the one that got away…for now

By Neil Pederson

the main portion of the 2010 field season went out like a lamb yesterday, no Mongolian pun intended. we traveled the Millennial Road to check out a site I spotted a few weeks ago and look for other sites that might help fill in a part of the northern portion of our climate network. on the third viewing from afar, it looked better than the first two. however, what we could not see was a fence on the eastern end of this rocky, elevated valley nor the chained gate on the dirt road leading into the site:

fences and, especially with gates, are new things in Mongolia. most land is open to the public, so to speak. it turns out that the owner is a famous lama and sculptor. our leader on this trip, Professor Dima [pic below], compared the owner to Zanabazar, a famous artist and lama in Mongolian history. also, the modern lama-artist is building a new monastery on his little cul-de-sac in this corner of the world.

the owner went back to town that morning, but we were allowed on site by the owner’s gatekeeper because Dima said we wanted to take pictures of the unique rock formations and the trees sitting on the rocks. after getting in we asked permission from the construction workers to do the same. it was agreeable to them for us to tour the site. but, given the elevated status of this site and our unusual appearance and request, we decided to hold off on any sampling until we get permission to sample by the owner.

after a wonderful autumn hike while scouting out the site, autumn was in the air and yellow birch leaves were on the ground, it was hard to drive away with no samples. it was a nearly ideal site in a great location for our research needs.

there is always next yr, correct?

this yr turned out great! we sampled >1400 trees in a wide swath of Mongolia, from Urgun Nars to past Sologotyin Davaa [east to west], and from the Tuul Gol watershed in the south to near the Russian border at Tujyin Nars. big cheers to the whole crew: Byamba, Tom & Cari who arrived first and spent most of their summer in Mongolia. Enkhbat, engineer and Renaissance Mongolian who drove long days on the roughest road, cooked scrumptious meals, made peace with the ants and introduced us to the world of Mongolian Road Trance Tripping. Peter, who sampled the eastern portion of our network before battling a bit of an illness. Amy, who fiercely led what might have led the toughest portion of the summer: insects, rain on cold days, a windstorm, snow, terrible roads and a co-leader who dropped like a fly a couple of times. and, a big thanks to Ashley for volunteering her time and money for our September sampling. it certain made the sampling that much easier and better!

Most of all, we could not have completed the long summer without the leadership of Dr. Baatarbileg and his great set of students assisting us, most notably, star quarterback, Bayaraa, his sidekick Galaa, who made sure no food went to waste and Uyanga, whose assistance at the margins of this field season are extremely valuable to the success of this project.

now, some pix from the Lama Cul-de-Sac:

Bayaraa on the QB perch with the western valley in the background.

Bayaraa emerging from a wolf cave?

the main formation that drew my attention from the Millennial Road

the west side of the main rock outcrop. note a couple oldish looking trees and low forest density. it seems a large fire, producing 15-25′ fire scars, thinned the woods.

full pan of the western valley. note the unbroken forest to the southwest and on the far mountain range.

western valley

west valley view

a few words about Dr. Dima. first, i want to call him Professor Dima because he embodies the great patience, tolerance, wisdom and intelligence you want from your favorite professor.

luckily, i met Professor Dima within the first week of my first visit to Mongolia in 1998 at a small conference at Terelj. at that time his hair was much longer. and, as i recall, it stood out almost like a headdress. and, for the longest time he held that epic stoicism that Mongolians are well know for. he is stout, but in a muscular kind of way like many Mongolians. he looked fierce. it was easy to envision him on horseback as a part of Chinggis’ great army. he was intimidating.

by the end of that trip, or perhaps on my second visit, his placid mask melted and the kind, patient and intelligent man you are getting a glimpse of above was revealed. at the time, during Mongolia’s post-communism hunger period, he told me that there was no money for him to conduct research. he studied biophysics and was perhaps the most intelligent scientist i had met [oh, and he speaks Mongolian, Russian, Japanese and English]. his intellect is  impressive and i was saddened that he could not conduct his research. it must have been frustrating.

i am happy to say his career has risen. he is collaborating with people in Japan and is heavily involved with the first eddy-flux tower in Mongolia, which measures how a forest ‘breathes in’ CO2 and ‘exhales’ oxygen. i am thrilled at his success. i was taken back when he told me this year that he would retire in about 3 yrs. i told him he was too young. he then informed me that he had been teaching for 35 yrs. well, he has certainly earned retirement. [i swear he looks in the lower to mid-50s, not lower 60s. i would have guessed 12 yrs ago he was in his late-30s – that is how robust he looked. his age is starting to peak out now].


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