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.