Global Atmospheric Circulation and Pollution

While it may seem that our atmosphere is random and chaotic, on a global scale, the movement of earth’s atmosphere is actually very predictable, and follows predetermined patterns. There are 3 cells in each hemisphere, the Hadley cell, the Ferrel cell and the Polar cell. These cells move air vertically along the longitude lines, and are caused when warmer air rises and moves towards the cooler poles, then drops back down and moves back towards the equator, slowly cycling in a oval shape. Along the latitude lines are wind currents that rotate around the earth. These currents are caused by the north-south motion of air in the Hadley, Ferrel and Polar cells interacting with the earth’s spinning motion.

Diagram showing global air currents

These currents effect global weather patterns and temperature in a multitude of ways, but they can also have some unexpected consequences. More specifically, they can carry air pollution from one side of the globe to another. This means that even though a specific area produces very little pollution, it can still be affected by pollution from across the world. This situation is not merely hypothetical, and it is one of the reasons that pollution is a global problem, rather than simply a local one.imgres

Pollutants such as mercury have been found in the U.S., providing physical proof that this phenomena is occurring. This raises many concerns, as it is difficult to compel a country to limit its emissions if the country is not inclined to. It also causes a distressing paradox: if a county cannot eliminate pollution within its borders by eliminating pollution, what incentive is there for that country to try to clean up its emissions. This leads to a downward spiral of countries unwilling to spend money to control pollution. While this may seem unavoidable, with strong leadership from the developed world, it can be avoided. The problem today is that the environment seems to be at the back of policy makers’ minds. If the major industrial countries were to put real political and economic effort into solving this issue, we could contain pollution without any serious difficulties. Sadly, this does not seem likely to happen until pollution becomes too serious to ignore. By that time, it may be too late.


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