Spring has brought with it an unwelcome guest. Yellow dust, called “hwangsa” in Korean, is an annual phenomenon. The dust particles cloud clear skies, causing respiratory ailments. Anti-yellow dust items refer to items aimed at limiting the damage of yellow dust. Ordinary masks, as well as those specially designed to cover the entire face and even the neck, sell well. Baby carriage covers, nose-washes to prevent colds, hwangto (yellow earth) paste packs for skin care, and strips to seal up windows and doors, are also quite popular.
The country’s weather agency used the term, “yellow dust,” for the first time in 1954. Due to the short history of using the word, many people suspect it might be a recent phenomenon. However, the “yellow dust” phenomenon can be traced back to 2,000 years ago.
An ancient record says “dust rain” fell in the 21st year of King Adala’s reign (A.D. 174) during the Silla Kingdom. The “dust rain” referred to what we call “yellow dust,” and it is the first written record of the phenomenon. After that, it was often mentioned in ancient records as “dust rain,” “yellow rain,” “red snow,” “dusty mist,” “blood rain,” etc.
Yellow dust is an annual phenomenon caused by strong spring winds carrying dust from Mongolia and China across Korea.
Major sources: Taklamakan desert, Gobi desert, and Huanghe river basin
Affected area: China, Korea, Japan and southeast Asia
Accelerated desertification of China Year Before the 1960s 1970s-1980s 2000s
Desertification 1,560㎢ 2,100㎢ 2,460㎢
In the areas where the yellow dust originates, it rains in the summer, plants take firm roots in the autumn, and the ground gets frozen in the winter. In spring, however, the frozen earth melts, producing large quantities of dust particles less than 20 µm in size.
Yellow dust originates in Mongolia’s Gobi desert or China’s Taklamakan desert, about 2,000-5,00 km away from Korea. The dust storm can travel such vast distances between the two countries, because the light particles ride on an ascending air current, up to 1,000-8,000 meters above ground and later blow down on a descending current. Dry spring weather in the area of origin, ascending air current, westerlies, and descending air currents work together to create the yellow dust phenomenon.
Yellow dust causes various damage - visibility problems, respiratory and eye troubles, malfunctioning of precision equipment, damage to farming, etc. It was said that contaminated heavy metallic dust, foot-and-mouth disease or birds flu viruses might spread with the yellow dust. This has turned out to be a groundless rumor, but shows the degree to which Koreans fear the effects of yellow dust. Yellow dust is not 100% harmful, though. Lime and other alkali substances contained in yellow dust neutralize acid rain, prevent acidification of soil and lakes, and provide organic salts to plants and marine planktons.