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Study links air pollution and cyclone intensity in Arabian Sea; suggested solutions include diesel filters and two-stroke engines running on LPG fuel

Scientists are working to better understand atmospheric brown clouds and their effects. Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation Click to enlarge.

Pollution is making Arabian Sea cyclones more intense, according to a study in the journal Nature. Historically, prevailing wind shear patterns prohibit cyclones in the Arabian Sea from becoming major storms. The Nature paper suggests that weakening winds have enabled the formation of stronger cyclones in recent years—including storms in 2007 and 2010 that were the first recorded storms to enter the Gulf of Oman.

Researchers note that weakening wind patterns during the last 30 years correspond with a buildup of aerosols in the atmosphere over India. The aerosol buildup creates formations known as atmospheric brown clouds (ABCs) in which smog from diesel emissions, soot and other by-products of biomass burning accumulate and become widespread to a degree significant enough to affect regional climate. A three-kilometer (1.9-mile)-thick brown cloud has been linked to altered rainfall patterns in South Asia, for example.

Because of the large-scale dimming by ABCs, they have a mitigating effect on the warming of the ocean in the region that’s also associated with greenhouse gas-driven climate changes.

We’re showing that pollution from human activities as simple as burning wood or driving a vehicle with a diesel engine can change these massive atmospheric phenomena in a significant way. This underscores the importance of getting a handle on emissions in the region.

—Amato Evan, University of Virginia, lead author

In the past, the onset of the monsoon season in summer months has produced strong winds in the lower and upper atmosphere that travel in opposite directions, also known as vertical wind shear, which makes formation of cyclones virtually impossible in July and August. Thus, despite warm sea surface temperatures, the Arabian Sea averages two or three cyclones per year that tend to form outside the monsoon season, when the wind shear is diminished.

But the scientists found a trend of increasingly strong cyclones in the months immediately preceding monsoon season. A 1998 cyclone that made landfall in Gujarat, India, killed nearly 2,900 people. Cyclone Gonu made a rare landfall in Iran in 2007 and caused more than $4 billion in damage. Cyclone Phet in 2010 struck the coastlines of Pakistan and Oman and caused nearly $2 billion in damage. Gonu produced category 5-strength winds in excess of 250 kilometers per hour (156 miles per hour). Phet was a category 4 storm.

This study is a striking example of how human actions, on a large enough scale—in this case, massive regional air pollution caused by inefficient fuel combustion—can result in unintended consequences. These consequences include highly destructive summer cyclones that were rare or non-existent in this monsoon region 30 or so years ago.

—Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research

The scientists used findings from direct observations and model studies of ABCs made by Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a paper co-author.

Among the findings is that brown clouds inhibited summertime warming of the surface, which caused sea surface temperatures in the northern Arabian Sea to more closely match cooler temperatures closer to the equator.

The team modeled the effects of brown clouds on atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns. They found that ABCs changed the circulation of the atmosphere and reduced the climatological vertical wind shear.

This study adds a major dimension to a long list of negative effects that brown clouds have, including rainfall reduction, Himalayan glacial melting, significant crop damages and deaths of a million or more people annually. The one silver lining is that the atmospheric concentrations of these pollutants can be reduced drastically and quickly using available technologies.

—Veerabhadran Ramanathan

Those technologies include, says Ramanathan, diesel filters for trucks and buses; two-stroke engines running on LPG fuel; energy-efficient and less polluting cookstoves; and less polluting brick-kilns.

The other co-authors of the study are James P. Kossin of the National Climatic Data Center and the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, and Chul “Eddy” Chung of the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea.

The NOAA Climate Program Office provided additional support for the study.


  • Amato T. Evan, James P. Kossin, Chul ‘Eddy’ Chung & V. Ramanathan (2011) Arabian Sea tropical cyclones intensified by emissions of black carbon and other aerosols. Nature 479, 94-97 DOI: 10.1038/nature10552



This must be due to natural causes. Burning fossil fuel at the rate of 100++ million e-barrel/day has nothing to do with climate, cyclones and rain falls.


Ah but Harvey, they're talking about reel polution here not CO2 (which is a harmless plant food).


All real complex pollution is from natural causes, isn't it? Fossil fuel industries should not be blamed.

Nick Lyons

Reducing soot production, especially in Asia, is the low-hanging fruit in the effort to reduce harm from human-caused pollution.


Low-hanging... and going to cause an immediate jump in temperatures due to reversal of the dimming effect.


Two thousand more large coal fired power plants could give us most of the soot required. Another two thousand, and we could do without sun glasses and sun creams. Oh! what a wonderful world it would be.


"reversal of the dimming effect." Applied to certain eco-freaks - this could be a boon!

Sorry Harvey, that dastardly UV-B gets through even the sootiest Chinese airdome! Now, if they want to license a proven LENR process...


Reel$$...if LENR is an affordable possibility, China would certainly mass produce the units for their very large local market, regardless of the license requirements. Many USA operators would do the same for the enormous potential profits. Since neither seem to be interested, there must be good reasons?

At $2000/Kw, solar power plants (using proven technology) will soon be competitive with LENR, specially in sunny places. If LENR (works) and cost ever drop to $500/Kw as claimed, it could become a worthwhile alternative.

Henry Gibson

Coal mines and oil well drilling and production cause the deaths of many workers every year. This is in addition to the automobile deaths which kill both fossil and nuclear energy workers in very large numbers.

Not many people know that even oil and natural gas production and use release far more radioactivity into the air per kilowatt hour than do nuclear reactors.

Coal mining and use in power plants is well known to produce many many more radioactive elements and put them into the air and on the surface of the earth. China produces some nuclear fuel from the coal ash of power plants.

This does not consider the much more deadly organic chemicals released in the production and use of fossil fuels. If the number of people who were directly killed by the production of carbon monoxide from the use of fossil or bio-fuels including all forms of charcoal, were published in comparison to people killed by the production of radiation in nuclear power plants there would be formulated a requirement for the total availability of nuclear generated electricity everywhere.

Live things, through billions of years of internal exposure to the internal radioactive potassium and other nuclear radiations from earth and space can well survive small amount of radioactivity just as they do physical injuries. Many of them can survive the very poisonous oxygen by quickly repairing the genetic and other damage done by oxygen in the cells which is far greater than damage done by limited radioactivity; this includes humans. ..HG..


Henry, I expect we'll see a steady, gradual reduction of coal mining going forward. The need to mine, process and transport coal to fixed power stations will become non-competitive against LENR, PV, solar thermal etc. It is also a major health hazard as you and Mr. Hansen point out.

I hope Jim Hansen takes a moment to reflect and comment POSITIVELY on the great benefits to come from low temp nuclear reactions that will replace coal.


That so few people are killed by the production of radiation in nuclear power plants is not proof of its harmlessness, rather it's a testament of the respect we give to its dangers: Layers of safety features and training are needed to keep it under control, and when control IS lost people are quickly evacuated and given preventative treatment. With fossil fuels we trade loss of life for economic prosperity. In a nuclear accident we trade loss of economic prosperity (through loss of property, added cost of safety, etc.) for the preservation of life.


Fortunately radiative nuclear reactions are being retired to the "fission era" - a brief period of about 60 years in human history. RIP


That's the hope.


For several years, Reel$$ was a broken record denying that there was anything wrong with fossil fuels (and implying that fission power was unnecessary).

Now Reel$$ is a broken record claiming that LENR will shortly replace fossil fuels (and implying that fission power is unnecessary).

It doesn't take much to see through the propaganda. It's as thin as tissue paper.


Could Reel$$ keep us posted on LENR mass production, total energy production and world wide use?

Stan Peterson

Everyone climbs aboard this regional air modeling computer SIMULATION. No one here questions its accuracy, veracity or believability.

Persian Gulf Sea temperatures are reportedly down. I recall that the green enviros used to complain that this heating was threatening the environment and sea life.

Precipitation is up. Oh Wow, we don't want it to rain in the desert !!! Heaven forfend.

What happens when it rains? Why it cleans the air, removing the brown clouds, and the desert blooms with CO2 absorbing life. We can't have that!

The greenies WANT and DESIRE the brown clouds. It is the only way to continue to claim the world is going straight to hell in a hand basket, when it isn't, except in Socialist environmental cesspools, they love so much.

They have to keep the contributions and grants coming, or they would have to get a genuine job.

There is no doubt that modern environmental controls placed on extraction and refining would cleanse the environment, but they don't want to press for that in the Third World. It would be only a genuine improvement, and besides it would assume the enviro know-nothings actually knew something.

Much better just to bray and collect grants and contributions.

Alas the cleanup is happening anyway. All OGVs are cleaning up their marine propulsion systems under the pressure of international MARPOL insurance regulations. So they don't need Third World governments to pass cleanup laws.

Drilling rigs and refineries, as built, are cleaner than they used to be, and will be even better tomorrow, since the same designs are also sold in areas that demand Air Quality improvements.

So cleanliness is coming to the Third World, whether or not demanded, by those kleptocratic governments.


Ah, the other member of the tag team re-appears.


What could possibly go wrong?

Mr Red Rose120

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