Missives from Mongolia: Chasing down the Ice Age

By Sarah Kramer

The Altai Mounts of western Mongolia may be concealing secrets amid the splendor. The breathtaking alpine landscape could hold clues to how abrupt climate change might have impacted our ancestors— and how it may impact our descendants.

This summer, a team of scientists, students and historians trekked through the hills and valleys of the Altai in Mongolia’s Bayan-Ölgii Province looking for traces of the last ice age.

“Everything’s immaculately preserved here,” said Aaron Putnam, currently an assistant research professor with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York. Evidence of the enormous glaciers that covered the landscape can be found in gentle slopes, scuffed bedrock and spectacular valleys of the region— if you just know where to look.

Medill News Service reporter Sarah Kramer embedded with the team as they traversed the countryside and climbed into the Altai region, collecting rock samples that could provide insight into some of the most pressing questions in climate science: how and why did the last great ice age end. And what can that tell us about our future? Several stories are in the works and we will keep you posted.

You can see more photos and read the team’s updates from the field at PhD candidate Peter Strand’s blog for the University of Maine.

Medill embedded reporting scholarships are supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Photo at top: Reporter Sarah Kramer astride a Bactrian camel at a tourist outpost in the Gobi. For about $2 USD, those driving across the Gobi Desert can stop and ride camels and horses saddled with traditional Mongolian tack. The team enjoyed the jaunt, but decided to use horses to carry field research equipment up Tsagaan Gol Valley. (Credit: Caleb Ward)