Research highlight

Atmospheric sciences: Storm in a China teacup

Nature Communications

January 22, 2014

Over the past decade, increases in Asian pollution may have strengthened cyclones forming over the northwest Pacific Ocean, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The authors suggest that this finding demonstrates the importance of considering the global impact of Asian pollution when generating climate change policy.

Rapid industrial development in eastern Asia has led to a dramatic deterioration in air quality in recent years, with China in particular experiencing severe air pollution and unprecedented high levels of aerosols and fine particulate matter across many of its cities. Scientists have noted that Asian pollution may have an effect on climate and cyclone activity over the Pacific Ocean, which is immediately downstream, yet modelling the cloud micro-physics that are likely to be involved, and therefore confirming a link, is difficult.

Renyi Zhang and colleagues use a high-resolution cloud-resolving model to determine these tricky micro-physics and then plug their results into a global climate model to assess the effects on climate. The team ran two model simulations, a clean-air scenario and a polluted-air scenario, the results of which they compared with observations of past cyclone activity over the Pacific Ocean. The findings suggest that Asian pollution has strongly affected the northwest Pacific storm track over the past three decades and has possibly strengthened mid-latitude cyclones.

It has previously been suggested that the extensive efforts made by China to limit air pollution are being out-stripped by the relentless pace of its economic growth; Zhang and colleagues’ work implies that this issue may have global climate, and not just regional health, implications.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms4098

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