Siberia 2008

July 25

We’re in Krasnoyarsk now—no longer in the wilderness and no longer above the Arctic Circle. This is the third largest city in Siberia, with a population of just over 900,000. To put that in perspective, that’s a bit less than the size of the caribou herd in the Taymyrskiy Region.

It’s nice to have the amenities that civilization brings, especially being free to make a phone call or hook up to internet without hanging off the side of a mountain! But there is an adjustment to be made. After our time out camping, I’m finding it hard to get used to a real bed. The first night it felt good to snuggle into a mattress—but I woke up with every muscle in my body aching. I guess my body liked hard rocks better!

read the final post Photograph of Ross Nelson, Guoqing Sun, and Paul Montesano holding reindeer antlers.


In the cold Siberian climate, trees reproduce slowly. These larch cones document three years of growth. The lightest, reddish cones in the foreground are this year’s cones, which are forming and have not yet released their seeds. The medium-brown cones are from last year’s growth. The darkest brown cones are fully open and spent, yet still hang tenaciously on the tree. (Photograph by Jon Ranson.)

view expedition photographs

July 18–20

The time is rushing by like lightning. We stay so busy, and the experience is so intense that I can’t believe this year’s trip is almost over. It seems like we just began a day or two ago. But when I think about my home, my friends, and my family, it seems like forever that I’ve been gone. On the river it seems almost as if that life is just a dream. But the fact is we’re done with the river. And I’m only a half-a-world and four days away from my home.

read more

July 18–20

It’s midnight at the oasis here. I’m in my tent, surrounded by a hoard of mosquitoes all waiting for a drink. Lucky for me they are all outside, so they will have to stay thirsty.

This was a travel day [July 20]. Even though we have to tear down and set up the entire camp, we consider travel days “easy” days, because we do get to sit down for a few hours while we’re in the boats. We needed to find a large, flat site for tonight because this will be our last camp. Two days from now we will have a helicopter come pick us up from here.

read more

July 16–17

This part of Siberia is incredibly beautiful. We’re traveling into the Siberian Traps, ancient basaltic mountains. These mountains add tremendous scenic value to the trip. But they also add a lot of serious challenges to our work.

read more

July 15

It was an interesting day here. The morning started bright and beautiful, with no rain, no clouds. I went out with the Guoqing, Paul, and Ross to take measurements of the GLAS footprints nearby, which were across the river and on a mountain.

read more

July 12–14

Since our last entry, we’ve broken camp twice and spent one day working in the woods on our various studies. It’s been an intensely busy time, but not without some unexpected pleasures. Our last camp was a real treat. We chose the site for its proximity to our research areas, but were pleased to find a little wooded area, up an embankment next to the river, with the ground carpeted by moss and lichens. Not many bare rocks at all! It was soft! What a great night’s rest.

read more

July 11

It’s been quite an interesting day. It started with a bit of excitement. For some reason I woke up around 5 a.m., curious to take a look outside. What I saw was alarming: the river we camped beside had begun to rise rapidly. It looked like some of our things were about to be swept away.

read more

July 10

The expedition team woke in Khatanga, a thriving outpost in the Taymirskiy Region of Siberia. This selo (village) of about 3,500 people is truly at the top of the world. It is the planet’s fourth most northern settlement with a population of 1,000 or more.

The morning was cloudy and cool, with a steady rain. Undaunted, the team loaded their belongings into a large M-8 helicopter, squeezed themselves inside, and went looking for campsites far into the mountains, along the Kotuykan River. At a wide beach, the helicopter touched down briefly, giving them just enough time to toss their gear onto the stony shore. It departed in a swirl of sound and wind.

read more


To most people, the word Siberia evokes images of a frigid land of extreme cold. These days, to ecosystem scientists, Siberia is becoming synonymous with heat wave. Northern Siberia in particular is a climatic hot spot—an area that is warming faster than the rest of the planet. In the past 30 years, average temperatures across the region have risen 1-3 degrees Celsius (3-5 degrees Fahrenheit), while the worldwide average increase in that time is about 0.6 degrees C (1 degree F).

read more


Dr. Jon Ranson is an earth scientist specializing in radar and remote sensing. He uses these tools for studying of vegetation type and amount (biomass) in ecosystem research. He serves as the Head of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Biospheric Sciences Branch in Greenbelt, Maryland. Under his guidance, the Branch is advancing the use of satellite technology to study the carbon cycle and ecosystem science. Dr. Ranson is currently Principal Investigator of a project to utilize various types of satellite data for mapping forest type and biomass along the tundra-forest interface in the Arctic.

read more

Expedition Map

Starting July 10, 2008, scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Russia’s Institute of Forests will start a raft trip down Kotuykan River, in a remote and harsh section of northernmost central Siberia. Along the way, the team will make observations and gather data that will help advance studies of the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems. NASA Ecologist Jon Ranson will be calling in field reports via satellite phone during the 15-day expedition, and the Earth Observatory will be hosting them in a blog. This map tracks the team’s progress.

view map