Fun on the floodplain

The SiberNiche team have been at the Mukhrino Field Station in Siberia for over a week now.  The setting for the station is magical, perched in the woods between a tributary of the River Irtish and the huge raised bogs on the higher land behind.  Most of the scientists at the station are concerned with the ecology or biogeochemistry of the bog itself, so we are unusual in focussing our interest on the floodplain.

We have completed botanical surveys at two sites and are currently mapping the topography and hydrology in order to characterise the soil water regime.  The sites are gloriously isolated (compared to our normal research sites in the U.K.) and one of them can only be appraoched by boat.  Our hosts at the Station have been great, advising on the best locations to visit, ferrying us to and from the sites and finding or making any bits of kit we decide we need.

Although 61oN, the temperatures have been 30+ all week, which has made fieldwork hot and sweaty, but taking a banya (sauna) in the evening and/or swimming in the river more than makes up for it. 

Our last task on this trip is to characterise the soils of the floodplain:  their texture, hydraulic conductivity and pore-size distribution.  The Research Station here is not used to researching soil hydrology, so we are constructing some facilities from scratch, which will be interesting.

All in all a very successful trip so far and a truly remarkable place to visit.


Getting set for Siberia

My colleague and I fly to Siberia tomorrow after a nervous wait to receive our visas from the Russian embassy. The visas arrived with three days to spare!  Once there we plan to map how meadow vegetation varies with soil hydrology across the floodplain of the River Ob.  Our project is called SiberNiche.

An advance party of botanists went out to the Mukhrino Field Station last week and have sent back reports that they are making good progress (see photo.)

Two of our botanists working next to one of the tributaies to the Ob near Khanti-Mansiysk
Two of our botanists working next to one of the tributaries to the Ob near Khanti-Mansiysk

The River Ob and its tributaries are unsually high for the time of year meaning much of the lower floodplain is inaccessible, but given the floodplain is several kilometres across, there is still plenty of vegetation to map and at least travelling around the floodplain by boat is easy at the moment.

We chose the Ob for this fieldwork because it represents the eastern limit of the biogeographical range for many of the meadow plants that we have been studying for the past twenty years.  We have described the ecohydrological tolerances of these species for the highly-managed meadow systems of the UK.  Our mission in this project is to test whether these tolerances hold true in a continental rather than a maritime climate and in a totally unmanaged system.

From London, it will be a four-hour flight to Moscow and there we change planes for another four-hour flight east to Khanti-Mansiysk.  Moving our watches forward by five hours in the process means we will lose a whole night.  It may be a day or two before I am organised enough to post again!