I had never heard of this before.
(from the article)
Gigantic dust clouds swirling over China are threatening the world's most populous country with the first-ever "ecological meltdown", experts here warn.
The clouds which stretch for thousands of miles over Asia and have even reached across the Pacific to North America are rising from a rapidly growing dust bowl in northern China that far outstrips the notorious one in the United States in the 1930s.
They have even occasionally crossed the Pacific: one in April 2001 covered the west of North America from Canada to Arizona with dust.
The clouds sweep up millions of tons of precious topsoil from Chinese fields and pastures. Gone in a single day, the soil will take centuries to replace. But this is just the most dramatic symptom of the accelerating spread of deserts across the country, which is home to nearly one in every four people on the planet.
Between 1994 and 1999, the country's Environmental Protection Agency reports, the Gobi Desert expanded by 20,240 square miles, to within just 150 miles of Beijing, New, smaller, areas of desert are erupting all over the country. In all, this "desertification" is affecting 40 per cent of the country's land. Partly as a result, harvests which more than quadrupled between 1950 and 1998 have fallen sharply, even as China's
population and appetite grow.
The institute blames "over-cultivation, overgrazing, over-cutting and over-pumping" for the escalating catastrophe. Marginal land is being increasingly pressed into cultivation, but quickly turns to dust under the strain. The country's 290 million sheep and goats strip the vegetation off grazing lands. Cutting down forests removes the trees that bind soil to the ground. And excessive pumping of water from underground aquifers dramatically lowers water tables, drying out the earth.
China is belatedly trying to get to grips with the crisis. It is planting 26 million acres a tenth of its grain-growing area with trees. But many die because the soil is already too thin; and, say critics, too many are being planted around Beijing so as to try to "green" the city and clean the air before the 2008 Olympics.Wow