China

Inner Mongolia: the dustbowl of the East

The Gobi desert blankets more than 800,000 kilometers of northern China and southern Mongolia in dry, arid land. It is also the fastest growing desert on Earth, transforming nearly 4000 km’s of grassland per year into inhospitable wasteland. This expansion eats away at space that was once fit for agriculture and creates unbridled sandstorms that batter cities near the edge of the desert. In May, one such storm enveloped 1 million square miles of northern China in dust. Combining with Beijing’s industrial pollution, the city’s air quality index shot to a peak of 621, a rating classified as “beyond index.” For context, levels above 200 are ranked by the United States embassy as “very unhealthy,” while readings between 301 to 500 are labeled “hazardous.”