It wasn't that many years back that farmers and ranchers only needed to be concerned about the environmental conditions of their particular area or region, like what did the weather have in store for their crops, the quality and condition of their soil and water resources, potential problems associated with erosion, the potential for flooding and similar issues.
But as time passed and civilization and industry encroached on traditional farming regions, other environmental concerns began to surface. Streams, rivers and reservoirs became endangered by industrial waste materials, runoffs from urban refuge sites surfaced and soon the farming community began thinking on a wider scale about the health of the environment and its overall impact on agriculture.
In modern times we know and understand that the health of the entire planet is important to agricultural operations. Air quality, soil contaminants and water resource pollution can and does affect how we grow crops and conduct the business of agriculture. The health of our atmosphere, oceans and waterways also affects other aspects of our lives and influences human health and our overall ability to successfully grow and sustain life.
These concerns prompted researchers at the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to collaborate in developing preliminary climate models in an effort to determine the global impact of recent and extreme Asian air pollution on the global community.
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Their initial model results serve as an early warning for not only the agriculture community but also the world-at-large and points to potential for serious changes in global air circulations and weather patterns that could affect the quality of life in the 21st century.
Researchers Yuan Wang, a former doctoral student at Texas A&M who now works at the JPL in Pasadena, California, along with Texas A&M atmospheric sciences professors Renyi Zhang and R. Saravanan, had their findings published in the current issue of Nature Communications.
Using data collected about aerosols and meteorology over the past 30 years and results from climate models developed for the study, researchers have found that air pollution over Asia—much of it coming from China—is indeed impacting global air circulations at a potentially alarming rate.
"The models clearly show that pollution originating from Asia has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make storms or cyclones even stronger," Zhang explains in the published report.
“This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity and other factors and eventually impacts climate. Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America.”
According to the study report, China's booming economy during the last 30 years has led to the construction of a comprehensive manufacturing infrastructure, the expansion of industrial and power plants, and other facilities that produce an abundant volume of air pollutants. Once released into the atmosphere, these pollutant particles affect cloud formations and weather systems worldwide.
Adding to the problem is the increase in coal burning and car emissions, major sources of pollution in China and other countries around the world.
Researchers say air pollution levels in Chinese cities like Beijing, for example, are often more than 100 times higher than acceptable limits set by World Health Organization standards.
Zhang points to other studies that indicate lung cancer rates have increased by as much as 400 percent in the most affected areas of China. He also says the Chinese government has pledged to toughen pollution standards and to commit sufficient financial resources to attack the problem, but warns progress could be slow as global demand continues to increase for more manufactured goods from the Far East.
More study needed
Researchers say additional climate models and more studies are needed to further evaluate the problems and potential impact of extreme air pollution and their impact on cloud formation and global air circulations to determine the negative impact to the planet's delicate ecosystem.
As far as the concerns of U.S farmers, researchers suggest being well informed and eventually to become active in helping to promote more responsible management of resources that will play a key role in solving pollution problems worldwide.
The study was funded by grants from NASA, Texas A&M's Supercomputing facilities and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China.