Airpocalypse Analyzed: Smog Problem in China has Arctic Origins

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-15 23:20

Scientists have discovered that sea ice loss in the Arctic contributed to China's “airpocalypse”.

In January 2013, smog plagued eastern China for almost the entirety of the month. Though China is no stranger to air pollution, this instance was significant because the smog lasted for so long. It became a crisis at the national level. The thick, nearly opaque haze lingered over Chinese cities, severely lowering visibility and endangering residents.

There were high levels of particles called “PM2.5”, so called because they were about 2.5 micrometers big. These particles can cause heart and lung problems. In fact, the smog contributed to over 90,000 deaths and even more illnesses.

During this time, a majority of cities in China were producing emissions far above government standards. This prompted China to enact stricter emissions control policies and control PM2.5 particles. However, China is still experiencing problems with smog blanketing its cities. This is because pollution is not the only problem that China has to deal with.

A new study has found that sea ice loss in the Arctic Circle is affecting weather patterns in countries south of the Arctic. The researchers discovered that as the Arctic became warmer and the ice melted, evaporation in the Arctic ocean caused heavy snowfalls in Siberia. Both the melting of the sea ice and snowfall in Siberia caused the air in China to become stagnant.

Save the Arctic sea ice, save the world

The researchers found that there was very low ventilation in China during the 2013 airpocalypse. Instead of cold air blowing pollution out of east China, it went to Japan and Korea. The smog therefore failed to dissipate and instead became stagnant. Researchers say that if China had not reduced its emissions, the stagnating smog would have been much worse.

Climate Change and the Airpocalypse

In 2012, sea ice loss hit a record high. In 2013, the airpocalypse occurred in China in the winter. 2016 also saw a massive loss in Arctic sea ice. In the winter of that year, China once again experienced high levels of smog.

Climate change is the one of the culprits, not just pollutants, though these pollutants also contributed to climate change. According to the researchers, high levels of emissions will continue aggravating climate change. Climate change will raise temperatures and cause further Arctic sea ice loss. As the Arctic sea ice melts because of climate change, smog will continue to plague parts of the world.

This is another example of how climate change can have unexpected results. As in the case of the airpocalypse, we may only be able to understand what causes a harmful weather event after the fact. It's safe to assume, however, that unmitigated climate change will continue to wreak havoc across the world in unexpected ways.

However, all is not lost. To stop another airpocalypse from happening, we have to look at the wider picture of climate change and emissions. Improving air quality is very much a worldwide effort. All countries in the world have to reduce the emission of air pollutants as well as greenhouse gases.

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