Monday, March 9, 2015

Why China's Pollution Could Be Behind Our Cold, Snowy Winters

The animation from NASA shows how pollution from Asia and other continents mixes and moves around the world. (It's a simulation made with satellite data from September 2006 to April 2007.)

The colorful swirls represent airborne particles in the atmosphere. Many of those particles are sea salt (shown in blue) picked up from the ocean, and dust (shown in red-orange) scooped up from deserts.

But there are also man-made sources of particles. Soot from fires is shown in green-yellow, and sulfur from fossil fuel emissions and volcanoes is in white.

As the animation moves through time, you can see fires billow up from South America and parts of Africa. Dust from the Sahara Desert sweeps west, and power plants in North America and Europe emit sulfur that blows east.

Then, about 43 seconds into the video, Asia comes into view. And its coal-powered industrialization is clear.

Large swaths of emissions from burning coal pulse from China and Southeast Asia in white. Sometimes the particles blow east and mix with storms above the Pacific Ocean. These storms can have a big effect on winter weather in the U.S., Jiang says.

Storms in the Pacific move northwest; some hit the West Coast and cause rain and snow. Others end up far north in Canada, where they can alter the weather across the entire U.S., Jiang says. npr

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