Gobi Desert dust storm article causes ‘diplomatic brouhaha’


March 22 event got international attention

A deluge of white dust that blanketed the Owens and Long Valley region this past Sunday was not from China’s Gobi—unlike the white haze that hit the region three weeks ago Friday.

Both local and federal air pollution measurement instruments traced the thick white haze on March 22 to the Gobi Desert. A dust storm there had also been plaguing the Chinese city of Beijing a few days earlier.

April 7’s white haze, according to local air pollution control officials, was not from the Gobi Desert. Instead, it came from a more prosaic source; the agriculture-rich Smith Valley area north of Mono County and Mono Lake.

“After checking a number of our sources for dust and wind, we believe Sunday’s air pollution was dust from very localized west winds in the Mono Lake/Smith Valley area,” said Ted Schade, the director for the local Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.

“We had extremely high dust readings at our Mono Lake monitor (www.gbuapcd.org/data/shore/index.htm) and it appears the large burn area east of Mono Lake was also emissive. Dust was reported in Smith Valley (it’s alfalfa planting season). The dust headed east and south into our area. This is the best we can deduce. It was not smoke and it was not China dust.”

Schade was the one who identified the March 22 haze as being from a dust storm originating from the Gobi Desert.

According to Schade, the article about the March 22 dust in Mono County caused some consternation in China.

England’s Daily Mail picked up the story on April 1 (www.tinyurl.com/btz2d33) and shortly after that, Schade began to receive several phone calls.

“That article caused a diplomatic brouhaha,” he said. “I got a call from two Chinese newspapers demanding to know where we got our data from. They were pretty belligerent about it.

“I also got a call from a San Francisco radio station (KGO), which did an in-depth interview with me about it. And, I got a call from a Japanese reporter based in Los Angeles, who wanted to know more about the story.”

Schade said after he talked to the Chinese reporters, he used a NOAA computer model that he and air pollution specialist Jon Becknell have used before to double-check the data that the air pollution control district had, which showed a huge plume of dust moving 6,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean and settling into the Eastern Sierra.

“We used both a ‘forward trajectory’ and ‘back trajectory’ model and we tracked in all the way to back to China,” he said. “The Japanese reporter said that Japan has been bombarded with China’s pollution for a while now, and complaining about it, but that China doesn’t respond, which is why she was interested in the story.

“I told the San Francisco radio station that the reason they didn’t get the influx of dust was because it didn’t make it over the traveled over the rest of California until it hit the Sierra crest. The dust was lofted into the high atmosphere, but it only reached as high as 10,000 feet and kept going our direction, up over the Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia), then down the Aleutian Islands and made a beeline for the Owens Valley.

“It hit the Sierra and stopped. The Sierra crest was just too high to cross.”

He said the March 22 event was not industrial pollution, but simple desert dust.

And the Chinese journalists?

“When I called them back with the data, they seemed satisfied,” he said.

“It just goes to show that no news is local news anymore. It’s all global,” he said.