First Update from Dalbay Valley

The PIRE Mongolia field-crew sent to Dalbay Valley, Northern Mongolia, from the USA arrived there safely, though fatigued, on the 1st June. This signalled the end of over 4 solid days of early mornings, severely interrupted or non-existent sleep, airports, flights, cancelled flights, the inevitable visits (three) to the Immigration Office, and hours stuck in Ulaanbaatar traffic. At least one amongst us retired to bed at 6 pm that night and rose about 14 hours later.

In contrast to the days of travel, things have been very quiet and sedate at the field site for these first few days. On the American front, there are the two postdocs – Pierre Liancourt and myself, two PhD students – Aurora MacRae-Crerar and Dan Song, one hardy undergrad –
Michael Blaha, and the Luce Scholar Michael Gründler who survived the winter here and therefore almost classifies as Mongolian. On the Mongolian front there is Undrakh who is currently making the camp comfortable and functional in every way conceivable, and Anouka, our cook.

The experiment was all laid out the first full day at camp. There was no vehicle at camp, and no horses, and therefore the materials to construct the open-top chambers (OTCs) and open-sided chambers (OSCs) were transported to all of the plots by Shanks’ Pony. While PIRE Mongolia does not subscribe to gender stereotypes, it must be admitted that the carrying was done by the guys, while the girls satisfied their domestic instincts by unpacking all the boxes and arranging the office ger in a nice orderly fashion. The girls did see some outdoor action though, as we constructed the OTCs, and taped up their sides to block the wind-flow (thereby promoting their warming effect).

Open-sided and open-top chambers at work

A communal carrying exercise was also conducted yesterday morning when we applied the first of the weekly watering treatments. Each of the watered plots receive 10 litres of water, once a week, which equates to a rainfall of 4.5 mm. Therefore, 140 litres of water had to be transported to the upper slope without the assistance of either motorised vehicle or horse (still absent from camp). The evening before we brainstormed ideas for this feat, but having no ropes or pulley system, and no long extent of pipe, next morning we were to be found carrying the water canisters with our own hands – very good exercise.

Ice on Lake Hovsgol

Other than that, I’d like to report that there is still a good deal of ice on the lake. And there is a solid patch of ice over the river by camp too. It must be about 1 m thick, and the edge is made of beautiful thick sharp icicles and has a glacial blue hue. This doesn’t stop Dan Song from bathing every day, however. We hear the Cuckoo perpetually –
starting from about 4 am, and continuing through till dusk. Occasionally, when still in bed, Demoiselle Cranes pass through our camp, issuing their harsh croak. Their croak is very discordant, set against their slim and elegant frame, and their aristocratic plume. There is also a colony of seagulls close to camp, making it sometimes seem like we are on a seaside jaunt. We believe they are feeding off the Lenok as it passes up the river to spawn. I think that’s it for bird life, and human life. More anon.

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