Although the particulate matter that filled the winter skies resulted from both human and natural emissions, a new Northwestern University study concludes that human-caused climate change played only a minor role in the air's stagnation.
The study, which used computational simulations of climate, is one of the first to tie an air quality episode to human-caused climate change. This type of research is part of the growing subfield of climate science called "detection and attribution of extreme events," which assesses how human emission of greenhouse gases may have contributed to the occurrence and/or severity of a particularly impactful event.
Event - Detection - Attribution - Work - Extreme
"Typically, single event detection and attribution work is performed on 'charismatic' extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, heat waves and droughts. Here, we perform the analysis on something less glamorous -- still air over Beijing," said Northwestern's Daniel Horton, the study's senior author. "Our work applies detection and attribution methods to a less glamorous yet highly impactful -- particularly for public health -- meteorological phenomenon."
The lingering haze -- that was signature to Beijing's 2013 "airpocalypse" and other smog events -- requires two factors: the emission of pollutants and still air that allows the pollutants to build. Beijing's coal-burning power plants and 5 million motor vehicles are responsible for much of the city's pollution. Horton and first author Christopher Callahan aimed to discover if human-caused climate change played a role in the meteorological conditions that led to the still air.
Climate - Change - Influence - Winter - Air
"Even though we found that climate change has not had a major influence on winter air quality over Beijing to date, this work adds some meteorological diversity to recent examinations of links between climate change and individual extreme events," said Callahan, a former undergraduate student in Horton's lab, who led the research.
The study will publish April 30 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres. Horton...
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