The Project Atmospheric Brown Clouds run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) plans to help develop preventive measures against the pollution, which affects local climate and health.
The brown clouds, composed of ash, acidic chemicals and carbon, are caused by the burning of fossil fuels, wildfires and smoke from cooking with dried manure. These clouds block as much as 15 per cent of the sun's radiation, which results in cooling the ground and warming the atmosphere. They affect rainfall and cause respiratory diseases.
The five-year study is especially important in view of China's growing industrialisation and desertification. Data for most pollutants emanating from China is scarce, and it is feared that attempts to study the country's impact on the clouds could become politically sensitive.
The project has received US$10 million from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation. It will have two main observatories in the Korean island Jeju and the Maldives, as well as tens of smaller laboratories throughout Asia.