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.