Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Text by Jon Ranson, Slava Kharuk, and Joanne Howl • design by Goran Halusa • July 30, 2007

Nowhere on Earth is warming faster than the Arctic. In northern Siberia, average temperatures have risen 1 to 3°C (3 to 5°F) over the past 30 years, whereas the worldwide average increase in that time is 0.6°C (1°F).

As Earth’s temperature rises, what is happening to the great northern forests of Siberia? Thick stands of spruce, pine, aspen, and larch trees occupy a vast stretch of land across northern Asia and Europe, straddling roughly half of the Arctic Circle. Will the trees in this ecosystem (called taiga) begin to grow faster and to gradually extend their reach farther north into the treeless tundra, as some scientists predict? Or will hotter, drier conditions stress the trees, thereby inhibiting growth and leaving the forest prone to invasive species and wildfires, as new evidence suggests?

A small international team of scientists from NASA and Russia’s Academy of Science are going to find answers. Beginning July 28, 2007, the team of six remote sensing and forest ecosystem scientists set off on a three-week scientific expedition through the heart of the remote, wild forests of Siberia. They are traveling southward down the Kochechum River observing the gradual transition from tundra to taiga, taking inventory of plant species along the way, and making ground-truth measurements to validate data being collected by several NASA satellites flying 700 kilometers overhead.

The team is led by Jon Ranson, head of the Biospheric Sciences Branch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Slava Kharuk, of the Sukachev Forest Institute. The two have been collaborating since 1991, when Ranson first visited the Forest Institute's field camp. This makes the pair’s seventh Siberian expedition together.


Where in the World

Where in the World

On the Central Siberian Plateau, a wilderness of tundra gradually transitions to the northern forests known as taiga. At the end of July 2007, a team of American and Russian scientists set off down the Kochechum River to study this remote landscape. This image tracks their journey down the river.

  Photograph of Slava and Jon hugging a tree.

The Russian forest is of great interest to scientists studying Earth’s carbon cycle, land ecosystems, and biodiversity. The forested area is so immense that it contains about 43 percent of the world’s temperate and boreal forests. Yet scientists estimate that two-thirds of its area is being disturbed by natural or man-made stresses.

The team’s expedition to study these forests starts above the Arctic Circle near the source of the Kochechum River. There are no roads there, so the team will fly in by helicopter. On the ground they will pile their gear into the three boats they brought, and then set off down river. They will ride the river for 15 days and end their trek at Tura, a small town of about 10,000 people. Until they reach town, they will be completely self-sufficient.

What will they find?

A main mission objective is to validate the forest height measurements made by the Geosciences Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) onboard NASA’s ICESat satellite. To do this, the team must bring their boats to shore and traverse through rugged terrain, carrying all their equipment, to pinpoint the precise locations measured by ICESat’s laser. At each site they will use standard forestry equipment (diameter tapes, 50-meter tapes, and laser angle-finder devices) to collect data to compare to the satellite observations.

The team expects to face challenges. Yet they also will experience natural wonders such as the continual daylight of summer in the far North. Through it all, their satellite phone will be their only link to civilization. Jon and Slava will use the phone to provide daily updates to NASA’s Earth Observatory Website. So check back here often to follow the scientists’ ride down the Kochechum through the heart of Siberian wilderness, and to learn what they learn in near-real time.


In their seventh expedition together, Slava Kharuk (left) and Jon Ranson (right) are embarking on a new study of the landscape between the Arctic tundra and the taiga forest of northern Siberia. It takes both scienitsts’ arms to encircle a large tree in the taiga, an act that symbolizes not only their friendship, but also the close working relationship between the Russian and American research teams.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Saturday, July 28, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 8:25 p.m. Siberia (8:25 a.m. EDT)

The past twelve days were a swirl of activity for Jon Ranson. He spent a week in Florida collaborating on the design of a new generation of NASA Earth-observing satellites. A day’s rest and repacking at his Maryland home, then off to an international convention in Barcelona, Spain. From there he launched on this expedition. After three flights and almost a full day of travel he landed in Siberia.

Jon was greeted by his colleague Slava Kharuk at Krasnoyarsk Airport. They spent the day attending to last-minute details, including a shopping trip for boots and other gear for Jon, whose bag was lost in travel. Then it was off to the hotel for a short night’s rest before departure for Tura, where his team will board a helicopter to take them to their first camp site on the Kochechum River.

At midnight Jon was startled awake in his hotel by explosions just outside his window. Fortunately, they were the booms and bright lights of a wedding celebration—great for newlyweds, but not so good for weary travelers. But not every expedition begins with such an exciting send off. So today Jon is sleepy, but happy and eager to get started.

  Photograph of the team as they're about to depart from Tura, Russia, July 28, 2007.

From Jon Ranson

Hello to all! We are now above the Arctic Circle!

It is fantastic to be here, and how beautiful it is! The sky is sunny and blue with a few clouds. It is warm with a good breeze at times. We’ve set up camp on a rocky gravel sandbar beside the Kochechum River. I see green forest all around and there are big moose tracks going through our camp.

The ride in was good. We crammed the big M8 helicopter full of gear, so it was a pretty tight fit for everyone. One of the crew rode in the back with us. When we came in for a landing, he threw open the door and jumped out while we were about a foot off the ground! He scurried around us, moving rocks and making sure the landing area was safe. As soon as we touched down, all hands tossed the gear out. Within ten minutes the helicopter was gone.

On the way in, we had circled to survey the area. We are in the middle of forest but not like the forest I’m used to. The trees are quite small and very far apart. Both the high latitude and the soil conditions play a role in this type of tree growth pattern.

Our camp is close to the base of a small mountain. We’ll do a transect up it tomorrow. We’ll start at the bottom, then working our way up the mountain we’ll measure tree size, how many trees are in a given area, how old they are, and how fast they have been growing over the last 40 years. We should get some good data on how the forest changes due to elevation and also due to warmer temperatures.

Right now two of our Russian colleagues are putting the boats together and making sure they work. One is brand new—they took it right out of the box! Slava is setting nets for fish. We need the fresh protein to supplement the food we brought. It’s easy to see he’s happy to be underway. We’re all very excited. It’s always great to start an expedition.


The expedition team is pictured here on the helipad in Tura on July 28 beside the M8 helicopter that flew them to their start point above the Arctic Circle. From left to right: Slava Kharuk, Paul Montesano, Sergei Im, Pasha Oskorbin, Jon Ranson, and Guoqing Sun.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Sunday, July 29, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 9:10 p.m. Siberia (9:10 a.m. EDT)

Today the scientists spent their first full day in the wilderness studying the forest ecology of the mountain near camp. To get to the top, they had to push through thick underbrush and hike over fields of boulders. They stopped often to measure the height, circumference, and age of trees, and to observe variations in the forest related to elevation gain and warming temperatures.

These curious mountains are low in height and have flattened tops covered with weathered basalt rocks. Geologists call them the Siberian Traps, after the Swedish word for "stairs" (trappa), which they resemble. They were formed during a period of volcanic activity about 250 million years ago. The basalt is what remains of huge, ancient lava flows. It is during this period that Earth suffered one of the largest mass extinctions in history, losing 50 percent of its animal families, 95 percent of all marine species, many species of trees, and the trilobites.

From Jon Ranson

This has been one tough but interesting day. We walked up the mountain beside our camp with the idea that we’d see the tundra that was supposed to be at the top. But there was no tundra. Just forest.

We’ve got a Russian map from 50 years ago, and it clearly states this mountain is tundra. The maps were based on aerial photography. But it’s really hard to mistake forest and tundra so I doubt the maps were wrong. It’s also interesting that today’s age measurements showed some of the trees were 90 years old.

  Photograph of Pasha Oskorbin and Paul Montesano measurng the height of a fallen larch tree, July 29, 2007.

The forests are larch here, which is the only tree that is well adapted to conditions this far north. We also see some willow, alder and juniper—all in small, bushy forms due to the harsh environment. As we head to the south, the species will begin to change.

That’s exactly why we wanted to start this far north, so we could observe the changes. This transition between two different ecosystems is called an ecotone. The ecotone changes with latitude and elevation. When you climb a mountain, you can compress the changes. If today’s mountain had still had tundra at the summit, we would have spent the day walking through an entire taiga-tundra transition.

What strikes me today is just how tenacious life is. Every place in which it’s possible, something is growing. I’ve seen a variety of vegetation and lots of different flowers. Even the smallest bits of rock are covered with lichen. The growing season is short here, but life has adapted. We’ve seen signs of moose, bear, and elk, and we hear birdsong everywhere. The forest is stark, but it teems with life.

It also seethes with mosquitoes. We are dressed head to toe in protective bug gear. They can’t easily feast on us but when hundreds are crawling on you they are still distracting. I glanced over at a colleague earlier. They had swarmed his mosquito netting and it looked like he was wearing a carpet of bugs on his head.

Speaking of feasting, Slava caught a pike and something that looks like trout. There are not a lot of fish but they are big. Our Russian colleagues cleaned them, cut them into two-inch chunks, then put them all into a pot—even the heads! We had fish soup for breakfast and fish soup for lunch.

Tomorrow we plan to move down river to locate and verify measurements made by NASA satellites. But that’s tomorrow. Now it’s supper time. Mmm . . . fish soup.


Pasha Oskorbin and Paul Montesano measure the height of a fallen larch tree, July 29, 2007.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Monday, July 30, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 9:15 p.m. Siberia (9:15 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

It is a quiet day here on the Kochechum River. We broke camp this morning, packed all our gear into the boats and headed down river. Our mission of the day was to locate the areas where the Geosciences Altimeter Laser System (GLAS) aboard NASA's ICEsat satellite has made prior measurements. Tomorrow we'll begin taking ground-truth measurements to validate the satellite data.

The GLAS system measures tree height and produces what is called a wave form. That wave form can be used to measure canopy closure, which basically is the percentage of land covered by forest. We're fairly comfortable with the data collected by GLAS in many types of forest, but when we study the data of this region we suspect that the lidar may not be picking up forest height quite accurately here.

The best way to verify the satellite's measurements is to come here and make those same measurements by hand with old-fashioned forestry instruments. Of course, it is really hard and time-consuming to travel here, force our way through this tough terrain and swim through mosquitoes, but it's worth it.

  Scientists on the river

We use these measurements to measure biomass of the forest. The biomass is the weight of the woody parts of the tree that exist above ground. Scientists can estimate biomass of a tree from measurements of its diameter or height. Normally the taller a tree is, the larger its diameter and the greater its biomass. Since biomass of trees generally is calculated to be about 50 percent carbon, the taller trees store more carbon. In short, the more accurate our tree height measurements are, the better we can understand Earth’s carbon cycle.

Also, the measurements we are recording now become a part of history. In the future, scientists will rely on them to understand how the forest has changed over time. So we make sure our measurements are accurate.

If GLAS is actually accurate here, then we'll verify that and be happy. But even if we find error, it's good. We'll bring home lots of ground-truth data and field observations that will help NASA scientists and engineers design a better instrument. So we can't lose. Still, it's hard work.

It was nice to be on the river today. We were able to observe the forest as we passed through it. Also, we got a break from mosquitoes. The river breeze makes it harder for mosquitoes to hunt. And we have motors so we were outrunning them. It made me smile to imagine them chasing us, hopeless and frustrated.


The expedition prepares to depart for the day’s long trek down river. From left to right are Gouqing Sun, Pasha Oskorbin, Paul Montesano, Sergei Im, Slava Kharuk, and Jon Ranson. Gouqing, Jon, and Slava will take the lead boat, with Pasha and Paul in the second. The last boat is critical, containing food and other supplies. It is Sergei’s task to bring this load in safely each day. “We let Sergei sit on the gas cans,” teases Jon. “And we are quite grateful he doesn’t smoke.”

  Slava Kharuk with fish

Of course, they were waiting for us on shore when we stopped to make camp. It's amazing how they congregate around our tents. It's as if they know that, at some point, some warm-blooded creature will come here and drop the bug gear briefly to make a mad dash into the tent. And then they rush in to feast.

It was also great to rest my feet after yesterday's extreme hike up the mountain. The rocks were slippery and the underbrush seemed to grab and tear at our clothes and gear. I don't usually complain much but all the way down the mountain my new boots hurt my feet incredibly badly. I slipped and fell on the rocks, cursing often. But the pain in my feet was more than offset by the incredible beauty of this place. I really love it here.


On expeditions to such a remote part of Siberia, fish are not just sport. They are part of the meal ticket, adding essential fresh protein to the team’s camp rations. Large fish, like this one caught by Russian scientist Slava Kharuk on a previous trip to the area, wind up in the soup kettle.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 10:06 p.m. Siberia (10:06 a.m. EDT)

Today the rain fell hard and steady. Taking measurements of trees is tough work under any conditions, but rain adds challenges. It’s tiring to walk through heavy, wet underbrush. Rocky footing turns dangerous. Instruments try to slip out of your hand. And the reduced visibility makes it harder to read numbers.

Rainy weather has another, more critical, impact. To stay in touch with the outside world, the scientists rely on satellite phones and a small laptop computer. These need frequent recharging, so the team brought along two portable solar panels. There is sunlight twenty hours a day above the Arctic Circle, but to work well the panels require bright daylight. Cloudy days won’t work. The dimmer light of the polar night doesn’t do so well, either.

The computer has been offline since day two—recharging simply takes too long. The phones charge quickly, but several rainy days could sever the last link to civilization.

From Jon Ranson

The rain started last night. I woke up to this odd, irregular beating on my tent roof. It sounded like bugs at first, like the mosquitoes were getting really desperate. But soon it was clearly a steady downpour. Rain doesn’t stop us, but it does slow us down.

Today has been a very long day. We took measurements of six GLAS sites. The terrain here is gently rolling slopes, not mountains. The trees are far apart, but fairly tall. We have measured some at about 12 meters. That’s large for a larch but to put it in perspective, the average maple tree is usually 30 meters tall.

Some of the lowland sites were pretty boggy. To walk in a bog you need to stay on the dry grass clumps and mossy spots. If you misstep you get to pull your boot out of sticky mud. The sucking noise is amusing, but it will eventually tire you out.

In one boggy area we observed a striking stand of larch. They were fairly young trees and all of a uniform, small size. My best estimate of the age, without measurements, is about 30 years. A couple of larger trees stood among them. Those bigger trees had already been here when the stand started to grow.

A large number of same-age trees indicates that something happened at that time to encourage tree growth. The two best theories we came up with are either the warming trend in this area, or the bog itself may have changed from a very wet area to a drier one, permitting tree growth.


Oh yes—I caught my first fish today! It was the only fish caught today. I cooked it like they do out near Lake Baikal. They put a stick through the mouth and slowly roast it over the fire. Those fish turn a beautiful golden color. This wasn’t so pretty, but it really tasted good.

It’s been another great day. This area above the Arctic Circle is unique and utterly amazing. Sure, I wish the rain would stop. Sure, I wish the mosquitoes would give us a break. I’d really love to have a pizza. But I am thrilled to be here—every soggy, buggy, fishy minute.



  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 9:05 p.m. Siberia (9:05 a.m. EDT)

Many Siberians call the first of August “the beginning of the end of summer.” This expression acknowledges how quickly warm weather will pass, and reminds people to prepare for the extreme cold to come. In July, the temperature reaches the 70s. By midwinter it drops to -33 F. The light begins to fade noticeably in August, too. In July, when the sun never sets, the region receives 40 percent sunshine on an average day. By September, it will be reduced to 15 percent, as the long polar night begins.

The larch tree is one of the notable markers of this transition season. During the last weeks of August the soft green needles turn bright yellow then drop as the trees go into deep hibernation. The scientists won’t get to enjoy the yellow forests; they are scheduled to leave just before the needles turn.

From Jon Ranson

Today we traveled about 35 kilometers down river. We have made camp on a rocky island. On one side is an 800-meter mountain that Slava will study tomorrow. Just upriver are many GLAS points that I will visit. It’s still raining. The river is rising too. We actually had to move our camp to higher ground this afternoon.

The view is beautiful from here. The mountain tops are covered with basalt, which is a dark black rock. The black rocks are spotted with bright red and yellow lichens. From this distance, when I look down river, the mountain tops are a gorgeous reddish purple.

We crossed below the Arctic Circle today. Just below the line we were greeted by a raven and a family of geese. A little bird, which Paul identified as a pipit, has joined us in camp. The bird eats mosquitoes so we like him. We attract mosquitoes so he seems to like us too.

As we traveled down river, I saw what the Siberians call a “drunken forest.” This area is permafrost, where the soil stays firmly frozen year round. Larch grows well here, but their roots are shallow. When permafrost melts, the trees lose their footing and tilt to the side. I guess the trees look like a drunk trying to walk home, tilted at crazy angles. It’s a curious sight, but it’s also a clear sign that the temperature in that spot has been warm enough to melt the permafrost.

  Drunken forest

We passed the remains of an Evenki settlement. The Evenki are the natives who were, historically, hunters and reindeer herders. Slava said the town had been abandoned recently—since 1991. The river had risen enough in the time since then to erode away many of the buildings.

The river had also exposed a nice cross section of peat bog, several meters thick. The Arctic is made up of lots areas like this, where organic matter builds up because it is too cold to decompose. A huge pool of carbon is stored in peat bogs and similar areas. Trapping this much carbon helps keep global temperatures down. But if the climate warms, then rapid decomposition could release lots of carbon dioxide and methane—both greenhouse gases—thus fueling greater temperature rise.

Paul took a turn in the kitchen today. He made porridge and created a macaroni and canned beef concoction for breakfast. He was undaunted by the fish de jour, coating it in spices and frying it up in a pan. It was great. I never knew he could cook! There’s just no end to today’s remarkable discoveries.


This is what the Siberians call a “drunken forest.” Permafrost that has not melted provides a solid foundation that holds trees upright. When permafrost melts, as it has here, the layer of loose soil deepens and trees lose their foundations, tipping over at odd angles.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Thursday, August 2, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 9:20 a.m. Eastern (9:20 a.m. EDT)

The communication from the field today is spoken quickly. Because of the rain and the gray skies it has been impossible to charge the phone from the solar-panel charger. Near the end of the call the line goes silent. A little while later, we connect again, but the signal is faint and hard to hear. Until the sun shines again, the team has lost the ability to communicate with the outside world. As Jon said before the line went dead, “Nature rules!”

From Jon Ranson

The river is rising from the rain. Yesterday we selected a camping area and set up our tents. Slava studied the river then said we’d better move to higher ground. So we took everything down and put it back up again. It’s a good thing we did. The first camping area was totally submerged this morning.

Today Slava, Sergei, and Pasha climbed the mountain to work on a study concerning the frequency of fires. An increase in fire frequency is expected when climate warms due to increased dryness of a region and an increase in fuel as forests expand. Data from other sites show forest fires have indeed become more frequent here in the last three decades. Most of the other study areas are near people, but this area is very remote. So here we can eliminate the question of people’s roles in the fire-frequency change.

Guoqing and Paul and I went upriver to work the GLAS points. My biggest impression of the day was not in that study, however, but was something I noticed on the way back to camp.

I was looking at the forest and just was blown away by the beauty. That larch forest was so very green and it looked as if it was actually glowing—as if sun were shining on it even on this gray day. Just amazing!

But then I wondered, how it could be glowing like that? The needles hadn’t turned yellow yet, like they do before they drop off in the fall. It didn’t make sense. As we got nearer, we could see the glow actually was from the soil, UNDER the trees. In fact, it turns out that the soil was covered with very tiny, very light, lichens. The lichens reflect the sunlight extremely well.

  Forest with lichen

This background reflectance is important to how GLAS measures forest canopies; if the reflectance of the soil changes significantly from place to place or season to season then the height measurements may also change. The lichens are present only at certain times of the year because of snow cover so the background reflectance is changing significantly throughout the year—something we do not allow for yet in our analysis.

I’m not saying this is the answer to the anomalies we’ve seen in our data, but it is sure worth studying! This is what we come here for; this is why we get in the field. When you are out in your study area, looking around, you can sometimes stumble across something just amazing and totally unexpected.


The ground surface of larch forests changes from one place to another depending on the growing conditions. Some stands of trees are underlain by alder and willow shrubs while others are covered by grasses and other leafy plants. This stand of larch is underlain by green mosses and very bright lichens.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Friday, August 3, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, Siberia, 10:43 p.m. Siberia (10:43 a.m. EDT)

Yesterday the satellite phone’s battery went dead, cutting short the report from the field. Because of the gray, rainy weather it has been impossible to use the solar-panel chargers the expedition brought into the field. The appointed check-in time came and went. We wondered just how bad the weather might be a half-world away. Suddenly the phone rang—Siberia calling!

From Jon Ranson

We have sunshine! It was a clear and sunny day, but a very long one. By about 9 a.m., we had broken camp and were heading down river. It’s almost 11 p.m. now, and we are just now in camp. Soon we’ll have supper.

We’ve established a pattern of having a long work day and then a day of travel. Travel sounds pretty easy, right? Well, sitting in the boat is alright, but tearing down and setting up camp definitely falls into the category of “work.”

Today we traveled about 70 kilometers downstream. The rivers are extremely high now; they are carrying as much water as they do in the spring thaws, according to Slava. High waters make camping spots hard to find. In order to make sure we had a safe place to sleep tonight, we had to stop about 5 kilometers short of our goal. Tomorrow we’ll get up and travel the rest of the way to take some more forest measurements.

  Moon over Kochechum River

As we boat down river, we survey the shores constantly. Today we saw a lot of fire-scarred forest. There is a lot of it here, lots of fire damage. There was one area that was really large. It had a relatively thick new growth of smaller trees, uniform in age, standing among the remains of very large burnt trees. There were charred trees on the ground, too. Judging from the size of the younger trees, the fire probably occurred roughly 50 years ago. In this region, decomposition is extremely slow, so the dead trees haven’t changed much in all that time.

Larch and fire have a special relationship. The frequent fires help rejuvenate the forest, by encouraging seeds to sprout. Fire also enriches the soil and removes underbrush that would compete with the fresh crop of seedlings. Old larch trees are very fire-resistant, so when a fire moves through rapidly it will burn the underbrush but only leave a scar on the larch bark. It takes a large, hot, and slow-moving fire to destroy old trees like these. After seeing so much burnt area, I’m more grateful for all this rain. Not much fire risk in the forest right now.

Oh—I hear shouting! They are saying “Moon, moon!” I guess the moon must be up; but I can’t see it from the tent. We haven’t seen the moon since we started. At our first two camps we were above the Arctic Circle, so the Sun dipped below the horizon only for a few hours. If we had one, we could have read a newspaper by the light, and it was too bright to let us see the stars. They call that a “white night,” when it is so bright. Since we’ve left the Arctic Circle, it has been rainy every night. To have a night clear enough to see the moon is a real treat. Like saying hello to an old friend from home, I suppose.


Tonight the clouds cleared enough for the team to witness their first moonrise on this expedition. Taken around 11:00 p.m., this image illustrates how bright the nights are in Siberia at this time of year. The team members pitched their tents on the rocky shore.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Saturday, August 4, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:32 p.m. Siberia (10:32 a.m. EDT)

The traditional people of Siberia’s Evenkiyskiy Region survived in the harsh, wild land by being finely attuned to clues of Nature’s mood. To these people who survived as reindeer herders, hunters, and gatherers, a small change in wind might signal the arrival of a dangerous early frost. The print of a wolf would call for closely guarding the herd. Although life in a modern Siberian city is comfortable, much of the surrounding land is still wild. The climate is harsh, and the weather can change rapidly.

Reminiscent of the Evenki ways, people who live in or visit this region must stay constantly aware of the environment, or risk being caught unprepared by fire, flood, or a sudden storm. During their days on the Kochechum, the team is fortunate to have along Dr. Slava Kharuk, a native Siberian. In addition to his deep scientific understanding of the area’s ecology, Slava has an innate connection to this land, like his parents and grandparents before him. By reading Nature’s signs, he has helped the expedition stay safe in the challenges they face.

From Slava Kharuk

Today’s rains began gently, and then a single thunderclap brought hard rain. This will be the last thunderstorm of summer, I am sure. The river is as high as it is in spring thaw, and that is a concern. We boated through a lot of choppy white water today. In one spot, the river narrowed tightly and the rapids became quite significant. We did fine, but I am happy to arrive at this campsite tonight.

  Slava Kharuk in boat

With the high water, fishing is poor, and safe camp sites are few. Tonight the water level is beginning to drop, and that is good. We can expect better camping and fishing soon.

From Jon Ranson

This morning we headed downstream to make our measurements. We pulled the boat well ashore, then started into the forest. But we didn’t get very far. Floodwater had broken away from the main riverbed and was cutting a new channel right where we needed to go. The water was fast and too deep to wade. In order to get across, we would have to return to camp, dump gear out of the boats and get a ferry going. We knew that delay would keep us from finishing the measurements today, even if we ran into no further problems inland.

We decided it was best to only take samples of the fire-scarred trees, then to get as far downriver as we could. From our boats, we again observed many large fires scars on the land. This evening we found a safe camp near many GLAS sites, so we will take measurements tomorrow.

The forest is still only Larch, but biodiversity is increasing. We are seeing see more species of animals and birds, and there seems to be more of them, too. Today we have seen tracks of wolf, bear, caribou, and elk. Each animal and plant species appears to us in its due time, as we enter the part of the ecosystem that is favorable for its existence.

For the first time we heard sounds of our own species. We paused to listen to a jet, very faint and far away. Like the animals and plants, signs of the human world arrive slowly as we head farther from the Arctic, in their own due time. It is a reminder that our species, too, is part of one great ecosystem. That we are, truly, all connected.


Slava Kuruk pilots the lead boat down the Kochechum River.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Sunday, August 5, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:47 p.m. Siberia (10:47 a.m. EDT)

In the past nine days, life has developed a rhythm. On travel days, the team breaks camp, navigates a flooding river, fishes, cooks, and sets up camp again. On work days, they push through underbrush, step through bogs, and slip on wet basalt rock fields. They then carefully measure hundreds of trees and collect dozens of samples of fire-scarred trunks each day.

On their return to camp, they make dinner, usually fish soup or pasta with canned meat. As they enter their tents, they try to kill the mosquitoes that follow them in—a rolled-up piece of paper is a popular weapon. As the insect-clearing thumps fall silent, each crawls into his sleeping bag and quickly falls asleep on top of the round rocks that pass for “beach” on the roaring Kochechum River. Despite the challenges, they manage to stay in good moods. Every day they report, “We are all still smiling.”

From Jon Ranson

It is mah-vel-ous here. Raining, yes, but I’m in the tent now and might dry out a little, I think. The key is to keep one set of clothes inside the tent. That way you can sleep dry, more or less. Outside, clothes are quite a challenge. In the rain, they get soaked, of course. But we end up soaked on warm days, too. Remember, we’re covered head to toe in bug gear, and it gets hot under that. Sweat or rain—either way, it’s wet. I’m not sure I recall what “dry” really feels like.

We have our daily rituals. Gouqing gets up early every morning to take a walk by the river. He’ll stop at a good spot on the riverbank and do t’ai ch’i. It was surreal, the first day, to wake and see him in this wilderness, with the rocks, mountains and river all around. But it is a pleasant and peaceful way to start the day, even for those of us who only watch.

Today we broke camp to move about 7 kilometers down stream. Then we worked many hours in the forest, making measurements in our GLAS footprints—the ground area covered by a GLAS observation. We also took samples for Slava’s fire-interval study.

  Tree trunk

This is a very dynamic area. As the temperatures warm, there is a trend for southern forest trees to encroach on the northern species. So the pines will tend to move into the larch forests; we’ve seen that in previous expeditions farther to the south. At the same time, the warmth increases the incidence of fire. Fire strongly favors the larch. By enriching the soil and removing competing underbrush it helps the larch regenerate. And old larch trees are fire-resistant, so they don’t necessarily die. So fire keeps the southern species, which are not fire-adapted, in check. It’s an interesting tug of war here, between species encroachment from climate change and fire.

It is also very interesting to see how the rivers affect the permafrost. River water is warm, so it heats the soil of the riverbank, melting the permafrost. Although larch roots are usually shallow, when they get the chance the tree will root more deeply. And that means they grow much taller, too. So near the river we have stands of tall larch, while just a few feet away the permafrost is intact, and the trees grow markedly smaller.

This is an amazing area. There is just so much we need to learn.


Large trees often survive understory fires, but their brush with the flames leaves a mark, like the dark ring embedded in this tree trunk. Scientists can date the fire by taking a slice of the trunk and counting growth rings. In many areas of Siberia, trees have survived many fires, each leaving a mark. These marks tell the tale of fire frequency in the area and how it has changed over time.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Monday, August 6, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:15 p.m. Siberia (10:15 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

This morning we had the hardest rain yet. It would slack up a little then just pour down. Finally, about 9 a.m., it lightened up enough to start the day. And then it turned gorgeous. The sky is a beautiful blue. It feels great to be in sunlight again!

We worked 11 GLAS footprints today and measured over 600 trees. The laser tool we used for tree height measurement was damaged in the rain, so we can’t use it. We used to be able to stand in one spot to measure tree height. Now we have to do it all by hand: pull out our 50-meter tapes and other forestry tools, measure distance and angles from different viewpoints, and calculate the heights using trigonometry. It’s physically harder and takes longer, but it works.

We’re in a area scarred by fire. The regenerated forest here is about the same height and age as the old forest was when the fire burned it down. So we see the green and the blackened trees, the living and the dead, all standing at similar heights.

It is a great opportunity to use our ground-truth to see how the satellite lidar system records an area like this. The tree heights are similar, but the dead trees don’t have any branches, so we aren’t sure that the system will even take a reading from them. It’s possible they are being ignored entirely, but we don’t know. We’ll take our measurements back to the lab and compare data, and we’ll see.

  Guoqing Sun and Jon Ranson

This is one great reason to get out in the field. We have the data for this area from various satellite systems. We did know it was a fire scar. But it’s our time and our eyes on the ground that let us know there are unusual conditions here—conditions that our remote-sensing tools may not be designed to handle.

One of the essential uses of our systems is to help estimate carbon storage of these forests. Living trees store a great deal of carbon. But dead wood stores carbon, too. The carbon in deadwood should be released when temperature increases because the wood will decompose faster when it warms. Living trees should grow larger and the forest should expand, increasing carbon storage. Not only to understand present conditions, but also to make future predictions, we need to make sure our remote-sensing systems can both record standing dead wood and differentiate it from living trees.

So this has been an important day for our science. But that’s not the only thing important about today. One year ago today Gouqing became a grandfather for the first time. He wants to be with his first granddaughter, Jasmine, on her first birthday. But he is here, a half-world away, measuring trees to help understand the forest, the carbon cycle, the local forest ecosystems and how they all combine in the global ecosystem of which we are each a vital part.

We are studying changes here, in this remote and wild world. The world you grow up in, Jasmine, may be much different than the world we knew as children. Your Grandfather let me know that he is here with us not because he loves you less, but because he longs to see your Earth be vibrant, beautiful, and healthy. We have a responsibility, each person in this world, to pass on to you a world worth living in.

So today, Jasmine, in Russian tradition, we raise a toast to you from the wilderness—С днём рождения! Happy Birthday!


Guoqing Sun (left) and Jon Ranson (right) plan the day’s work. One of the major goals of the expedition is to acquire ground-truth data to verify tree height measurements made by the Geosciences Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) on NASA’s ICESat Satellite. To decide how to reach these GLAS “footprint” areas, they use a combination of topographic maps and images from sensors on NASA’s Landsat and Terra satellites.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:20 p.m. Siberia (10:20 a.m. EDT)

After their first eleven days, the expedition team still lingers in the upper reaches of the Kochechum. Over the next five days they will have to travel about 300 kilometers to reach Tura, their final destination. With stops for food and refueling the boat motors, it will take about thirty hours—three long days—on the river to complete the journey.

The scientists’ minds are still engaged in observing, measuring, and theorizing. But thoughts are beginning to stray towards home. Slava carefully calculates the time and distance to Tura. The satellite phone minutes are running low, and the computer battery is still dead. Their urge to reconnect is growing.


From Jon Ranson

It is another wonderful day! We woke up to fantastic sunshine, got into dry clothes, then went to work. We spent about three hours collecting samples for the fire-return-interval study, broke camp, then went about 20 kilometers down river to the GLAS footprint sites.

For the first time, we saw willows that are grown enough to be called trees. We’ve seen willow before but they were all quite small and shrubby. This is the first sign of the change into the more southerly forests.

Ever since we started on this journey, I’ve been looking at the boat motors. They do a great job, but they use a lot of gas. It ties up a lot of resources to just propel us downstream. I keep wondering—to myself and out loud—why can’t these motors do more than one thing? Why can’t we use that power for something else, too?

Well, just a little while ago Slava very quietly revealed to me that the motors do, in fact, have a 12-volt outlet of sorts. I’m pretty excited about it! Gouqing and I have been looking into it, and we think we have what we need to convert that 12-volt DC outlet to 110-volt AC. If that is the case, then I will be able to get the computer up soon! Of course, I don’t have a surge suppressor, so I suppose it’s possible that we could end up frying the computer, but—no—won’t happen. We’ll make it work. I think.

I was a bit puzzled that Slava took so long to let me know about this. But Slava is a very wise man. I suspect that he knew that we Americans could not resist trying to modify the plug once we learned about it. He probably wanted to be at least a bit closer to home before risking his motor! I guess getting home might take a wee bit of precedence over the Internet out in here Siberia.

Speaking of home, Paul keeps talking about pizza. He has been on this topic for days now . . . pizza! When he starts, I try to think about borscht. The fishing has been poor, so we are eating mostly pasta, canned beef, and borscht. The borscht is fantastic! Now I hear that the vegetable supply is getting low but there is plenty of canned beef left. Lots of it. Hmmm. I suspect I will be wishing for fish soup very soon.



  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:38 p.m. Siberia (10:38 a.m. EDT)

The Kochechum is a curious river. The chilly headwaters begin in snowmelt and rain in the basaltic mountains north of the Arctic Circle. These waters flow southerly to the town of Tura and join the Lower Tunguska River. That river heads northwest until the waters spill into the Yenisey River near the town Turukhansk. The Yenisey turns northerly, ending at the Kara Sea which opens to the Arctic Ocean. After looping away from the Arctic Circle and back, the waters of the Kochechum end up farther north than they begin.

The expedition began travel near the starkly remote headwaters of the Kochechum. The water that carries them will soon join those that flowed past Krasnoyarsk, the third largest city in Russia. The Yenisey drains over 2.5 million square kilometers of land; although the team rides the remote waters alone, the river connects them to the wider world.

From Jon Ranson

Today was a day for both samples and travel. Slava and Pasha got up very early to take samples for the fire studies. By the time they got back, we’d loaded all the gear into the boats and were ready to go. We spent about three hours moving, then stopped for more samples, and eventually made camp on another stony island.

  Northern Siberia fires

Slava tells me that his fire samples are already quite interesting. He is searching for trees that have lived through several burns, so he can judge how often fires return to the area. Because mature larch trees are fire-resistant, he expected to find many such trees. However, the fires here have been “catastrophic”—so hot that they tend to kill all the trees, old and young alike. The trees that have survived more than a single fire here are found on the farthest margins of burns or in locally wet areas. It is unusual that the fires are this intense.


The team has found fewer larch trees than they expected bearing signs of having survived previous fires. Slava thinks this is evidence that fires have been catastrophic. This image from the MODIS sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows fires (red dots) across Siberia on July 24, 2006, one year before the team’s trip down the Kochechum River (riverside campsites marked with black dots). The expedition will end at Tura, where the Kochechum flows into the Lower Tunguska River. The Lower Tunguska flows northwest into the Yenisey River and on to the Arctic Ocean.

  Cutting a tree

While on the river we went through a narrow canyon. The steep sides were made of several layers of basalt, each representing a different, ancient flow of lava. Because basalt is basically dark gray, the layers were quite dark, but there were bits of brighter colors here and there—small bits of other rocks formed by volcanic heat and pressure. The shore of the river is like this, too. The rocks are almost all gray, but scattered here and there are the most amazing bits of bright red, yellow, green, and blue rocks. There’s white quartz, too. The little sparks among the dark can be dazzling.

We met our first people today! We stopped by a new structure on the riverbank, and soon a man and a teenaged boy motored in on their boat. It turns out they are working on a camp for high school students from Tura. They gave us dried fish, and we shared what we had with them. It was nice to hear other people talking and to get the latest news of the river conditions.


Slava and Pasha cut a larch tree for the fire return interval study. They will cut a thin cross-section from the tree then take it back to their laboratory for further analysis. The growth rings will be counted and measured using a microscope to determine the time interval between fires. This study will help them understand whether fires have been increasing over the years and if so, whether more fires could be associated with temperature increases in the region.

  Team on a break

Speaking of boats and motors, our experiment with re-wiring the 12-volt plug on our motors has not worked. I don’t know why—everything looks exactly right. I have learned that next time I’ll bring extra batteries for the computer. I’ll bring a volt-meter, too, in case I want to do some more experiments on the wiring. We are here to learn, aren’t we?


The team takes time out from the river to share refreshments with Valeri and his assistant, who are preparing a nature camp for a Tura high school on Kochechum River. These are the first people the team has seen since the expedition started 11 days ago.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Thursday, August 9, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:48 p.m. Siberia (10:48 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

Tonight I’m calling in from my sleeping bag! It’s late already, and I am tired, so I snuggled in before I called. My impressions from here: the ground is stony, but better than farther north. This beach has a bit of gravel between the rocks, and the stones are smaller than other beaches we’ve been on. I’ll sleep just fine.

Also, the mosquitoes aren’t as bad here as upriver. It’s a habit now each morning to check the net on my tent to see how many mosquitoes wait for me to “come out and play.” There are definitely many less hanging on that net now. Before sometimes I saw a carpet of them. Here, just handfuls. I guess you could say I have plenty of friends in Siberia.

We still have about 200 kilometers to go to arrive in Tura and to end the expedition. Let me put that another way. When we were in our lab in Maryland, we identified 35 GLAS points of interest on the river, places we would investigate if we could. They are measured from north to south. The most northerly was #1. Today we made it to site 19. So you can see that there is a long way to go yet. We won’t measure much more on this trip, but we still need to pass by all those points before we reach Tura.


We spent all day making our tree measurements. We were able to complete 10 GLAS plots today—over 600 trees. This area is one of the best we could hope for in terms of allowing us to understand the satellite data. Most of the plots are on an east-facing hill, with similar slopes. The tree density varies a great deal. We had areas that were almost barren with only a few very large trees in them, and we had areas with a dense growth of younger trees, and there were areas in between those with various tree density and tree sizes.

We make very careful notes of each GLAS footprint so we know exactly what we’ll remember exactly what we were looking at when are back at the lab. There we can study the satellite data and correlate the way the satellite measures and presents this data with what we know is on the ground. This is a fantastic opportunity to really understand how the satellite sees the data in a variety of forests that all have a similar ground slope and type. It was a very good day.

Fishing is poor—we haven’t caught fish in many days. We do still try, though. It turns out Guoqing is quite skilled with fishing nets. It surprised everyone that he was so good at that. It turns out that where Guoqing was born and raised in China, the fish the family caught themselves were an important part of their diet. So when he was small, every morning before breakfast and every afternoon he would help his family set their nets in the water by their house. He hasn’t forgotten at all. He has taught us how to fold them so they are very easy to put out the next time, which helps a lot. He works the nets so easily that it’s almost as if by watching him, we connect a bit to a life in a small village in China many miles away and many years ago.



  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Friday, August 10, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:15 p.m. Siberia (10:15 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

It has been a long day on the river. The weather was blustery. Wind came up the river at us on and off all day. For the first time we were covered in spray from the river, and I got pretty chilly.

Tonight, we are camping on a beach that is a boulder field. The rocks here are the biggest yet: anywhere from 3 inches to 3 feet in diameter. I’m glad they are smooth! I was impressed by the stony beach the first night of our trip. I had just set up my tent right on the rocks—no other choice. Slava came up to me, smiling, and then said in his quiet way, “Oh, this is not the worst place we’ll camp.” Well, I’m used to sleeping on rocks, but I can say that tonight’s camp IS the worst place. But when you are tired, it is all good.

Today we traveled about 90 kilometers down stream. We made three stops to take samples of fire-scarred trees. Slava showed me one that was fascinating. It was from a tree that had been growing quite slowly for many years. The tree rings were quite close together. Then there was the fire scar—a dark spot that showed the tree had been burned by fire but not killed. After that, the growth rings were huge. The tree had put on enormous growth for several years after that fire. Fires kill the underbrush and reduce competition, so the larches that survive have better access to nutrition and light. This one took advantage of that and grew beautifully. I don’t think I have ever seen growth rings that large on a larch before.

  Growth increments

Yesterday we saw our first birch tree; it was very small, but still a birch. Today we saw more birch and our first spruce. The forest is still dominated by larch, but it is changing.

I haven’t said much about this river, but it is really such a part of our experience! I have been really impressed with how the waters rise and fall so quickly. We’ve had to break camp and move to higher ground because the waters rise so fast. And we’ve had to drag our boats a long, long way back to the river, when the water fell so far overnight. The rhythm of the river is almost like breathing—inhaling and exhaling, rising and falling. It almost seems alive.

The Kochechum looks really big to me; it’s over 100 meters wide in many spots. That’s about the length of an American football field. But for Russia, this is a very small river. The waters run into the Lower Tunguska, which is a big river, and then to the Yenisey, which is huge. Then into the Arctic Ocean.

Now, that’s an important thought.

These rivers carry a huge volume of fresh water into the salty Arctic Ocean each day. As the temperatures in Siberia increase, there will be more melting of snow and permafrost. The rivers will carry a greater volume of fresh water, spilling it into the ocean. What happens to the ocean as the salinity drops? What changes will we see in the ocean ecosystems? How might that change affect Earth—the climate and the ecosystems? Hydrologists want to know, and they are actively studying the changes in the world’s rivers and oceans. There is much to learn, here in Siberia.


This photo compares tree cross-sections for post-fire larch growing on soil with a deeper root level (left) and one restricted by permafrost (right). After the latest fire, the insulating moss layer and nearby trees were removed. In both cases, the post-fire growth increase resulted from increased available nutrients and light. The wider rings of left tree result from deeper root levels from deeper permafrost melting. The implication is that, given better growing conditions, the larch might sequester a lot of carbon in the wood. This is not the only thing that will happen since more soil carbon would be released with increased temperatures, and the larch would eventually lose its competitive advantage with fewer cold-adapted conifer species, primarily Siberian pine and spruce.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Saturday, August 11, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 11:56 p.m. Siberia (11:56 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

It has been a long day on the river! We got up early, had a quick breakfast, broke camp and were on the move by 9:30 this morning.

I’ve said our destination was Tura, but that isn’t exactly precise. We are in a cabin just north of town at a field camp run by the Sukachev Forest Institute. It’s still basically wilderness, but instead of rocks and tents we have beds and a cabin. We also have running water and electricity here, so I should be able to get online, finally!

On the river today we saw boats coming towards us for the first time. I guess everyone was feeling good, because they started some teasing. “Look, they are delivering Paul’s pizza!” someone shouted. Then to my surprise, someone said “Oh, maybe they are delivering Jon’s bag!” Now, I know Paul has talked about pizza non-stop for days, but I thought I’d been quite stoic about that lost bag of mine. Well, maybe not!


This stream flows through an area recently scarred by fire. Because the protective ground cover has been burned away, rain has washed large quantities of soil into the stream. The muddy mix appears more like chocolate milk than water.

  Boats in stream

Today’s amazing find was a huge area of burned forest. It was tens of kilometers wide and long. It was fairly freshly burned—sometime in the spring we think. In the lab I’ll look at data from our remote-sensing systems—especially MODIS and GLAS—and be able to tell the date and extent of the fire.

When we entered the area, we could smell smoky, charred ashes. The ground was covered by dried, fallen needles from the dead larch. The fire had been a low, hot ground fire that burned all moss, brush, and grass from the ground and scorched the tree trunks. It killed the larch trees by heating the soil and scalding the shallow roots, but it left the crowns of the trees untouched. With all the trees dead, the needles slowly dried and fell down like Christmas trees left too long in a house after the holiday.


Just downstream from the tributary, the Kochechum River has muddy waters, obvious near the shore.

  Larch forest  

Along the Kochechum River in northern Siberia, larch is the most common tree. Well adapted to fire, trees often bear fire scars that let scientists study the fire frequency in the area. Swathed in mosquito netting, the team takes measurements in a larch forest where the trees are all of a similar age and size. This similarity suggests they all sprouted at the same time following a major disturbance event, probably a fire.

  Burned forest

We also saw many signs of forest regeneration. The larch seeds have not yet sprouted—the seedlings will appear in the spring. There were patches of green grasses here and there on the dark mineral soil. Small alders and willows were burned by the fire, leaving charred bushes 2-3 meters high. Because they have deep roots, the roots are still alive and they put forth lots of new green shoots at the base of these skeletons.

There has been a heavy rainy season. So in some areas the dead trees stood in muddy water, not soil. There were many areas of erosion, where water rolled from the forest into the river in rivulets. In one place the run-off looked exactly like chocolate milk pouring into the Kochechum. This river has been full of silt and mud anyway, which speaks to its strong powers of erosion. But below the burns the water was extremely muddy.

It struck me just how much impact forest fires here have on erosion. Of course, this forest sediment then gets carried from this little river to other rivers far, far downstream. Could this sediment make it into the Arctic Ocean? Or will it be deposited elsewhere? If so, how will it change the shape of the land? We have come on this expedition to find answers to our questions, and we have made great progress. It is clear, however, that there are many, many more questions begging to be studied.


Skeleton trunks of larch trees remain standing after a fire that burned through the area earlier in 2007. The forest still smelled like charcoal when the team passed through. The burn was a very hot ground fire, which killed the shallow roots of the standing larch trees without burning the trunks or even the needles. All of the ground cover had been burned, and the mineral rich soil was exposed. The dried larch needles had fallen to the ground, and grasses had begun to sprout. In the cold Siberian climate, these trees will decompose extremely slowly, if at all. They will stand in this charred condition for decades.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia

Sunday, August 12, 2007

From Evenkiyskiy Region, 10:06 p.m. Siberia (10:06 a.m. EDT)

From Jon Ranson

I still can’t believe we are here! It’s amazing, having a bed and hot water. And fine food, too! Our dinner last night was bread and butter. We haven’t had bread or butter in so long—how wonderful it tasted.

Today was a day of packing up, cleaning up, sorting out, and getting ready to leave the river. It is time to leave the Kochechum to return to my office. There I’ll check out this great data we collected, work for understanding of it, then share the information with the science community.

This was also a day of relaxation. We went into the banya, which is type of sauna. It is a very important ritual here in Siberia. You sit in the steamy banya as long as you can. Then you go outside, throw icy cold water on yourself, and then go back in for another round of steam. It is also custom to take a bunch of birch twigs, called venik, and beat yourself with them! Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? But it is invigorating.

  Tura Field Station

We celebrated the end of the expedition as well as my birthday by simply sitting around the forest camp, eating and talking. It was the only time we actually sat down together, all six of us, to just relax. In the woods, someone was always working. They offered toasts to my health—maybe too many toasts! It was a fabulous birthday.

Looking back, I have to say the expedition was quite a success. We did everything we came here to do and more. We have good, solid data that will really help us understand our remote-sensing systems better, fire samples, and excellent, unexpected observations. It was hard and exhausting work, but it was worth it.

It’s been nice that we can report back to people via this blog, but please don’t get the idea that what we have done is something unique. People endure hardship for the sake of knowledge all the time. Right now there are scientific field missions in the rain forest, in deserts, in the United States, in Africa, in Canada—everywhere. Each scientific team has its own questions in mind, but all quest for knowledge, for truth. And each is willing to sacrifice in order to find answers and truths that have real meaning for the world. It’s the adventure of science—and the hard work of it, too.

Before we sign off, I want to mention some of our sponsors. These groups have been essential to this expedition: NASA Terrestrial Ecology Program, the Land Cover–Land Use Change program, Northern Eurasia Earth Science Partnership Initiative (NEEPSI), and, of course, the Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberia Branch; and the Sukachev Forest Institute. We could not have accomplished so very much without the support of these folks.


The Tura Field Station is managed by the Sukachev Forest Institute. The team enjoyed the amenities here including electricity and the hot water of the banya.

  Weblog: Dr. Jon Ranson in Siberia


Dr. Jon Ranson has experience with using optical and radar remote sensing for characterizing vegetation cover and biomass. In addition, he has led the Forest Ecosystem Dynamics and the Siberian Mapping Projects at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for the past several years, working on remote-sensing data fusion and ecosystem characterization. He is the Primary Investigator of a project to utilize various types of satellite data (GLAS, MODIS and MISR) for mapping forest type and biomass in central Siberia and along the circumpolar tundra–forest interface. In the past he has twice served as acting Program Manager at NASA Headquarters and most recently was the Terra Project Scientist. He also serves as the Head of NASA GSFC’s Biospheric Sciences Branch, which is advancing the use of satellite technology to study the carbon cycle and ecosystem science. Dr. Ranson enjoys music and outdoor activities including hiking, birding, fishing, and camping out in the wilderness.

  Photograph of Dr. Jon Ranson on a boat

Dr. Guoqing Sun is an Associate Research Professor at University of Maryland-College Park who is also affiliated with NASA GSFC’s Biospheric Sciences Branch. He is an expert in satellite data processing and analysis, remote-sensing modeling, land cover–land use change, and GIS. His specialty is developing and using remote-sensing models for forest canopies and sensor data fusion (lidar, radar, and passive optical sensors). Dr. Sun has contributed to several NASA projects dealing with land cover mapping in northeast China and has collaborated on NASA GSFC Siberian research projects. He was also a Primary Investigator for a Shuttle Radar Topographic Mapping project in Siberia.

Dr. Slava Kharuk, a forest ecologist, is the Head of the Biological Laboratory of the Sukachev Institute of Forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. He has collaborated on several NASA-supported projects including projects in Maine, Canada, and Siberia with Dr. Ranson and other NASA and USDA Forest Service scientists over the past several years. Dr. Kharuk leads the field and remote-sensing data activities at the Sukachev Institute and collaborates in data analysis research at NASA GSFC.


Dr. Jon Ranson

  Photograph of Dr. Slava Kharuk

Dr. Slava Kharuk