Sandstorms Grow More Frequent, Severe

The third sandstorm of the year hit the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, making people keenly aware of the arrival of sandstorm season.

The latest sandstorm started in Manchuria, China on Saturday and hit the Korean Peninsula on Sunday morning, less than a day after it began. It passed mainly over North Korea, including Pyongan and Hamgyong provinces, and then over the East Sea.

Only low-level sandstorms of density exceeding 200 micrograms per cubic meter were detected in South Korea, including Seoul, Ganghwa in Incheon, and Cheonan in South Chungcheong Province. There was no serious effect felt in the southern part of the peninsula.

In this file photo, dust obscures a road in Yeouido, Seoul on March 21, 2002, when a severe sandstorm originating from China blanketed the country. 
In this file photo, dust obscures a road in Yeouido, Seoul on March 21, 2002, when a severe sandstorm originating from China blanketed the country.

The Korea Meteorological Administration said Korea should be out of the sandstorm's sphere of influence on Monday. But the trouble is just beginning: sandstorm activity normally reaches its peak in spring, from March to May, and sandstorms are becoming more intense and frequent.

Recent statistics show the average annual frequency of sandstorms is growing. Sandstorms hit the Seoul area for three days in 2003 and six in 2004, but since 2005 they have plagued the capital for 11 to 12 days per year. According to the KMA, sandstorms were detected for a mere 3.9 days on average each year during the 1980s. That figure increased to 7.7 days during the 1990s and to 12.8 days in the 2000s.

Worse yet, Korea is likely to be hit by severe sandstorms that can make breathing difficult. Super sandstorms with dust density exceeding 2,000 micrograms per cubic meter have hit the country twice since the early 2000s -- a worrisome warning. During a sandstorm in April 2002 classified by the KMA as Korea's worst ever, fine dust density surged to 2,070 micrograms per cubic meter in the Seoul area.

During a similar sandstorm in April 2006, the same area recorded dust density of 2,015 micrograms per cubic meter. "It's hard to open your eyes or breathe during sandstorms of such dust density," said Chung Yong-seung, the director of the Korea Atmospheric Environment Institute at Korea University.

"It's highly likely that such severe sandstorms will occur more frequently, given the alarming spread of desertification due to global warming."

englishnews@chosun.com / Mar. 17, 2008 07:57 KST