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March 2003

Delve deeper into hot topics featured in NGM's March Geographica and Who Knew with help from Resources. Click on a link, pick up a periodical, browse through a book, and explore!
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Can't Go HomeToxic StormsSea Otters


Toxic Storms Choke Asia
An unhealthy forecast

Satellite images confirm what residents of China, Japan, and North and South Korea have come to know and fear: In March, choking dust storms descend on city and countryside, closing airports and schools, forcing people indoors, and making life miserable for those outside.

What many don't know is that along with the dust come waves of toxic pollutants.

A true-color image from March 2002 shows a plume of yellow dust sweeping down from Mongolia and farther into Asia. The westerly winds—which the Chinese call the shachenbao, or dust cloud tempest—used to come in April, but now the dust is arriving earlier and with more intensity.

Experts blame land abuse and drought in China. Overgrazed grasslands and dry lake beds have multiplied the amount of silt, sand, and other particles that feed and thicken the wind. The storms then pick up loads of lead, arsenic, and other industrial contaminants from Chinese cities and drop them in ever more distant lands—in 2002 the storms edged into California.

An international effort has begun to try to control these harmful, made-in-China exports.

—Tom O'Neill

Web Links

Earth Observatory
Find out why toxic storms are such a problem in Asia and how NASA is tracking them over the Earth.

Free World Map

Middleton, Nicholas, and others. World Atlas of Desertification. Arnold Publication, 1997.


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