PALISADES, NEW YORK — My hands floated above my head, rotating in all directions, swaying weakly like reeds rustling in a gentle breeze. At least that was the image I held in my head, clouded as it was by the anesthesia. Between my hands I saw Orawan at the foot of the bed, staring at me with great relief in her face.
“Hey baby, how are you?” I asked almost a little too cheerfully, as I dropped my arms to the bed. ”Come here, give me a hug.” I was seriously groggy, and it was difficult to stay awake. I have memories of an alarm going off next to my head and a nurse urging me to breathe, happening more than once. I am not sure if that really happened or if it was imagined, but my memories from those few hours are hazy.
“Hey, go easy there.” Orawan chided as she took my hand. ”Try not to move too much.” I could sense the massive relief she was feeling, after waiting nearly 4 hours to see me after I left her standing in the hallway as they wheeled me into the theater.
The surgery was a success, or so I was informed. At least I could still move my arms, and I didn’t see a respirator anywhere in sight. I quickly checked for a colostomy bag and was relieved not to find one. I was still dopey enough that I couldn’t feel any pain yet (that would come in time), and the intense pain I had lived with for the past five weeks appeared to be gone, as the bits of ruptured disk had been removed from my spine, relieving the pressure on my C7 nerve head.
So, what happened? The week before I returned from Asia, on March 12, I awoke with a burning agony running down my left arm that would not desist. I didn’t know the extent of my injury until I had gotten home to New York and had an MRI, after a week of unrelenting pain in my left arm and under my scapula. It was a very uncomfortable flight across the Pacific back to New York, made tolerable only because of a class upgrade and lots and lots of drugs.
The MRI showed that I had clearly ruptured the disk between my C6 and C7 vertebrae, and surgery was pretty much the only option. Though I don’t remember it, I had told Dr. Quest that I loved him, emphasizing that it was not in any manner that should elicit his alarm, but love just the same. He took care of me as promised, and now that it was over I felt a massive sense of relief. Now, six weeks after surgery I am mostly recovered, with only minor pains and numbness as reminders of those terrible 5 weeks.
So what has this to do with climate change? Well it is the reason for my absence from this blog, since I couldn’t sit at my desk for more than 20 minutes at a time, and the reason for me barely accomplishing any work for more than a month. And now that I am recovering, I face a mountain of work the likes of which I have never seen, but never have I been so thankful for being able to work.
It had surely been a run of bad luck since my last entry, starting with the infection in my scalp from hitting that doorjamb in Chiang Mai, an infection that was not even cured when I developed a terrible bronchitis from the smoke and haze of Chiang Mai’s annual February foul air festival (a phenomenon that is related to climate change). After my return from Yunnan I went to Taipei for a week of lectures and meetings, and Taipei’s far cleaner air began healing my lungs, but I was still with a very deep cough that would often wrench me from sleep. I then went to Vietnam for a week for the opening of the International Center for Tropical Highlands Ecosystems Research, with even cleaner air in Dalat, and that just about finished off the bronchitis. But scarcely two days back in Chiang Mai, back in the horrible air, and I began to cough once again. It was then, on Monday the 12th of March that I awoke in such pain. The doctors believe that it may have been the pressure from coughing that served as the final straw in rupturing my disk, but in truth the injury was probably the result of a lifetime of accumulated injuries and strains, football, hockey, basketball, coring trees and carrying a backpack. It could have been any and all of those things.
So, I am back now, ready to catch up on a few entries I have wanted to write. I apologize to Lori for the long delay and I hope she can forgive me, and welcome me back. The way I see it things can only go up from here, now that Dr. Quest delivered that thousandth cut.
Time is flying, bringing us to our final days in Alert. We were able to recover samples from 12 stations, which is a great success and the second most successful year on record. Thanks to everyone who made it happen: Dale, Richard and Dan who went out every possible day to collect samples; Al and Jim for their support in Alert and of course our friendly Canadian colleagues..
The next two days are filled with packing and arranging the equipment and samples for their long journey home to New York. We plan to fly out of Alert on May 22 to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland but don’t know yet when the Air National Guard will pick us for the flight to New York. We hope to be home by May 25.
We have been steaming and searching for locations on the seafloor where the sediments are accumulating undisturbed. We tried without luck to take cores at several promising locations, however the cores came up less than perfect. It turns out that much of the undersea portion of the Line Islands has ocean currents that remove and erode sediment. This erosion shows up in the sediment cores as sandy layers where the very small grains of sediment have been swept away. So, we kept up our vigil in the main lab area, closely monitoring the seafloor for small pockets of sediment that looked promising. Some pockets are only a few tenths of a mile across while others are a mile or two. Many that look beautiful from a distance turn out to be ugly on closer inspection.
On our 13th core attempt of the cruise, we got lucky. The corer came back full of the beautiful, white mud. The 20-foot core contains over 250,000 years of sediment and spans the last three glacial cycles in earth’s history. During each of these cycles the earth cooled and large ice sheets expanded over North America and elsewhere. In our core, these cycles are indicated by color changes from greenish brown to white and back.
After lucky 13, we began to hone our strategy and are finding more locations with good sediments. We now have lucky 15, 17, and many more; we now have over 30 cores and counting. Not all of them are perfect, but we are getting better at finding good sediments and faster at coring them.
Alert hosted the first northernmost cancer-fighting fundraising event “Relay for Life,” an event sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society to celebrate cancer survivors, remember loved ones lost to cancer and fight back against all cancers.
The 12-hour-walk was organized by Kristy Doyle, who lost her grandfather to cancer in 2010. Participants raised a whopping $7,580 and collectively walked 900 kilometers. I admit that I feel proud for doing my small part by walking 8 kilometers.
By Lee Dortzbach,
I work as the Chief Mate aboard the Research Vessel Marcus G. Langseth for this cruise and stand the 4 to 8 watch. Every morning as I get the ship where the scientists need to be, I watch for the sun to rise. Every evening I watch for it to set. There are some days when clouds are around and make for some great sunsets. Other days we cannot see the sun through all the clouds.
Sunday night after successfully recovering a gravity core about 42 miles north of the equator, conditions were right for a rare treat – the green flash. There were clear skies around the Sun, good visibility and a clear horizon. When I first heard about the green flash, I thought it was something that was noticeable and quick. Over the last decade, I have seen that it is not a sky-covering flash (as depicted in the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), but a short lived change of the sun’s light as it sets.
It happens because of refraction of light through the Earth’s atmosphere. The white light of the sun is broken into different wavelengths of visible light we recognize as different colors. The red and orange cover most of the sky, the yellow of the sun gets more orange-like as the sun sets and the blue and violet get scattered too much for us to see.
So what about the green? It too is scattered most of the time until the tip of the Sun is barely visible above the horizon. The Sun’s yellow light is refracted more and so the ‘yellow’ sun sets below the horizon before the ‘green’ sun. The sliver of green becomes visible to our eyes only when the bright yellow light is fading during the sunset. It starts from the bottom up in a horizontal band that grows a little taller as the sun sets. On a few occasions I have seen a sliver of blue/violet light below the green (a challenge against a blue ocean and a greater treat). In the latitude of the United States, it lasts about 0.7 seconds. Sometimes it can last up to 4 seconds. Ours lasted between 1 and 2 seconds. Definitely a flash compared to the core we just recovered!
For more information and other pictures of green flashes, click here.
Lee Dortzbach graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a B.S. in Marine Transportation in 2000. He has been around the world on several different ships over the last decade, including two oceanographic research vessels. He lives in landlocked Utah.
In the northeastern part of Turkey, the highest Pontic Mountains meet the Black Sea. Here altitude drops from more than 3900m to sea level in a less than 30 miles. Both the orographic effect of mountains and the lake effect (well, better sea effect) cause very high precipitation, allowing for rich and productive temperate forest to grow. Snow accumulations of several meters are not rare even at mid elevations as we could observe in a trip a couple of weeks ago. Despite the warm weather we experienced, some roads were still blocked from last winter’s snow, so access to many places was still not possible.
This temperate rainforest is very rich in tree species, including mainly broadleaved species (oaks, beech, maples), but also many conifers such as fir, spruce and pines. Coming from Western Europe, where forests have been logged, managed or mismanaged for hundreds of years, a forest with more than six or seven dominant tree species is a biodiversity hotspot to me. For those used to the forests in the American east or the tropics these forests might seem species-depauperate. But they shouldn’t.
Turkey lies at the crossroads between Asia and Europe. The enchanting city of Istanbul, with its amazing culture and long history as a bridge uniting the East and the West, symbolizes this better than any other place. Actually, Istanbul is the only big city in the world that lies on the border of two different continents. The diversity of the Turkish forests also reflects many species migrations over hundreds of thousands of years and might have served as a glacial refuge for many plant species during the last glacial maximum around 16,000 to 60,000 years ago. This way Turkish flora has evolved to be one of the richest floras in Europe or Asia by having components from both continents.
The wet northeastern Turkey also offers some very interesting flora surprises, like the unique umbrella pine (Pinus pinea) growing on a steep slope near the city of Artvin. Umbrella pine receives its common name because, well, it looks a bit like an umbrella: Its crown grows round when the tree matures and it is almost completely free of lower branches. The fact that it is also called Italian Stone pine (it was a main character in Vittorio de Sica’s film “Villa Borghese,” known in English as “It happened in the Park”) gives an idea of its distribution range. We can find it all along the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula on the western side comprises more than 75% of its distribution area. But the Artvin forest is very far from the Mediterranean coast and more than 1000 km away from the closest umbrella pine forest.
The same processes that create high precipitation near the Black Sea coast are responsible for a rain shadow effect further south, as high mountains block precipitation, creating much drier conditions in some valley bottoms. In a matter of less than 32 kilometers precipitation drops from more than 2000mm per year to less than 700mm. That’s like going from Scotland to Rome in less than half an hour’s drive.
Along its broad distribution range, umbrella pine grows together with many different species of the Mediterranean flora, like evergreen oaks, colorful rockroses, or scented herbs like rosemary or oregano. But in this relict forest at 600m of elevation, on the banks of the Çoruh River near the Kaçkas Mountains, umbrella pine has some non-habitual neighbors like Scots pine, hornbeams or hazel, more common in the wetter and colder climates that abound in the surrounding forest as we climbed in great elevation not far from here. The view of these forests reminded me of some deep valleys in Northern Spain, where a similar combination of lake effect and rain shadow creates Mediterranean vegetation dominated by the evergreen holm and cork oaks on southeast facing slopes, while north-facing slopes are covered by beech and deciduous oaks.
Humans have favored umbrella pine for thousands of years for its delicious seeds, which are eaten in many different forms but mainly used for some of the best pastries. Still today, pine nuts are the most valuable product of these pine forests in countries like Spain and Portugal, where they are commercially harvested. So these trees were extensively planted within and outside their natural distribution range probably as early as Roman times. In general, people have been great natural vectors of many tree species, mainly agricultural crops or related trees. Take for example the English Elm, which turned out to be, again, a very Roman clone. The history of the Old World complicates the attribution of whether some of its forests are natural or not. Northeastern Turkey has a centuries-long history as a frontier land, first between the Byzantines and the Turks and later between the Ottoman and the Russian empires. The Artvin Province changed hands several time as late as the early 20th century. Long before that, the southern Black Sea coast was explored by Greek and Phoenician sailors, and Arrian wrote his Periplus Ponti Euxini, a sort of maritime guide describing these coasts. Even in Greek mythology, Jason is thought to have visited the area with the Argonauts in his quest for Colchis (present day Georgia).
Despite the long history of human settlement and land use in these regions, probably some of the few old growth temperate forests left are found here, like the Camili Biosphere reserve. But still, little is known about the ecology and dynamics of these forests. We hope that our research in this area will allow us to add some very interesting new perspectives on the ecology and history of both the broadleaved temperate rain forest and this relict pine stand.
Note: The origin of this stand is unknown. Some say it is a natural stand while others think it was planted by Russians in the late-1800s. Our coring of these trees might or might not solve this question.
The cool, snowy weather really put a crimp in our plans. Dario, Tuncay, Cengis, and others spent two days trying to find potential sampling locations before Nesibe and I arrived. Even though it had been well above freezing during the day and above freezing at night, the snow had only retreated so far in the mountain roads. So, much of the areas we had access to were areas that loggers have had access to: lower elevations and (likely) productive forests. After two days of driving, Field Crue One didn’t find much.
The valley we hit the day before was the best of what they had seen. While it looked like it had some potential as we drove through it, once we spent a few hours in it taking test samples, it was clear the prodigious rainfall in the region produced large trees in no time (no time for a dendrochronologist = 80-150 years). We had two days left to make something out of this trip. I was keeping it to myself, but I wasn’t feeling too hopeful.
Luckily, we had Nesibe on our team!
Nesibe is a young and rising scientist. Her short career has been filled with a range of experiences that normally might take a decade or two. Most impressively, she is pretty much self-taught in tree rings. Her excellent mentor, Ünal Akkemik, is a very good botanist/forest ecologist who has done some very good work in dendrochronology. Nearly a decade earlier he conducted some work with Gordon Jacoby and Rosanne D’Arrigo of our lab. But, much in the field has changed over the last 15 years. There are more scientists and methodologies have become quite complex. Today you would be hard-pressed to get a single chronology published in mid-level journals unless it was more than 2000 years in length or showed something completely in the field. To get into the upper-level journals today, you likely need many records –30? 80? 100? 400? spread over a large geographic area so that you can discern differences in regional-scale climate or ecology, for example.
So, for young scientists, the mastery of skills (ecological, geochemical, geographical, etc., on top of statistics, plant physiology, some wood anatomy) needed today might seem daunting for many of the scientists from 30-40 years ago (not saying earlier science was bad or weak. Just the opposite: earlier work was so outstanding that the stakes have been raised). Nesibe has taken this challenge on by reading and digesting perhaps the most complex book in our field. It is truly impressive. Her determination to learn and will to succeed was on display when facing the snow barrier.
She said, “I have an idea. Tomorrow morning we’ll go to the depot.”
What initially ensued was a discussion of the North American forestry terms and English. We determined a depot was a log yard. This led to the realization that when you break down some English words, they are comically simple. Log yard for the place to put logs before they are sold. Other similar terms – woodstove, stovepipe, waterpipe, etc. It was a fun conversation, the kind you can have when you have hours to kill in a jeep.
Anyhow, Nesibe had been to the log yard previously and made a collection of Oriental beech dating back 400 years. Nesibe explained to us that the records kept at the log yard could be used to tell which valleys or locations the logs came from, what elevation they grew at, etc. Her resourcefulness was in full display. Away to the log yard we went.
Perhaps it was the heavy snow, but there was only about 25-33% of the normal amount of logs in the depot. But, the logs in the yard were an indication of what can be found in the forest. Logs of spruce, fir, and beach were 1-1.5 meters in diameter. Logs of chestnut and oak were 0.5-0.75 meters in diameter.
It was hard to sense the age of these trees. It didn’t seem outrageous that many were 150-300 years old. The potential of conducting tree-ring science in the depots of the Artvin Province were also on display.
There was still a challenge. How do we take samples from multiple logs and not cause pseudoreplication in our collection? (Psuedoreplication is where replicates, in our case logs, are not independent, as in, they are not from different trees, which is ideal for our work). We didn’t want to take 3-4 samples from the same tree and think they were different trees. Thus, our combined skills in science of tree-ring analysis came into play. We studied each log, not only looking at its shape, wounds, sapwood, etc, but identifying patterns of ring width to match multiple logs to the same tree. We cannot claim we were 100% correct. That will take lab analysis.
I have to be honest: conducting science in a log yard with no shade was tough. Not only did it turn out to be the hottest day of our visit to northeastern Turkey, once we got over the fascination of the larger logs, it was somewhat boring. When you are in the forest and seeking the oldest trees in rugged terrain is a challenge that keeps one’s body and mind engaged and focused. Conducting science in the hot, sunny log yard lulled me into a stupor. It might have made us a little silly with boredom, even.
After the log yard we headed towards our second destination of the day. We were hot, thirsty, hungry, a little cranky, and with a substitute driver that didn’t seemed thrilled to be driving us to where we needed to go (drivers can make or break these trips, sometimes). It didn’t feel hopeful. With hindsight, I can tell you that afternoon turned out to be one of the most important discoveries of this trip.
Yesterday we left our first study region with new samples from the seafloor and a healthy respect for the ocean currents that can erode sediment deep in the ocean. The samples will be useful for our research but we had to work for them. The seafloor we surveyed was heavily eroded and we had to look carefully before finding sites that were promising enough to sample. Even then we ran into difficulties getting the sediments back to the ship.
We spent several days surveying the seafloor using instruments on the ship to identify possible sites for sampling. We looked for flat areas where we could see layers of sediment below the seafloor. These layers show up in the echoes from sound pulses in a type of measurement called seismic reflection (see previous blog post). Unfortunately much of the region we surveyed has deep gullies with no sediment layers. Ocean currents have scoured these regions leaving no sediment for us to core. We finally located several small areas that had a hint of sediments and one big pile of sediment we thought would be our best chance for samples.
We use a sediment corer to take samples of the seafloor. The corer is a long tube with heavy weights on top that push the tube down into the seafloor. When the tube is pulled out it removes a long cylinder of sediment that we bring back to the surface. The corer is lowered on a steel cable at about 1.5 miles per hour and takes more than an hour to reach the seafloor. At 150 feet above the seafloor, a mechanical trigger releases the corer from the cable and 5,000 pounds of steel rocket towards the bottom. The weight and speed push the corer up to 30 feet into the sediments. Then we have to pull the corer back out. Sometimes this is easy but if the sediments stick to the corer it can take almost 20,000 pounds of pull to free the tube and slide it out.
The other important step in coring is to keep the sediments inside the tube on their two-mile trip back to the surface. This seems obvious but we ran into troubles with the very first core we took. Usually a ring of metal fingers in the bottom of the core (called a core catcher) keeps the sediment inside the tube. However, the sediment we were coring contained a lot of sand-sized shells that was washing out of the tube leaving us with no sediment by the time the corer reached the surface. To prevent this, we added a sock of fabric around the core catcher to keep the sand from washing out. Bingo! The fabric kept the sand in the corer and we started recovering sediments to study.
When the sediment corer arrives at the ocean surface it is laid horizontally along the ship’s rail where we take a sample of the sediment in the core catcher to determine the age of the bottom of the core. This age is determined by looking for a striking, pink colored shell made by a type of plankton called foraminifera. This pink foraminifera was abundant in the Pacific Ocean until 120,000 years ago, so if we find pink shells we know the sediments are at least 120,000 years old. We will do more detailed analyses later but this age gives us our first peek at how much time it took for the sediments to accumulate.
Next, we cut the core into smaller sections that are easier to handle and the core is split open so we can see how the sediment looks. We study its color, texture and composition before storing it in a refrigerated container aboard the ship. At the end of the cruise we will send the container to the Deep-Sea Core Repository at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory where the sediments will be preserved for researchers around the world to study.
We are now steaming south to the equator to start a new survey to find the right locations to drill more sediment cores.
Evidence of the retreat of glaciers since the last glacial maximum (check), flying over sites of ancient Inuit, Norse and present day settlements (check), and a personal recollection of my own past in this location (check) – yes after reviewing the list ‘Southwest Glaciers 01′ was definitely the best flight – well at least until the next one!
In 1997 I got to spend a summer in Southwest Greenland, with the organization British Schools Exploring Society (BSES). They bring students at the end of high school/start of university to remote areas to spend six weeks on a combination of adventure and science – a great way to kick start a young adult into both a career path and self-discovery. I spent my time in Tasermuit fjord, a 70 km long stretch of water reaching inland from Greenland’s southwestern tip to the ice cap, and bounded by steep ridges the tallest standing over 2000 meters high. I learned about archeology and botany and developed a taste for field science that led fairly directly to my studying geology at university. Fifteens years later that study has brought me back around to Tasermuit fjord, this time having swapped my backpack and Zodiac inflatable boat for a rather large gravimeter and the P3 aeroplane. Tasermuit fjord looks exactly the same. I imagine I do too.
The SW Glaciers mission brought me past the site of my 1997 basecamp….and also right past the mouth of the spectacular valley I spent several rainy days walking through. The valley is called Klosterdalen, and the mountain on the right hand is Ketil – a name associated, I am sure, with the Ketilidian orogeny that deformed these rocks in the Paleozoic some 2000–1750 Ma. Norse history would tell us that Ketil was one of Eric the Red’s men, and this was where he chose to settle. While Ketil himself postdated the orogenic event, in one of life’s ironies it appears all those million years later Ketil was responsible for the name given the orogeny and the resulting mountain. Of course the local Greenlandic have their own name for the mountain, Uiluit Qaqa, or “Oyster Mountain”, perhaps for the banks of mussel that become visible at low tide.
These pictures put a human scale on Greenland for me, because I know intimately how it feels to walk through the valleys. It is also a part of Greenland with a very clear human history, with physical evidence of both Inuit and Viking settlements in this region, including the ruins of a Norse settlement at the head of Klosterdalen.
Just around the corner (in our plane anyway – it took about a week to travel by fishing boats when I was here the first time) was the town of Narsarsuaq – an airport town, the site of an old US base and also very close to Erik the Red’s dwelling, the first Norse settlement in Greenland.
So we had some human history, and some personal history, but then we got some glacial history too, showing the retreat of the Greenland glacier from the last glacial maximum. Greenland glaciers offer some classic images of the processes we find described in textbooks.
So all in all it was a great flight. Evidence of the retreat of glaciers since the last glacial maximum, flying over sites of ancient Inuit, Norse and present day settlements, and some personal recollections. I would be grounded for the next week by night shifts, but these too were not without some fine sights.
Finally, we arrive at the Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert around noon. Our home for the next few weeks.
We are in the fifth day of our research cruise to the Line Islands and shipboard life is beginning to settle into a routine. Most people have their ‘sea legs’ and our sleep schedules are adjusting to the midnight to noon or noon to midnight work shifts. Meals are a time to catch up with scientist and crew, and the motivated scientists have begun regular exercise schedules in the ship’s gym.
As we steam over the incredibly wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the waves seem endless and monotonous, and the wind blows steadily from the same direction for days on end. However, beneath us the seafloor is far from monotonous. Huge mountains rise 10,000 feet above the seafloor and create escarpments, ridges and valleys that would rival the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. It is along these mountains that we hope to find sediment for our research.
Using scientific instruments we peer ‘through the looking glass’ to learn what the seafloor and sediments look like. The analogy to the looking glass is apt: Alice stepped through the mirror to see the world beyond and we peer through the bottom of the ocean to see what is below. However, unlike Alice, we use our ears. Short pulses of sound from the ship are focused on the seafloor and we listen to the echo and reverberations that return to the ship. Depending upon the pitch and intensity of the sound we can look at the top layer of the sediment or much deeper.
The most basic echo we listen to comes from the very top of the sediments. This echo travels down through ocean, bounces off the top of the sediments and returns back to the ship. We measure the time it takes to go down and come back up, and knowing how fast sound travels through seawater (~one mile per second or 3,400 miles per hour!) we can determine the distance to the bottom of the ocean. The times are very short, about two seconds for water a mile deep. We use these distances to construct a detailed map of the bottom of the ocean. This map shows the mountains and valleys on the seafloor where we will take our sediment samples. We also listen to how loud the echo is when it comes back to the ship. Hard surfaces like rock have a loud echo while soft sediment gives a quiet echo. This is an additional way to determine where there are ocean sediments to sample.
If we turn up the sound volume and use a lower pitch we can look beyond the seafloor into the sediments below. Now rather than just one echo from the seafloor, we begin to hear many echos as sound reflects off the different layers in the sediments. These echos allow us peer beneath the seafloor to know how thick the sediment is and whether it is nicely layered or jumbled and distorted.
When we find the right sediments—not too deep, smooth, with nice layers—we will take cores of the sediment to study the climate history preserved in the layers.
Despite reading about these temperate rainforests, this is not the Turkey I imagined. This might not be the Turkey most people imagine. I’m really not sure what you envision when you think about Turkey. A dry, open landscape? That is what I thought until I stepped into Artvin Province. Because what I saw there was green, steep, lush, heavily forested. Really? Yes!
In prepping for our pilot research in the temperate rainforests of Turkey, I pulled out the travel guide to get more background. I love going to the history section and learning the long-term trajectory of the people and region. Man, talk about long term and a wide mix of culture. There cannot be too many other places that have that mix of people and culture. At the end of the trip, I was seeing the ecology of Turkey in the same way.
After a day getting settled in Istanbul, my colleague and host, Dr. Nesibe Kose, flew with me to the far northeast corner of Turkey to catch up with another colleague on this project, Dr. Dario Martin Benito (post-doc at the TRL), and Nesibe’s former MS student, Tuncay Guner, who agreed to help with our planned field work. They flew out two days earlier because our original “domestic” flight was canceled just two weeks before our trip. So, they headed out early so we didn’t lose too much time, given our very tight schedule.
How far east did we have to fly to reach Artvin Province and our ultimate home away from home on this trip (Borçka)? Georgia! Not the Georgia next to South Carolina, the Georgia bordering Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is so mountainous in northeastern Turkey that the best place to land is apparently in Turkey’s neighboring nation. An agreement has been worked out so that we can then board a bus and pass through the border as though we are still on a domestic flight. Except that in Hoopa, on the Black Sea, we actually had to transfer buses and go through a border check. Traveling from Istanbul to beautiful downtown Borçka takes about as much time as it took to go from NYC to Istanbul. And, we were not going that deep into northeast Turkey.
This winter has been weird in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Northeast Turkey is no exception. It was still snowing in early April and it was said most of the roads where we wanted to go were blocked. I swear I heard the phrase ‘7 meters of snow’ when discussing this last winter in the region; Istanbul was covered in snow in late-January. So, on top of the canceled flight, we had to work around the unusual winter of 2011-2012. Our plan was to sample in Camili Biosphere Reserve. Snow covered roads forced us to work around Artvin. This is often a reality in fieldwork: unexpected conditions overrule the best-laid plans sometimes.
It is a shame we were not able to make it to Camili. It sounds like a kind of heaven. A survey indicated 990 taxa and 432 genera. Importantly to our project, there are 946 angiosperm taxa (BROADLEAF!). As we learned on this trip, bees and bears are an important part of the culture here. UNESCO states, “The basin is the only area where the Caucasus bee race has remained without its purity being damaged. It is one of the three most important bee races in the world.” We saw this in action over breakfast one morning. They asked us how many kilos of honey did we want to take home to the US. Dario and I both answered, “Kilos?” I offered that ½ a kilo would be fine with me. Our local hosts looked extremely disappointed. From the discussion of honey that followed, some bear genes might have migrated into the human genome in northeast Turkey.
As you will see as an extreme example in a future post and as a mirror of the people and culture of Turkey, the ecology of the flora in this part of Turkey is incredibly mixed. The floral survey indicates that the sources of the flora in Camili come from three regions: Euro-Siberian, Irano-Turanian, and Mediterranean, with about half being multi-regional. So, our team, being composed of a Mediterranean European (Dario) and a Turk, was set for all the vegetation that would be thrown at us.
We finally decided to head up a remote valley east of Borçka. What I learned on this portion of the trip is how amazing and adaptable the human race is. We traveled up a narrow valley with steep mountains for several miles before we saw anything that looked old. Much of the forest, unfortunately, had been heavily cut. The trees we found were quite large, but as you know, that doesn’t make them old.
We cored several species that day, but focused mostly on the Oriental beech. There were some outstanding individuals on the landscape, but none more outstanding than this one.
We soon realized that there has been heavy cutting in the high elevation, steep portion of the older looking forest. Most of the trees were young’ish (maybe only 150 years old). Most of the older looking trees we spied turned out to be ‘bee trees’. These were trees left behind to ‘house’ bees.
One of their specialties is to take logs and use them as bee hives. It apparently makes a better honey. Most of the larger beech turned out to be host trees for these log homes.
And, the value of these special bee hives is clear in how they were protected from the brown bear inhabiting these woods.
The fun part for me working in these was the chance to be around natural chestnut trees. The American chestnut is essentially gone, though we still live with its lore. The sweet chestnut in the rainforests of Turkey likely rival what was growing in the southern US. A roadside chestnut blew us away, but it was the old stump we found late in the day that was the clue to how big the sweet chestnut trees could grow.
Seeing sweet chestnut in temperate, old-growth rainforests of northeastern Turkey will have to wait for another trip.
All in all, it was a very fun and eye-opening day. Besides the massive trees, perhaps the most interesting thing was the avalanche we witnessed. We were hydrating after swimming through Rhododendron throughout the warm day when all of a sudden I hear a low rumble. I realize we had not heard a plane all day (this region is only a bird corridor, not travel corridor). I looked up and saw nothing. The low rumble kept getting louder and was sustained. I finally spotted it. Across the valley we saw snow pouring downhill. We didn’t see any trees come down, but the force of the snow looked tremendous.
I’ll sign off with some scenes from our early days in Borçka.
A true bonus of tracking old trees in various parts of the world is that it takes you to some real outposts of the human race. Artvin was no different. First, it was really interesting to live among people who you could pluck out of Poland, Bulgaria, or perhaps anywhere in central and eastern Europe. Making it more interesting, the population is predominantly Muslim. It certainly would blow commonly held stereotypes held in the US. It was really interesting, too, to be in a heavily forested region that looked like a combination of the Adirondacks and Rocky Mountains and hear a call to prayer throughout the day.
Second, we reserved a table in a local club to see local folk music. It is hard for me to describe – it sounded like gypsy-infused eastern European music. The crowd was just as interesting. In near opposition to most of the restaurants we visited, ~65% of the audience was female. Curiously, the restaurants were almost always 90% men.
The night we were there, it seemed a famed emeritus musician was in the crowd. They honored him partway through the set.
Enjoy clips of the music we heard that night.
and, does anyone remember dancing?
Arctic summer sea ice is declining rapidly: a trend with enormous implications for global weather and climate. Now in its eighth year, the multi-year Arctic Switchyard project is tracking the Arctic seascape to distinguish the effects of natural climate variability from human-induced climate change. The University of Washington is leading the project.
- A) The Canadian Forces Station, Alert
We will fly from the Canadian military base at Alert, Ellesmere Island, land on the ice by ski plane to drill holes, deploy instruments and retrieve water samples. We will measure water temperature, salt content and levels of dissolved oxygen, and a wide variety of natural and man-made substances. Our goal is to understand how much fresh water is entering the system, where it is coming from (sea ice melt, river run-off and so on) and where it exits the arctic, altering currents in the North Atlantic Ocean.
During the next few weeks we will blog from the field; Follow our work on the Arctic Switchyard project page.