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Cascadia Bioregion

A wetter Cascadia in the Age of Chinese Mega-Industrialization and Peak Oil

Northwest Writing and Regional Identity: Introductory Essay

Two articles:

China's dirty air threatens darker days for Northwest

Research suggests pollution over the Pacific will make Oregon

wetter, cooler


Severe air pollution from Asia is expanding the winter cloud cover

over the north Pacific Ocean and could bring cooler, wetter weather

to the Northwest, a new study suggests.

The booming industrial age in China and India has fired up

factories, cook stoves, diesel engines and coal plants, sending

gritty particles blowing over the Pacific Ocean toward North

America. Those particles have expanded clouds in the storm track

that sweeps west to east across the Pacific each winter, researchers

say. Those changes ultimately could alter weather patterns in the

U.S. and even globally.

"The bottom line from our study is that if you change the Pacific

storm system, then you're going to change the weather in some

places," said Renyi Zhang, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at

Texas A&M. "This is definitely going to change the weather system

over the United States."

The pollutants sweep into the Northwest with storms and prevailing

wind, bringing dust, salt, soot and fine particles of mercury,

arsenic, copper, lead and zinc across the Pacific in a few days. The

particles can alter the size of the water droplets that form clouds.

The larger, deeper clouds that result would reflect more sunlight

back into space, cooling the surface, as well as boosting the chance

of precipitation, Zhang said.

The researchers looked only at the cloud changes -- mostly brought

on by soot and sulfate particles from such activities as coal

burning -- not what specific weather changes resulted. "But this is

the first study that demonstrates that pollution can change a part

of the weather system, which in turn can change the climate," Zhang


The Texas A&M researchers used a combination of satellite

measurements and computer models to study the pollutants. They

compared the deep clouds in January between two decades: 1984-94 and


They found that the average amount of deep clouds in the north

Pacific had increased by 20 percent to 50 percent during the most

recent decade compared with the previous 10 years.

The study findings are reported today in the Proceedings of the

National Academy of Sciences.

Though the study measured only cloud cover and not the changes in

temperature and rainfall that might result, some towns along the

Oregon Coast recorded an impressive increase in rainfall during the

last years of the study. For example, January rainfall in Newport

totaled 89 inches in 1984-1994 but hit 128 inches for 1995-2005.

Some scientists with expertise in clouds and climate are skeptical

about the findings. They say that the change in winter clouds may be

connected to varying regional climate cycles and other dynamic

weather processes rather than Asian pollutants.

They say the cloud changes may be linked to the Pacific Decadal

Oscillation, a little-understood phenomenon in which the climate

flip-flops between wet-cool and dry-warm phases about every 10 to 30

years. A shift to a wetter, cooler phase in the Northwest occurred

in the mid-1990s, which coincides with the most recent years


James A. Coakley, an atmospheric science professor and cloud expert

at Oregon State University, said the study authors didn't show a

clear link between pollutants and clouds. He said other factors may

be triggering the change, perhaps global warming or the Pacific

Decadal Oscillation. "What they've found may have little to do with

increases in pollution from Asia."

David Covert, a research professor and atmospheric chemist at the

University of Washington, agrees. Pollution sources "are a minor

player in the clouds, storms and storm track," he said. "This is not

to say that the effects are insignificant but that they are very

hard to detect" above typical variations in weather and climate.

Zhang emphasized that the study looked only at the changing storm

track over the Pacific Ocean. "But I think other regions are going

to be affected. That needs to be further studied."

The Arctic especially may be susceptible to the pollutants and their

effects on the weather, Zhang said, with black soot absorbing more

heat from the sun and increasing the melting of ice.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions about the changes to the

large weather systems that these pollutants may be bringing," Zhang

said. "The scientific community needs to look at this a lot closer."

Richard L. Hill: 503-221-8238;


China's dirty exports: Mercury and soot

Dust plumes blow across the Pacific from cities and factories and

dump pollutants on the Northwest

Friday, November 24, 2006RICHARD READ

The enormous dust clouds gather in the Gobi Desert. They sail on

Siberian winds to China. They pick up mercury, aerosols and carbon

monoxide spewed by Chinese coal plants and factories.

Then every five or six days in spring, eastern China flushes like a

gigantic toilet. The dust plumes, now as large as countries, ride

high over the Pacific Ocean, pushing hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides

and ozone.

They reach Oregon in less than a week, sullying springtime views at

Crater Lake and scattering dust as far as Maine. Researchers climb

an ice-encrusted ladder atop Mount Bachelor's Summit Express ski-

lift tower and collect the evidence.

Beyond the views, China's contaminants affect Oregon in two key


A growing amount of the greenhouse gases that trap heat, shrink

Northwest glaciers and raise ocean levels comes from China.

A substantial share of the mercury that pollutes the Willamette

River, making fish unsafe to eat, has traveled thousands of miles

across the Pacific.

"It's kind of frustrating because it's limiting our choices here,"

says Bruce Hope, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

researcher who estimated the share of global mercury reaching the

Willamette. "As long as these foreign sources are there -- and God

forbid that they should get any bigger -- we'll be hard-pressed."

But China's emissions are getting bigger. It plans to add at least

500 coal plants to more than 2,000 operating already. It spews more

soot than any other country.

Yet it's all too easy to blame China for the mess. U.S. consumers,

who buy China's goods and use far more resources than the Chinese,

share responsibility.

"Americans in our cleverness are not good Boy Scouts," says Greg

Carmichael, a University of Iowa atmospheric chemist, "because we've

put the latrine upstream of the campsites."