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An unexpected culprit is making China's air pollution worse

File photo of smog in the area of Beijing, China.

Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Sunday, May 14, 2017, 1:45 PM - When it comes to pollution in China, new research suggests an unexpected factor that is contributing to country's often-plummeting air quality levels. Though airborne dust is typically an environmental problem, a study from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the State of Washington finds that the lack of dust in China's air is making pollution across the country considerably worse.

When there's less dust, the study suggests that there's more solar radiation hitting the land's surface, in turn reducing wind speed. It's the lack of wind speed that then leads to a build up of air pollution over densely populated parts of China.

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Models that simulate the region's wind and dust patterns over 150 years show that dust deflects substantial amounts of sunlight. Remove the dust, and more heat from the sun will hit the land.

"Less dust in the atmosphere causes more solar radiation to reach the surface," the study's lead author, Yang Yang, told BBC News. "It weakens the temperature difference between the land and the sea and impacts the circulation of the winds and causes a stagnation over eastern China and that causes an accumulation of air pollution."

Factories and coal-powered plans have impacted air pollution for hundreds of millions of people across the country, with research suggesting that poor air quality levels contribute to 1.6 million deaths per year.

But this new study says that pollution caused by humans is being made either better or worse due to naturally occurring dust blowing in from the Gobi desert, BBC reports.

"There are two dust sources. One is the Gobi and the other is the highlands of north-west China, but we found the Gobi had much more influence," Yang Yang told the publication.

The full study can be found in the journal Nature Communications.


Related Video: Raw dust storm in China turns the sky yellow. Watch below.

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