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SOURCE: The Salt Lake Tribune

DATE: February 5, 2018

SNIP: The atmosphere over the Arctic is highly sensitive to air pollution and inversions much like Utah’s, scientists have discovered in a study that could help them understand why global warming is so much worse in one of the coldest places on Earth.

Tiny particulate pollution blowing north from population centers in Asia and Europe appears to alter cloud formation over the Arctic region, said University of Utah professor of atmospheric sciences Tim Garrett, co-author of the study published earlier this month in Geophysical Research Letters.

The pollutants become trapped over the Arctic when warm air flows over the region’s icy surface, in much the same way winter inversions set up over the Wasatch Front, accumulating a combination of moisture and air pollution that can mix into a soupy smog.

Arctic clouds form whether or not pollution is present, Garrett said, but the pollution makes it “a more effective blanket” by creating clouds made of smaller droplets of water than most naturally forming clouds.

These pollution-spurred clouds trap even more heat than usual, possibly contributing to rising temperatures in the Arctic.

What surprised Garrett and colleagues in their research, he said, was the degree to which pollution appeared to affect the Arctic clouds. Using satellite imagery and air-quality data to track cloud patterns and pollution, Garrett and others found the Arctic clouds were two to eight times more sensitive to the presence of pollution than previous studies suggested.