Climate Change and Public Health: 
What does climate change mean for the people of Mongolia?

18 Days  ◦  2 Instructors

Warmer temperatures are bringing more fires, droughts, and extreme weather events to regions around the world, including Mongolia, and these changes are threatening water supplies, natural resources, and the people who depend upon them. Participants in this course will have the opportunity to spend time in the field with experts in climate science, public health, and natural resource management and examine firsthand the connections between climate change, the environment and human health in one of the most wild and scenic places on Earth. Together, we’ll witness some of the changes underway in a range of settings from Mongolia’s arid lands to its forested mountains. We’ll also meet with healthcare practitioners to gain insight about the climate-related health challenges facing rural and urban communities.

Photo of Mongolian countryside

Course Overview

This course will focus on how climate change is impacting public health in urban environments and rural communities in Mongolia. We will visit sites in Mongolia to meet with local health officials and climate scientists to gain an understanding of how climate change (hotter days, more wildfire, colder winters, drought) is threatening human well being. Mongolia, with its vast landscapes, limited infrastructure, and large indigenous population, is particularly vulnerable to climate change. You’ll come away from this course with a good understanding of climate and health issues facing this remote region as well as the social-economic disparities associated with climate-change responses. Hopefully, you’ll also see new opportunities to help chart a resilient and equitable future for Mongolia as well as for your own country.

The class will start with discussions with government, health and climate leaders in Ulaanbaatar, then travel to the countryside to see how climate change is impacting traditional nomadic practices and public health delivery in rural areas. Our travels begin with visits to urban and rural communities en route to the Eg-Uur Valley of Khovsgol Province, a region of stunning lakes and mountains. We’ll meet with healthcare providers in rural community clinics and herders and resource managers observing environmental change. At the end of the course we will travel to in the arid region of Kharkhorin in the Övörkhangai Province. There will also be plenty of time to learn and explore on your own. Each student will explore a topic of their own interest, and as a group we’ll share our insights.

The instructors produced a recent assessment of the impacts of climate change on human health in Montana’s urban, rural and indigenous communities, and will look at similar trends in Mongolia. Invited course participants include a Tribal member from Montana US involved in climate adaptation, as well as two public health professionals from Mongolia and Montana US.

Climate change is expected to have a disproportionate impact on countries with lower incomes, on northern regions, and on indigenous peoples worldwide. Mongolia is an excellent laboratory to witness firsthand the impacts climate change is having on the health of individuals, communities and the environment, and how people are working to mitigate these impacts and adapt to a changing global climate. Mongolia has experienced an average temperature rise of over 2 degrees, more than double the world average, and has a sustained indigenous population that faces a changing socio-economic situation that is complicated by climate change. You’ll come away from this course with a good understanding of health issues and climate change in Mongolia and other parts of the world, and how climate and health sciences overlay to paint a picture of our health future.

The class will start with discussions with government, health and climate leaders in Ulaanbaatar, then travel to the countryside to see how climate change is impacting traditional nomadic practices and public health delivery in rural areas. We’ll meet with natural resource managers, public health officials, herders, climate scientists and community members in facilitated conversations. We’ll learn about rural community clinics and observe recorded changes in the landscape.

The impacts of climate change on health are many, including increased mortality related to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions and heat stress, more premature births, rises in rates of depression, spread of infectious disease, and higher morbidity and mortality from gastrointestinal disease during extreme weather events, to name but a few. The literature and recent global reports point to many climate-related events as the culprits, including increased wildfire (pulmonary disease and asthma), more heat days (heat stroke and depression), early runoff and flood (vector borne disease), and summer drought (and related winter dzud and food security issues). Other factors at play are limited access to rural health facilities and poor communication between climate and health scientists and the communities in which they work.

In lectures, conversation and readings, with plenty of time to learn and explore on your own. Each student will have the opportunity to explore a topic of their own interest, and as a group we’ll learn more about issues such as:

  • What is a climate health assessment?
  • How do we understand the uncertainty around this?
  • What are the global and local trends with regard to extreme heat, extreme cold, drought, flooding, fires and smoke?
  • How does climate change affect health globally? A review of what we now know are the impacts of climate change on global health concerns.
  • How are vulnerable populations especially impacted?
  • What are the demographic and socioeconomic trends in Mongolia and current trends in health status/services?
  • What can we say about climate-change related health issues in Mongolia with respect to extreme heat, wildfires/smoke, floods and vector borne disease, drought and food security, etc.?
  • What actions can health agencies, rural clinics, and health certification programs take to respond and adapt to climate change, and what messaging will be most effective for clinics and communities, community planning, monitoring, policy change, and personal action?

This course is a great fit for those interested in climate science, environmental studies, global health, public health, health disparity research, ecotourism, community engagement, and policy development, all as we assess together our collective global climate future.

Anticipated Course Activities

Day 1-4

Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Marco Fieber

Ulaanbaatar - Program and course orientation

Gain an introduction to Mongolian culture and language, history, and contemporary issues. Meet course faculty and participants, begin course sessions with a few agency meetings and review of air quality issues, and engage in teambuilding through visits to some of the local sites as time allows (e.g., Gandan Monastery, markets, museums).

Day 5-7


Drive to Erdenet to attend public health briefings

Travel to the ancient capital of Mongolia, Kharkhorin, to explore the landscape and rural areas to talk with experts and herders. During our travel route, we’ll observe how Mongolia’s ecosystem has shifted in semi-desert; and how these shifts can and do impact human health.

Day 8


Drive to Erdenebulgan, Khuvsgul

Arrive at Upper Uur Camp. Travel to Khovsgol Province and Eg-Uur Valley via Moron, the city center of the Khovsgol Province. A visit to a few clinics in Moron. 

Day 9-13

Class sessions (2)

Class sessions in the forest-steppe of the Eg-Uur Valley

Class sessions in the forest-steppe of the Eg-Uur Valley and visits to local towns (soums) and river camps.

Day 14-16

Walls at the ancient Mongolian capital of Kharkhorin

Drive to and stay in Karakorum

[Tour of the Erdene Zuu monastery, visits with local officials etc] Possible drive to Elsen tsarkhai and Erdene Khamba on way back to UB.

Day 17

Travel on the road

Return to Ulaanbaatar

Return to UB in the afternoon after monastery visit/hike.

Day 18

Ulaanbaatar. Photo by Marco Fieber

Course conclusion in Ulaanbaatar

Debrief and a chance to browse in Ulaanbaatar, and plan for further research and explorations in Mongolia and beyond.



Dr. Cathy Whitlock

Montana State University
Dr. Cathy Whitlock is a Regents Professor in Earth Sciences at Montana State University and a Fellow of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. She is also the lead author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment. Cathy is nationally and internationally recognized for her scholarly contributions and leadership activities in the field of past climatic and environmental change. She has published over 200 scientific papers on the ecological history of Yellowstone and similar regions around the world. Cathy is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 2018, she became the first person from a Montana university to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Susan Higgins, MS

Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity
Susan Higgins, MS, engages in water resources planning, landscape collaboratives and drought resiliency. She has consulted with the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, The Tributary Fund and The Taimen Fund, where she facilitated research activities, leadership exchanges and species and drought resiliency planning in Mongolia, Bhutan and Montana, all with an emphasis on developing best practices for scientists working with faith and indigenous communities. Prior, she directed research communications and water education at the Montana State University Water Center. Susan now works to connect health science researchers with rural and Native Montana communities for the Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity.

"Attending the renewable energy field school was the best decision I made in 2019! I was already attending a fulltime graduate program in Canada, but the field school added rich value to my learning. As the world is becoming more globalized, looking at how Mongolia is responding to the challenges of supplying cleaner energy was a valuable experience. Our instructors came with a vast amount of knowledge and a passion to teach.’’

Liz B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
Batkhuu SQ600

"As a sociology major student, this program was very helpful to explore urban issues and migration processes in contemporary Mongolia. Through this program, I sharpened my academic capabilities while refining soft skills essential for my future studies.’’

Batkhuu B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019

"The ACMS field school is a unique experience that has changed my life and teaching. In most programs, international participants are isolated from the country in which we are studying except for controlled visits to local people and sites. Not so with ACMS! Half of the participants in each field school are from Mongolia, ensuring that local and international participants have a chance to understand each other’s perspectives.’’

Janis M

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
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