Feeding the world by cleaning the air: study ties heavy regional haze to reductions in China's crop production

of China. They consider only the direct effects of haze on sunlight, and do not include the indirect effects on sunlight potentially caused by haze interacting with clouds or the toxic effects of air pollutants that also reduce crop growth.

Extensive studies by agricultural researchers have documented the relationship between crop production and the sunlight received.

The haze affecting China is made up of aerosols composed of solid and liquid particles of varying sizes. The aerosols likely result from the burning of coal, biomass and other fuels, though scientists lack detailed information on their origins. Large-scale regional hazes exist in other developing countries, suggesting food production may be similarly reduced in India and African nations that are also struggling to feed their people.

"Any economically developing or developed country will have these large regional hazes associated with burning," Chameides explained. "Burning fossil fuels, burning wood and burning biomass for clearing fields causes production of a significant amount of haze that leads to a reduction in the solar radiation reaching the earth's surface."

The same effect has been measured on the East Coast of the United States, though China's haze levels are roughly twice as bad. Records suggest that China's haze problem has worsened over the past 20 years, a time of massive industrialization.

The study, for which Chameides is the lead investigator, found that the regional haze affects approximately 70 percent of crops grown in China. The haze tends to be worst in the eastern part of the country that includes the most productive and heavily cultivated areas. It can be measured year-round.

The study produced two different estimates of sunlight reduction, one based on direct measurements and one based on a model of China's atmospher

Contact: John Toon
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News

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