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A sandstorm moves through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

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A sandstorm moves through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

Marc Guitard/Getty Images

ULAANBATAR, Mongolia – in March while the Mongolian Shepherd Batzaikan N.K. herds his sheep. The sky suddenly darkened, the wind blew, filling his shoes and shirt with coarse, heavy sand. A huge sandstorm covered the Mongolian grasslands.

“It was as dark as the night,” Batzaikan, 53, told NPR. “I thought I was going to die.”

The herdsmen huddled with his sheep as the dust in the air blocked the sunlight. The next day his brother met him. buried in the sand and dug him out. He survived, but his 200 sheep died in the storm. about a fifth of his herd.

Sheep are not the only wounded. Nine Mongolian shepherds died on the steppes in the worst sandstorm season in Mongolia and China in a decade.

Police work to excavate a 71-year-old woman whose home was surrounded by blizzards and sandstorms in China’s Inner Mongolia on March 15 this year.

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Police work to excavate a 71-year-old woman whose home was surrounded by blizzards and sandstorms in China’s Inner Mongolia on March 15 this year.

Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Then the sand blew through Beijing the next day. Which is more than 600 miles away, the sky suddenly turned a flashy yellow. The air was filled with coarse pebbles. The car was smashed and the balcony was dusty brown.

Beijing was battered by a spring storm by bringing sand from the Gobi. It is a vast desert and jagged rock that runs between China and Mongolia. Decades of reforestation efforts along China’s northern border have reduced the frequency of sandstorms.

until this year.

Delivery workers wear protective masks and goggles during a seasonal sandstorm on April 15 in Beijing.

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Delivery workers wear protective masks and goggles during a seasonal sandstorm on April 15 in Beijing.

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combination of extreme weather climate change And environmental degradation creates the perfect storm. or more Eight cross-border sandstorms throughout March, April and May destroyed the herd. worsening respiratory problems and flight cancellations in both Mongolia and China. The news video below shows the magnitude of this year’s storm.

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The result was disastrous in the region of China and Mongolia bordering the Gobi. in northern china Tourists find themselves stuck in the wind. Air pollution levels are up to 20 times that of health. Southern Mongolia was hit particularly hard. Consecutive sandstorms have killed about 1.6 million cattle, for which many herders depend on income.

“Even the rescue team couldn’t move forward because of the overcast season. [March] Storm,” said Jargalzaikhan Zonomdash, governor of southern Mongolia’s Irak province, where 3,600 animals died after being buried in floating sand.

Mongolia’s weather experts say the unusually rainy years have caused large amounts of loose sand, said Dulamsuren Daskhuu, a senior researcher at Mongolia’s Institute of Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring. “There was almost no snow last winter. And some provinces did not rain last summer..

The Gobi Desert is also growing. The Dulam Suren Institute says desertification is creeping into northern Mongolia at an average rate of 75 miles per year, partly due to climate change.

Temperatures in Mongolia have risen about 4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 70 years, according to the Mongolian Ministry of the Environment. About twice the global average increase recorded.

Pollution from extensive gold, coal and copper mining has accelerated desertification. a desolate plant and dried up lakes and streams

Another important factor in boosting sandstorms is overgrazing. Mongolia’s livestock numbers have nearly tripled in the past 30 years, according to Mongolia’s National Bureau of Statistics. The number of goats is growing fastest from 5 million to 27 million. Mongolian goats produce about 40% of the world’s cashmere. They also eat twice as much grass as sheep. Destroying pastures at unsustainable rates

“If no measures are taken now, Mongolia will be a total desert in 30 to 40 years,” Dulam Suren said. “There will be many more sandstorms in the future.”

Not all of the sand comes from Mongolia. Satellite imagery shows sandstorms engulfing China in late spring. During April and May Most of them originated in northern China’s provinces such as Ningxia, Gansu and Inner Mongolia. This winter, average ground temperatures there remained 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, said Liu Junyan, a Beijing researcher at Greenpeace. said, which causes faster evaporation less water retention and more dry sand

“The northwest and northern areas of China often experience sandstorms annually as a natural phenomenon,” Liu said. “Just because people ignore the storm doesn’t mean the storm will stop.”

in March The excess sand is carried by seasonal winds by increasing force from La Nina, a cyclical weather phenomenon in which the Pacific Ocean cools. And that could lead to more hurricanes and less rainfall.

Since 1978, China has planned to fight in a sandstorm. Around 66 billion trees are planted along the borders of the country with the Gobi Desert. which is a group of plants nicknamed The “green wall” is intended to hold loose dirt and prevent small sandstorms from gaining speed. But that was the driving force of the storm this year. where the loose sand was pushed hundreds of yards into the air. Throw it high above the tree line intended to deter such invasion.

Residents plant haloxylon amendron in a sand net in Gansu province on March 12, 2021.

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Residents plant haloxylon amendron in a sand net in Gansu province on March 12, 2021.

Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

in beijing the capital city of china Residents would crowd indoors whenever the outside air became too dangerous to breathe due to a sandstorm. But for those who live near Gobi The rising sandstorm rate is a matter of life and death.

last March Smoke began to cover the skies in Dornogovi province in southern Mongolia, 43-year-old Nyamsambuu Myadagmaa and several herdsmen ran some sheep and goats into the barn to safety.

But the sandstorm lasted 20 hours, the longest on record. and left so much sand on the barn that the roof collapsed. Killing animals in the barn The animals left outside were actually buried alive.

“Many of us find our animals slaughtered in the steppe because they are trapped in the sand and only their ears or heads are left exposed,” Mydagmaa recalls.

Amy Cheng supports research from Beijing.


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