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Departments & Programs


Reconstructing Central Asian climate during the Cenozoic

Mongolia scene

We are working in Mongolia to produce some of the first Cenozoic stable isotope records from Central Asia.  As part of an interdisciplinary, 5 university team we are studying the rise of the Hangay Mountains in central Mongolia, an effort that will illuminate the geodynamics that create intercontinental mountains and how these mountains, in turn, impact climate.  Such records will help us understand how global climate change, tectonics, and shifting seaways have altered climate on our planet’s largest continent over the past 60 million years.


Mongolia 2012 Trip Report


What a trip it’s been! Ulaanbaatar has all the charm you’d expect of a rapidly developing, ex-communist city. Things are slow, fast and chaotic all at the same time. We knew from last year that we wanted out as fast as possible so as to avoid falling into an uncovered manhole in a jetlagged stupor. After a day of running errands and adjusting to a new pace of life in Ulaanbaatar, we left early for the Gobi. Our group consisted of myself, Jeremy, Derek and Jobe from the US, and Ogii, a Mongolian geology student and translator, Dagi, our cook, and two drivers Naraa and Tsele.


The Gobi is a beautiful but fairly challenging place. It wasn’t crippling heat but rather constant wind and sand that made our bones weary. We’d wake up to a fresh coat of sand inside our tents each morning, meals would be prepared and eaten behind vehicles or rocks for cover. Still, nothing was spared from the sand. The days on the road were challenging as well. We frequently encountered impassable sections. Navigating by GPS and going days on end without seeing anyone, we had to make sound decisions. Tsele, our Land Cruiser driver, was a nice man, but didn’t know much about his vehicle. We chuckled when he always engaged the rear defrost instead of 4WD when we got in a jam. Sometimes, we were lucky to cover 5km in an hour…at most it was 20 or 30. But the places were as wild as it gets.


The second day at Nemegt, Jobe and I headed off to complete our sampling of the white unit at the top of the main sections, while Derek, Jeremy and Ogii headed east to look at some new sections. As we were finishing the bottom of our peaklet above a gravelly plateau, I remarked to Jobe, “Hey, this could actually be something.” Closer inspection revealed that I was in fact, looking at a dinosaur. Then, once we adjusted our eyes, bones started appearing everywhere. It was hard to even walk without stepping on them. A few meters to the left, I found a large bone, then down in a wash, two more including a huge vertebrae. I’m not much of a fossil hunter, but I do approach science as a simple observationalist. Moments like these definitely make things pop into focus…”Oh, hey, it really does make sense, and you can go out there and see it.”


On the summer solstice, we pressed on to the west, reaching Naran Daats Bulag, a spring in the western part of the Nemegt Basin. We camped on the small patch of green grass below the spring and next to a beautiful monument to Tengri, the sky god. The next day, we sampled the stratigraphic sections making up the cliffs around a large dry wash, and the day after traveled west to Tsagan Khushu before hitting the road towards the Altai.


The stratigraphy in Biger was amazing. Hundreds of meters of sands, clays and gravels were perfectly laid out up a mountainside. By the time we finished at Biger, we knew the trip was going to be quite successful from a scientific standpoint. Jeremy certainly has enough samples for a PhD. On our last day in Dzereg, we drove into town to see their Nadaam, the most important festival of the year which incorporates horse racing, archery and wrestling. Unfortunately, we just missed the race in town, but the next day as we drove home, we were lucky enough to see a race outside of Dariv. The races last from 15 to 30 km and are ridden by children 6 to 12 years old, often bareback. Unfortunately, when we got back on the main road and pressed on, we couldn’t reconnect with the Russian van. Lacking cell signal or any way to communicate, we searched with binoculars from a hill and waited for an hour for a passing car to say if they’d seen the Russian van. Both this year and last, I’ve had the sense that navigating on the open steppe must be akin to life on the high seas. I’ve never really been too far out to sea, but with the rolling hills in all directions, the lack of easy features to navigate with, and the isolation, it feels close.


Full trip report and pictures on Hari's blog: