23 March 2017

Sea Ice and China Smog

Posted by Dan Satterfield

We set a record low in the ice extent this winter. Could the loss of ice be causing the air quality to get worse in China?

Thick smog over Beijing on 19 March. I see this frequently on satellite images of Asia. Image from the NASA TERRA satellite.

Even Antarctica saw record low ice area during their summer (boreal winter), but there’s new research that seems to show a link between the Arctic ice loss and increased air pollution in China. With dark, heat-absorbing water now replacing what was once bright and very reflective ice, the energy balance of the atmosphere has to change, and that change translates to changing weather patterns. There is quite a bit of research into this now, with more questions than answers, but I think this paper will be noticed. Dr. Jennifer Francis at Rutgers is also a leader in the investigation of this, and is obviously of high interest to synoptic meteorologists (like me).

Science magazine has a good non-geek explainer piece about the paper that’s well worth a read. This is a good example of why scientists prefer the term climate change to global warming. The former is a much more descriptive term for the changes we are making to the Earth’s climate.