

China coast covered in stinky green slime (sewage-industrial-agricultural
pollution) & China's Olympian green-slime clean-up (for athletes in sailing
events). BBC, Jul 3, 2008

Taxing carbon on American coal plants quixotic. Toronto Star, Apr 4, 2008
Canadians and the citizens of other Western industrialized countries are growing
increasingly worried about the losses of high-paying manufacturing jobs to
low-wage developing countries, particularly China and India. Yet, as these jobs
go up in smoke in the West, the jobs replacing them in Asia are themselves
creating a lot of real smoke with all its attendant pollutants and carbon
emissions. As CIBC economist Jeff Rubin put it this week: "It becomes absurdly
quixotic to ban coal plants in North America while at the same time China's got
570 coal plants slated to go into production between now and 2012, 30 plants
between now and the Olympics." With the growing realization in the West that the
economy and the environment are but two sides of the same coin, a consensus is
emerging that the only sure way to halt climate change is to put a realistic
price on carbon that captures the environmental damage it is doing. This view,
however, is being fiercely resisted on the other side of the planet, where
carbon emissions are surpassing those of the West. But putting a carbon price on
goods produced in the West, through either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade
system, will raise the price of those goods and thus lead to the export of even
more jobs to countries that refuse to impose a price on the carbon that goes
into the goods they produce. The net effect would be an economic loss in the
West without any gain on the global climate change front. When the link between
trade and climate change are viewed from that perspective, the solutions become
obvious. If developing countries are not willing to incorporate the price of
carbon into the prices of the goods they produce, the industrialized world will
have no choice but to impose a carbon tariff on imports from those countries. By
levelling the playing field in that way, the West would not only give these
other countries a real incentive to start cutting their own carbon emissions,
but it could also win back some of the jobs in industries where the reduction or
elimination of carbon content more than offsets the developing world's low-wage
advantage. The time has come to recognize that globalization doesn't simply mean
mutual dependence in trade and investment; it has to be reinterpreted to mean
interdependence on a far broader scale.

China dust storm hits Korea-Japan (carrying toxins from industrial zones). BBC,
Mar 4, 2008

China controlling weather for Olympics (stop rain for opening ceremonies; start
rain to clear pollution). CanadianPress, Mar 4, 2008

West will pay for complicity with China (we must boycott Olympics, stop
outsourcing manufacturing & refuse to purchase Chinese goods). UK Herald, Mar 4, 2008

China's polluting coal plants surging (building dozens every year). HeraldTrib,
Huge Dust Plumes from China Cause Changes in Climate. Wall Street Journal, Jul
20, 2007

China most polluted on planet (wheat kernels dark-sooty-hollow-twisted) & China
exempt from cutting greenhouse gases (in spite of world-leading coal use) & Dark
cloud of pollution over Hong Kong (from smokestacks of China mainland) & Stinky,
oily, orange snow in Russia (nuclear-industrial-radioactive pollution).

GM/Fr24/Telegraph/Guardian Feb 3, 2007


Promoting Green Building Design, Construction and Operation, Sustainable Living,
Clean Technology, Renewable Energy Resources and Energy Independence