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The Mediterranean region is acting as a crossroads for pollution from Europe, Asia and North America, according to new research, with the build-up of pollutants in the region affecting rainfall as far afield as the Middle East and West Africa.

In a study published in this week's Science, an international team of researchers reports that the concentration of pollutants over the Mediterranean is typically two to ten times higher than in comparable areas, such as the North Pacific Ocean.

The researchers measured gases, aerosols, radiation, and meteorological parameters from a coastal station in north Crete and two aircraft. They conclude that pollution from Europe leads to routine violation of air quality standards throughout the region. In addition, pollution is transported across from Asia and North America at a height of four to six kilometres above the Earth's surface.

These findings point to the need for international cooperation to reduce these environmental stresses, according to the research group which was led by J. Lelieveld of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany.

"The negative effects [of this pollution] extend far beyond the region," they say. "International efforts are called for to reduce these atmospheric environmental stresses and to further investigate the links between Mediterranean and global climate change."

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