Soot Prints: The Latest Export From China


Edward Burtynsky, Tanggu Port, Tianjin 2005

China exports so much to the west these days; add to the list soot from burning coal. Now scientists are suggesting that much of the bad weather that has been smacking the West Coast (and destroying Vancouver's Stanley Park) might be a direct result. According to the Globe and Mail: The particles of pollution, known as aerosols, are responsible for the brown haze over many Chinese cities. But they drift upward over the Pacific, where they are causing more large clouds to form higher in the atmosphere where it is colder, says Renyi Zhang, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M; University. The result has been more intense storms over the ocean, he and his colleagues argue in a paper published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. More intense storms over the Pacific will change the air-flow patterns around the globe, they say. "And that is going to change meteorology everywhere," Dr. Zhang said in an interview. ::Globe and Mail

We thought for a moment that this might result in some geo-engineering, cutting down the amount of sunlight penetrating the atmosphere. After all, we are in the middle of Barbara Freese's Coal: A Human History and just read that in Manchester a hundred years ago you could not even see the sun. Alas, we learn from Realclimate that "Soot is the most absorbing aerosol component and causes a positive radiative forcing" and that when it settles on snowcaps they melt faster.

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