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INFRASTRUCTURE

Watch Asia’s air pollution spread across the globe

Reuters/Aly Song
Smog over Shanghai.
By Zach Wener-Fligner

2014-15 Fellow. Quartz Things team.

This article is more than 2 years old.

One problem with air pollution is it doesn’t stay put.

Rather, particles in the air—also known as aerosols—move around the atmosphere, affecting the global climate in complex ways, and perhaps strengthening storms and cyclones.

Here’s a video produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center using data detected by the Earth Observing System, that shows those aerosol movements from September 2006 to April 2007:

Due to rapid development, air pollution in many places is worse today than ever before. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are trying to figure out what effect that increased aerosol pollution has on the rest of the world. Since most of the countries with the worst air pollution are in Asia, they focused on Asian pollution.

The scientists, Jonathan Jiang and Yuan Wang, made two models of global aerosol movement: one that assumed aerosol levels before the Industrial Revolution, and one with current levels.

They found that the current pollution patterns, such as heavy pollution from China, lead to stronger cyclones outside of tropical regions. That’s because when storms form across the Pacific, more water condenses onto the increased aerosols. This condensation releases energy, making the storms even more powerful.

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