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.