China’s air pollution may be causing freak weather all over the world

China’s latest export?
China’s latest export?
Image: Reuters/William Hong
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America now has something else to blame on China: a study released this week claims that pollution from Asia has been sweeping across the Pacific and affecting weather patterns in North America, including the extreme temperatures and storms the US and other regions have seen over the past year.

The study from Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences looks at particles in the air caused by burning fossil fuels and other industrial processes, which can change cloud patterns and precipitation levels. By comparing the levels of these “atmospheric aerosols” in the pre-industrial year of 1850 to 2000, the researchers concluded that aerosols floating over from Asia, mainly China, are intensifying the storm track over the Pacific Ocean. That means intensified cyclones and higher levels of precipitation. Moreover, the aerosol build-up could be affecting weather around the globe.

“There appears to be little doubt that these particles from Asia affect storms sweeping across the Pacific, and subsequently the weather patterns in North America and the rest of the world,” said Renyi Zhang, one of the researchers. In January, scientists said that pollutants from Chinese factories, which take about six days to travel across the Pacific, have increased smog in the US—including one extra day a year of smog in Los Angeles.

Of course, much of that pollution comes from factories and industrial processes for making cheap goods exported to North American and other possibly affected regions. The study released in January found that a fifth of the pollutants China releases into the air is the result of manufacturing goods for the US and other markets.