Local researchers say the San Diego region's water supply may be directly linked to air pollution in China.
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The discovery may be a silver lining to the pollution clouds rising from the deserts in Asia, including China. It turns out the more of that dust that ends up in California, the more water Californians have to drink.
The discovery was made high in the Sierra Nevada mountains -- a major source of local water. Researchers from UC San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography drove up trailers packed with specialized equipment for their study.
Researchers inside a UCSD lab showed 10News the mass spectrometer. The air and snow is sucked in through a tube at the top. Near the bottom, researchers use lasers to blow up the particles in the air and see what they are made of.
What researchers learned was the more snow that fell, the more dust particles they found -- dust that rode the jetstream from Asia to California.
"It's not going to make a storm. It's going to make a storm strong or not strong," said UCSD researcher Doug Collins.
Once the dust reaches the clouds, it gives water droplets a surface to cling to and grow, eventually freezing and triggering snowfall.
Desert dust does not include man-made pollution from China. Its impact on local snow is still being studied.
When the Sierra Nevada mountains don't get much snow, like this season, that could mean the dust is not blowing in from China.
Researchers hope to find a way to measure that dust.
"We might have a better idea of how much to forecast, how much snow we're going to get," said Collins.
That could translate into better forecasting of how large the San Diego region's water supplies will be.
Researchers say the amount of dust blowing in China is important, but the bigger question is: will the weather patterns blow the dust into California?
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