Over on my CIRES blog, I posted about “Clearing the Air,” a recently published article I wrote on UB air pollution. The article focused on why the problem is growing, what mitigation methods are being implemented, and what possible solutions lie in the future. But I wanted to post here on my personal blog a little of the back-story of how the article came to be.
Last fall, two visiting friends and I found ourselves in a ger camp, eating lunch about 600 km south of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia’s most sparsely populated province, Omnogovi aimag (land area: slightly smaller than Florida, population: 50,000 – 0.3% of Florida’s population), smack dab in the Gobi Desert. We were about to set out to investigate Khongoryn Els – white sand dunes that are about 5 km wide and span a length of 100 km or so. We’d heard that they were pretty amazing, and amazing had best be on the itinerary for friends who fly to the other side of the Earth to visit you!
During lunch, we met a tourist couple from New York City. They were very friendly, and soon enough the inevitable question of “What are you doing here?” came up. I briefly mentioned my project, and also learned that one of the pair was the editor of the World Policy Journal, working on a series of dispatches on his journey through Mongolia and inner Mongolia. He mentioned the possibility of me writing an article on UB air pollution for his publication and gave me his card. A few weeks later, I banged out my first “pitch” (I didn’t even know what one is or if it was entirely necessary, but a Google-lesson in journalism etiquette told me to do this), and a few months and drafts after that, the article is complete. It was a great opportunity to share with a wider audience just how severe the problem is here…and also why the wider world might be interested in paying attention to what’s going on.
Anyways, I feel pretty lucky I met a magazine editor interested in a scientist writing a non-technical article while in the middle of the Gobi Desert. The funny thing is, though, over the past year, as I’ve repeatedly learned: Mongolia is the place for improbable encounters probably happening.
That said, not all chance encounters are created equally. On the road to the Dalanzadgad airport, these guys in the picture below staged an impromptu protest against those trying to leave the Gobi.