A Clearer Look at Asian Pollution

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Science  28 May 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5675, pp. 1282
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1282b

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an Indian-born atmospheric scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, has helped bring to the fore a research area that wasn't on the U.S. radar screen. Literally.

Last year Ramanathan launched a project to study the composition, regional patterns, and impact of aerosol clouds over southern and southeastern Asia. The idea grew out of a 1999 experiment that revealed a thick, brownish haze of air pollution covering an area from the Himalayas to the northern Indian Ocean. “I could have studied brown clouds anywhere in the world, but I chose a region that includes India,” he says. “That's probably not accidental.”

Seeing the cloud over the Bay of Bengal and imagining how the aerosols might disrupt monsoonal rainfall patterns for India and other south Asian countries so haunted Ramanathan, now a U.S. citizen, that he drew up a proposal to set up more than a dozen climate- monitoring stations across Asia. The Atmospheric Brown Clouds project, funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and five Asian nations, is already spawning collaborations between U.S. scientists and researchers in India, China, Japan, and South Korea.

Russell Dickerson, an American-born meteorologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, says his participation in the 1999 experiment led him to shift his research focus from the developed to the developing world. “It made me realize that studying air pollution in south and east Asia was critical to understanding global climate change,” he says. Dickerson is now participating in a NASA-funded project being led by his Chinese-born departmental colleague, Zhanqing Li, that aims to investigate the effect of aerosol clouds above the China region.

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