A sandstorm blowing across much of northern China has combined with already-high levels of air pollution to turn skies orange in Beijing this week, pushing air quality levels in the city to the worst since 2017.
What is Happening?
- Authorities in Beijing issued a yellow alert, the first sandstorm warning this year. According to the Air Quality Index, air quality levels surged to 500, well above emergency levels, and an orange haze limited visibility to less than 1 000 metres on Monday morning.
- Levels of ultra-fine particulates in the air in the city surged to a high of 680 micrograms per cubic metre, the highest concentrations since May 2017, according to the US embassy there. The World Health Organization recommends average daily concentrations of just 25. Concentrations of slightly larger particles commonly associated with sand surged to more than 2 000 per cubic metre at some monitoring stations.
- Beijing’s air quality has been worsening as the country’s economy recovers from the pandemic.
- The storm originated in Mongolia and has also swept across the northern provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi and Hebei.
- Sandstorms often hit northern China, with deforestation and drought at least partly to blame. The government has launched tree-planting projects to try to curb the storms since the 1970s, including The Three-North Shelter Forest Program, which protects regions affected by sandstorms sweeping out of the Gobi Desert and aims to grow new trees on 35 million hectares by 2050. the country has also created air corridors that channel the wind and allow sand and other pollutants to pass through more quickly. These efforts seem to be working, as the annual number of sandy days in Beijing has fallen from 26 in the 1950s to around three after 2010.
- Normally, sandstorms occur in the spring and early summer, when the wind blows across the Gobi Desert. Last year, northern China experienced seven of them.
- The storm is expected to pass through Beijing today.
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— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟 (@shen_shiwei) March 15, 2021
Featured image by: Flickr