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Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution crisis: Summertime complacency won’t solve the wintertime problem

Arshad Sayed's picture
No mountains are visible beyond this pollution cloud. (Late November 2007)

It certainly feels like the worst of winter is over for another year, well until December anyway. Daytime temperatures now reach above 0 Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) regularly, the city’s ice sculptures have melted and the slippery footpaths have thawed, making walking in the city safer and easier. There’s also a visible improvement in Ulaanbaatar’s (UB) air quality.

On most days, from my office window, I can now see the beautiful snow-dappled mountains that surround UB; during the heavily polluted winter months the horizon is completely hidden behind a thick grey-brown smoky haze. 

Зуд: Байгалийн энэхүү гамшиг нь Монголын мал аж ахуйд болон малчдын амьжиргаанд хүндрэл учруулж байна

Arshad Sayed's picture

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(Originally published in English.)

Өнөөдрийн байдлаар Монгол Улс ихээхэн хэмжээний цас, хүйтэн хавсарсан цагаан “зуд” хэмээх байгалийн гамшигт нэрвэгдээд байна. Энэ нь зундаа ган гачигтай байснаас бэлчээрийн хомсдолд орж, өвс тэжээл хангалттай базаах боломж олгоогүй улмаар өвөлдөө цас их орж, салхилан цаг агаар хэвийн хэмжээнээс доогуур болж хүйтний эрч эрс чангарсантай холбоотой.  Бэлчээрийг үлэмж их цас дарж, мал сүрэг бэлчих аргагүй болж, өвс тэжээлээр гачигдан зутрах зэрэг өвлийн улирлын нөхцөл байдалд зуд болдог.

Dzud: a slow natural disaster kills livestock --and livelihoods-- in Mongolia

Arshad Sayed's picture

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(Available in: монгол хэл.)

Mongolia is currently experiencing a white "dzud" – a multiple natural disaster consisting of a summer drought resulting in inadequate pasture and production of hay, followed by very heavy winter snow, winds and lower-than-normal temperatures. Dzuds occur when the winter conditions – particularity heavy snow cover – prevent livestock from accessing pasture or from receiving adequate hay and fodder. 

Deep winter in Mongolia often means extreme cold, smog

David Lawrence's picture

This morning, my kids stood waiting for the school bus, crying. The bus was late, and they had been outside for about three minutes. No wonder. The temperature outside was -39 degrees Celsius. I thought we had bundled them up enough; they had so many layers on that they looked like astronauts. But they were still freezing.

This winter is especially cold. It's in the 30 degrees below zero every day, and has dipped below -40°C.  In some parts of Mongolia, it has fallen below -50°C. There is frost on the windows of our office.

Yet-to-be-released online mapping tool could make monitoring deforestation easy as Google

James I Davison's picture

We’ve written before about a climate-related effort in developing countries known as REDD – or Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation. So one of the outcomes during last month’s U.N. climate conference that I found particularly interesting was an announcement from Google.org. During the conference in Copenhagen, the search giant's philanthropic arm introduced the prototype for an online application that will allow monitoring of forests around the planet.

Apparently, some believed that the overall topic of REDD may have been one of the few bright spots during the two-week conference. To me, it seems like this forthcoming online monitoring tool is no exception – particularly because Google products are often innovative, easy to use and reliable.

The announcement generated quite bit of media buzz, and Google.org’s press release has a nice explanation of why the online application, likely available to the public some time this year, might be so significant:

Traditional forest monitoring is complex and expensive, requiring access to large amounts of satellite data, lots of hard drives to hold the data, lots of computers to process the data, and lots of time while you wait for various computations to finish. … Google supplies data, storage, and computing muscle. As a result, you can visualize forest change in fractions of a second over the web, instead of the minutes or hours that traditional offline systems require for such analysis.

 

What does a video about a desert region of China have to do with Niger?

Tony Whitten's picture

A YouTube map that shows where people are when they view the videos. That the video might be of interest to a dry country like Niger – where herding of goats and other livestock is so important – is not so surprising.

A colleague of mine recently sent a link to a group of us showing some photos taken in Inner Mongolia, China, showing the land degradation being suffered there and its impacts.  One of the photos (#16) shows a twisted and broken tree trunk surrounded by sand on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert. The caption says that the trees were “killed by the moving sands.” I have a different take on it.

The picture shows what is probably a Euphrates Poplar, and I would suggest that the trees were probably killed by its surface roots becoming roasted after herds of goats and other livestock ate the trees' fallen leaves. These leaves would normally act as a natural insulation layer and mulch, and over time quite a number of plants grow in the shade and protection.  With the trees steadily roasted, so the whole area degrades and the sand blows in.  You can see one of the World Bank’s senior agriculturalists, Rick Chisholm, explaining this in the first of my two YouTube videos on Lake Aibi in northwest, Xinjiang, China.  (Go straight to 8m 30s on the time line to see the specific segment).

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