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Clash Between Pollution, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Fluctuations Could Lead to Drought in South Asia

Pollution haze over urban area in Beijing. Credit: SIO/UCSD

A new analysis by atmospheric scientists shows how the interaction between air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases and natural fluctuations in climate affect the heavily-populated South Asian region.

Scientists Chul Eddy Chung and V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that cooler-than-normal temperatures in the northern part of the Indian ocean have weakened the natural climate circulation and monsoon conditions in the region, resulting in reduced rainfall over India and increased rainfall over the Sahel area south of the Sahara in Africa.

As the tropical Indian Ocean heats up due to climate change, the authors say, the northern Indian Ocean, which is adjacent to highly-populated regions, is not warming as quickly as the rest of the ocean, resulting in increased drought conditions that could have repercussions for more than 2 billion people in South Asia. These conditions impact a range of industries and resources, from agriculture to freshwater availability.

The culprit behind the changes, the authors argue in a study published in the 15 May 2006, issue of the Journal of Climate, published by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), is an ongoing and intricate clash between air pollution, greenhouse gases and naturally-produced climate changes.

In previous studies they and an international group of colleagues had found that pollution particles called aerosols are masking warming effects from greenhouse gases.

It appears that this whole tropical area is being pulled in different directions. The greenhouse gases are pushing in one direction, warming the ocean and trying to make more rain, and the aerosols are pushing in another direction, toward a cooler ocean and less rain. The net effect is to drive the monsoon rain system away from South Asia into the equatorial and southern oceans.

Some years the aerosols might win, and some years the greenhouse effect may win. We’re concerned that in coming decades the variability between the two will become large and it will be difficult to cope with rapid changes from year to year.

—V. Ramanathan

Pollution haze over Los Angeles. Credit: SIO/UCSD

In addition to Asia, similar pollution, or brown haze, clouds, can be seen in various regions around the world, including over major urban locations such as Los Angeles and Denver in the United States.

Although five to 10 years ago scientists thought about pollution as solely an urban problem, scientists have shown that in a matter of five days, airborne pollutants can travel from China to the United States, and in a matter of three to four days, they can travel from the United States to Europe.



Adrian Akau

I think our climate scientist have good reason to be concerned with this problem. If a highly populated area such as India is deprived of monsoon rains, then what becomes of the growing season? Under these variable conditions, the agricultural stability of a region is undermined.

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allen zheng

____Think the drought in the Sahel during the 70's was bad? That one hundreds of thousands. This has the potential to kill millions, or due to world trade, drive prices for foodstuffs sky high. India vs China for American/
Austrailian/Argintine/Canadian food? It would be a horrible way for the trade deficit to be reduced or the population growth of South Asia tobe curtailed.
____Also, the alternating wetter and drier years than average in the Sahel due to this trend will strain the counties of these regions further. Water wars could become more possible in Indus and even the Mekong basins.
____There was a PBS episode of NOVA about global dimming due to aerosols. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography was a contributor to the episode. They appear in the credits:


Hi Shayna here bye

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