Magazine | Environment | East Asia

Pollution Like Snow: A Mongolian Winter

Mongolia’s true wintertime foe isn’t the cold or the snow. It’s the horrendous air pollution in Ulaanbaatar.

Peter Bittner
Pollution Like Snow: A Mongolian Winter
Credit: Peter Bittner

Summer is quickly drawing to a close in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, which means one thing: winter is coming—nearly six months of it. “UB,” as the city is commonly known, is the coldest capital city in the world with winter temperatures below -35 degrees Celsius. But the cold isn’t the only worry for the city. Winter also means the stubborn return of stifling air pollution largely absent during the warm summer months. Each winter UB’s nearly 1.5 million residents, roughly half Mongolia’s population, endure truly terrifying levels of ambient particulate matter.

“Air pollution now sounds like a part of the season to us, like snow,” Bat-Erdene Purevnyamjid, a resident who lives in central UB, told The Diplomat.

“In the mornings and evenings, in some parts of the city, it’s even hard to see what’s 20 or 30 meters away,” he said.