Severe sandstorms have hit northern China this week, covering nine provinces with sand and dust, according to Weather China.
In Beijing, levels of PM10 – inhalable particles of 10 micrometers or less – rose off the charts on Monday, forcing local authorities to issue pollution alerts.
The sandstorm originated in Mongolia, explained the Beijing Ecological and Environmental Monitoring Center. Similar cases have occurred in spring this year and over the past few springs, but winter sandstorms are rare.
Mongolia is particularly affected by global heating, Enkhbat Altangerel, director of the climate change department at Mongolia’s environment ministry, told Xinhua last year. The incidence of climate-related natural disasters – especially sandstorms – is on the rise. “Most of the desertification in Mongolia is directly related to natural factors or climate change” rather than human activity in the country, he said.
Over the past 80 years, Mongolia’s average temperature has risen by about 2.25C, much more than the global average. The last 10 years have been the hottest the country has experienced since records began eight decades ago, and more than a thousand rivers and lakes have dried up or been cut off from fresh flow.
To address the desertification, the Mongolian government is planting a “green wall” of at least 16 million trees along its borders by 2030. This will ideally help prevent sandstorms from moving into China as well.
China has also been making efforts. In 2017, the Ministry of Science and Technology supported Chinese researchers to carry out collaborative study on desertification-control technologies with Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Israel. In these partner countries, the research group has chosen five key plants that can help fix sand in place and cultivated 25 microbial strains which can do the same.
However, the lack of field research stations and monitoring equipment in Mongolia hampers research work, said Huang Ning, professor at the Lanzhou University. He wants China to cooperate with Mongolia through the UN convention on desertification, to construct a sandstorm monitoring network in north-east Asia, to share monitoring data, and to improve early warning capabilities.
Read China Dialogue’s article on lessons from the rush to reforest.