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Auto China Car Show and the Winter 'Dragons' of 2014

GOES 13/15 composite satellite images show trio of storm dragons crossing N. America on March 31, 2014

This week in Beijing, China, more than 1,100 motor vehicles will be on display at the Auto China car show. According to the organizers, 118 will be never-before-seen concepts and new models. Seventy-nine of the vehicles on display are considered 'new energy' vehicles (NEV), China's term for cars that run on fuels other than petroleum. Usually, it refers to electric-drive vehicles from pure battery to hybrids. That number, however is down from the 95 NEV's displayed in 2010, while the total number of cars has increased from 990 in 2010 to 1,134 this year. The increase is presumably due not only to the invasion of non-Chinese car companies, but also the proliferation of Chinese automakers few of us in the West have ever heard of: Changan, Changfeng, Chery, Geely - which owns Volvo - Haima, Haval, JMC, Lifan, Qoros, Youngman, Zotye.

Inside the exhibit hall, the newly minted cars sparkle under their spotlights, while attractive male and female models are on hand to pose for photos with the cars. Outside the hall, however, the air is chokingly polluted, much of it from the millions of petroleum burning cars that prowl the capital city's roadways, as well as from the factories that ring the greater Beijing metroplex. The cost of China's sudden economic rise is now reflected in its smog, as well as its polluted waterways, and now, we learn, a fifth of its land is contaminated. One of the reasons America's air has gradually gotten cleaner is because we've exported our dirty manufacturing jobs to Asia.

In return, we believe we get cheaper goods. Even the ceramic coffee cup sitting next to me on my desk is "Made In China." Asia, and China in particular, has become the world's industrial factory of the 21st century. The same pollution that spewed from the English Midlands at the beginning of industrial revolution of the 1800s, and then from America's 'Arsenal of Democracy' in the 1900's, has now migrated east.

But as Sir Isaac Newton observed in his third law, for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. All those bunker fuel-powered containers ships steaming east out of Hong Kong and Shanghai are generating more pollution than all the world's car and trucks combined.

But that's not the only environmental impact of all that industrial progress within the Great Wall in the last 30 years. It turns out that if the findings of a team of atmospheric scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are right, all that air pollution over China is also affecting the weather in North America. The study, lead by Yuan Wang, a Chinese-born Ph.D, hypothesizes that the unusually cold weather in the American midwest this past winter, as well as the waves of moisture, mainly in the form of record snowfall in the east, was caused by airborne pollution particles originating in China. Speaking with Live Science, Wang explained that he and his co-authors..

"…examined how the tiny pollution particles in Asia play a role in cloud formation and the storms that spin up each winter east of Japan, in a cyclone breeding ground north of 30 degrees latitude. Monsoon winds carry aerosols from Asia to this storm nursery in the winter.

"The researchers created a computer model of six kinds of aerosol pollution and tested their effects on clouds, precipitation and global weather patterns. Different aerosols affect storms in varying ways, such as by blocking the sun's radiation or providing a nucleus around which water vapor can condense to form raindrops.

"The new study finds that sulfate aerosols are among the most important drivers of Pacific storms, by encouraging more moisture to condense in clouds.

"Pollution from Asia is also changing weather patterns over North America.

"This winter's unusually cold weather east of the Rocky Mountains could have been influenced by pollution-driven cyclones and high-pressure systems in the northern Pacific. These Pacific weather patterns caused swoops in the jet stream that drove cold air south across the central and eastern United States — the so-called polar vortex. The same weather patterns are linked with record-high temperatures in Alaska this winter.

"This cold winter in the U.S. probably had something to do with stronger cyclones over the Pacific."

Along with those boat-loads of cheap goods, we can also add the crazy, mixed-up winter here in North America, and likely Europe as well. All those storms and Arctic temperatures depressed economic activity in the USA, caused higher food prices, and drained natural gas reserves. And for the first time since NOAA has been tracking these things via satellite, we witnessed for the very first time, as seen in the composite GOES satellite image above, an unprecedented trio of low-pressure zones on March 31, 2014 as they swirled across North America. Curiously, pundits described them 'coiled dragons,' perhaps unaware of their very probable origin in the fabled Dragon Kingdom of China.

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