After some months in the lab and at the computer writing it was finally time for us to head out to the Great Hinggan Mountains to collect sediment cores and ecological data for the P³ project. Our quest for cores found us in Changchun, bundling into a car and taking a road trip 1000km northwest to the Arxan Mountains - the southwestern tip of the Great Hinggan Mountains (China). Scrunched in the car with all our coring gear, tadpole swabs and water geochemistry equipment we left Changchun behind and entered the rolling countryside of northeastern China’s Heliongjang province. By lunch time we were climbing from the grassy fertile plains into the mountains, past colorful yurts and roaming sheep. We had reached Inner Mongolia!
The Arxan Mountains have been protected as a Geopark since 2004, with the volcanic landscape drawing tourists every year to the remote northern region of China. On our first day in the field we set out as tourists ourselves to explore the area and start sampling lakes. The volcanic region was active during the Holocene with many volcanic features present in the landscape including craters, lava tubes and blocky lava. The mountains are relatively unpopulated, although grazing livestock have taken their toll on the exposed slopes and erosion is. As a palynologist I was delighted to see Betula and Larix trees after avidly staring at their pollen for the past few months. We reached our first site and began to unload our equipment as delicate snowflakes began to fall from the sky. Having lived in tropical Queensland, Australia, for the last 11 years of my life this was a huge deal. Not only was I in Inner Mongolia, but it was snowing… The novelty began to wear off as the cold set in and I wondered if I was really prepared for such an unseasonably snowy day. But the excitement of reaching our first lake was enough to stave off hypothermia (that and the emergency chocolate applied every few hours).
Our first site had been heavily impacted by the 5t of June fire event of 1987 which swept across the Great Hinggan Mountains, burning for 28 days and destroying 1.01×104 km2 of forest (by my calculations that’s A LOT of football fields). We hoped to use this event as a biostratigraphic marker to compare our lake sediments along with the natural lead and anthropogenic caesium radioisotope signals to build age depth models for our cores. Large naked Larch trunks dotted the rough lava-field with Birch making a valiant effort at revegetating the lake edges. We found the same at the next site we sampled, a large lake nestled in a volcanic crater. Unfortunately, sampling this site in our tiny rubber boat in the snow and wind was impossible. But I still found the fluffy snow delightful and had a hard time focusing on the water sampling for zooplankton and pesticides for my colleagues in Germany.
A successful first day exploring our field sites and taking geochemical and water samples at two sites despite the distracting snow. Our introduction to the Arxan Mountains ended with a delicious meal at a local restaurant and some warming Baiju (at 52% proof what else would you expect).