Siberia 2008

Friday, July 11

From Taymyrskiy Region, Siberia 8:05 PM USZ6S (8:05 AM EDT)
  • Weather for Khatanga, Siberia
  • Morning rain and cloudy
  • High: 65 degrees F
  • Low: 50 degrees F

From Dr. Ranson

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.

I began pulling some things inland, as I could. Soon Guoqing, always the early riser, came out of his tent and came to help. Before long we decided we’d better wake up the camp. Together we managed to pull everything up on land and to safety.

After a bit we left camp to make some measurements on the other side of the river. When we returned, around noon, the river had risen again. We estimated it had risen a full meter and a half (about 5 feet) since I woke up at 5 a.m.! It was rainy here last night, but not that rainy. There must have been really big rains upstream to make such a difference.

We thought the river was finished rising, but in the afternoon Slava and Mukhtar, whose studies kept them near the camp, saw it rising again. They had to stop their work to move our things and raise the camp even higher. Gosh, I’m really glad we didn’t come in the “rainy season” this year!

Today there’s not much rain, but it is cloudy and cool. It’s probably in the low fifties, but the wind feels cold in this damp weather. Despite the cool and the breeze, there are still enough mosquitoes to go around. Everyone has their share. We wear head nets and insect repellant and stay covered from head to toe. With that, they are tolerable.

It was a wonderful day for work. We were able complete a lot of GLAS plot measurements. What we do is go to the center of the GLAS footprint and outline a 10-meter circle within that footprint. [A satellite’s footprint is the total area it sees in a single image.] Then we measure every single tree we find within that circle. We do standard forestry measurements, such as diameter at breast height and height of the tree. We also note the species. Then we move out of the circle and measure the tallest trees outside the circle for additional information.

This year we are 3-4 degrees further north than last year. The elevation is different—lower—than last year, too. We are finding that this relatively small change in latitude and elevation makes a large difference in the forest. The trees are 10-20 cm in diameter but are pretty far apart. Compared to the sites we observed last year, there are about 1/4 of the number of trees in the same area here. Life is very harsh up here; there is no doubt about it.

  A photograph of wildfowers surrounding a rivulet in northern Siberia.

But life is also very vigorous and pervasive. Every bit of ground that can support life is covered. There is moss and lichen as well as these small trees. And there are flowers everywhere—flowers of every kind. We’re disappointed that there are no blueberries yet; they won’t be ready for a few more weeks. But it is a very beautiful time to be in Siberia.


Even though the climate above the Arctic Circle is extreme, life is vigorous and pervasive. In the six weeks of summer, plant life explodes. In addition to trees, the ground is covered by grasses, moss, lichens, and bright flowers. (Photograph by Jon Ranson.)