What you are seeing above is a sandstorm hanging over the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in western China, taken by one of NASA’s satellites. To get a really good look at it, click here for the HighRes. The Taklamakan is China’s biggest desert and is an immense sea of shifting sand dunes, which dominates the west of the country.
I was lucky enough to spent a couple of weeks travelling around the Taklamakan desert, as part of my Pulitzer Center sponsored work on desertification in China. The fringes of the desert are most susceptible to desertification, as overgrazing on farmland bordering the desert tends to strip the lands of their grass and hence allows the desert to take hold and expand. It’s a worrying trend which is having serious consequences for the people of this region.
During the spring, winds tend to increase in intensity in the west of China. As the spring winds blow, they pick up the sand and dust lying on top of the degraded land and carry it into the air, creating these massive dust and sand storms.
During my travels in western China, I found myself in a number of these storms. Photographically, they are a challenge as you try to keep your camera equipment safe from the sand. The resulting pictures however are quite spectacular and offer a very surreal viewpoint sometimes, such as the image above.