Development fueled by coal has unexpected repercussions that spread way beyond a single country or continent. And China might be partially responsible for this bitter winter across the Americas.
This image was compiled by NASA to show how pollution from Asia and other continents mixes and moves around the world. It was made with satellite data from September 2006 to April 2007.
The colorful swirls represent airborne particles in the atmosphere. Many of those particles are sea salt (shown in blue) picked up from the ocean, and dust (shown in red-orange) scooped up from deserts. There are also man-made sources of particles like soot from fires is shown in green-yellow, and sulfur from fossil fuel emissions and volcanoes is in white.
Fires billow up from South America and parts of Africa. Dust from the Sahara Desert sweeps west, and power plants in North America and Europe emit sulfur that blows east. At the same time large swaths of emissions from burning coal emerge from China and Southeast Asia.
Sometimes the particles blow east and mix with storms above the Pacific Ocean. These storms can have a big effect on winter weather in the U.S. according to research scientest Jiang as the storms move northwest - to the Pacific coast of the Americas.
The extra pollution from Asia makes the clouds over the Pacific bigger and heavier with more precipitation, Jiang and his colleaguesreported last year.
"Atmospheric particles can serve as cloud nuclei and foster cloud formation," Jiang writes. The particles give water vapor something on which to condense.
Jiang isn't sure yet how much the bigger storms in the Pacific are to blame for cold, wet winters on the East Coast and drought in the West. His research team is working on models and computer simulations right now to look at such questions. "We have not reached a final conclusion yet," he writes.