Dispatches from Abroad: The unBalanced ecoLOGist Noshes in Nanjing

On Sunday (that’s right, Sunday), Eryuan Liang and I took the morning high-speed train 1200 km in under 4 hours, and on time to the minute, from Beijing to Nanjing to give afternoon seminars at Nanjing Forestry University (established 1902). I was on tap to talk about forest foundation species, while Eryuan was set to talk about dresses (actually alpine treelines, but without any sense or irony, the “p” was lost in translation). Sundays are great days to give seminars; attendance is always good because the students don’t have classes and the faculty don’t have meetings. The seminars were fine, but the banquet afterwards …

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: The Shenyang Shuffle

It’s been almost a week since I’ve found any time to write a post from China. As I wrote last week, I left Beijing on Monday for Shenyang: the first four days of what has now turned into a 10-day, 9-lecture typhoon (yes indeed, a lot of hot air swirling around!) / movable feast (click on any image to view larger ones in a slide show).

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Dispatches from Abroad: Photographic Interlude

I’m leaving Xining today on a late flight back to Beijing, followed by a seven-day, six-lecture whirlwind through Shenyang (3.5 hours north of Beijing by high-speed rail), Beijing, and Nanjing (4 hours south of Beijing by high-speed rail) and then back to Beijing again for a full day of meetings and more lectures. So until the next blog posting from the eye of that storm, enjoy my favorite photos from across Tibetan Plateau and be sure to check out the “Best of the Best“.

Dispatches from Abroad: At the End of the (Silk) Road

It took me a while, but on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, it finally occurred to me, when we reached Dunhuang with its massive sand dunes and crescent-moon lake presided over by a reconstructed temple, that all of the cities we’d stopped at on our nine-day circuit from Xining to Wulan to Dulan to Ge’ermu to Dunhuang to Shangye and back to Xining tonight were oases in an otherwise parched desert. These ancient springs and watering-holes had been obvious points of layover for camel trains, traders, monks, and charlatans, and now are thriving cities living on depleted groundwater and glacial meltwater-fed rivers.

Crescent-moon lake at the Mingshashan dunes in Dunhuang. The lake, once amply supplied by groundwater, now needs to be pump-filled from alternative water supplies.

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: On the Silk Road

Silk Road

 The 千里1 concrete ribbon slashes the Gobi,

a stale cliché whose 皕公尺2 pullouts double as rest stops sans picnic tables,
but where still-damp tissues mound amply in crevices,

white cumuli cocooning empty bottles tossed haphazardly
by the wind fanning the coals of a smoldering ashcan,

while the selfsame wind,
on the steel strings crossing the ranks of high-voltage towers,
strums a dirge for the lost camel trains.


15/16 September 2016
Poem and photographs © Aaron M. Ellison, all rights reserved

1Read: qiān lĭ (idiomatically: a long distance, lit: 1000 miles or 500 km)
2Read: bì gōng chĭ (200 meters)

Dispatches from Abroad: Foraging Across the Tibetan Plateau

The last couple of days we took a break from exploring treelines to cross the high cold desert along the Silk Road between the once-oases but now thriving cities Dulan and Ge’ermu (a.k.a. Golmud). This 500-km stretch of the Xining-to-Llhasa highway provided incredible views of geology-in-the-raw, and today’s day-trip from Ge’ermu south to the Kunlun Pass added camel trains, huge herds of sheep, a glacier field, and a railroad built atop permafrost.

I’ll get to the sights later. The really fascinating part of the last two days was the foraging for wild foods in a desert that, in the main, gets < 100 mm, and in many places, < 50 mm of rainfall a year. René Redzepi could have a lot of fun here!

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: All Juniper All the Time, up to 4200 m a.s.l.

The morning, not surprisingly for a dry desert at 3200 m, dawned bright and blue. Apparently the average 200 mm of annual rainfall here all falls during the monsoon season of June-July (into August). The rest of the time it’s dry dry dry.

I was awakened by a trumpet (recorded or live, I couldn’t tell) playing Reveille at about 05:00 to awaken the high school students for their morning calisthenics.

After a quick breakfast of steamed buns, boiled eggs, and fried dough, we set off for a short drive to a nearby valley; the road terminated at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where apparently the monks enjoy basketball.

The Qu ri gang monastery at the entry to the Qu ri gang valley, 30 minutes outside of Dulan city.

We parked the car just outside the court, and started our walk up the valley to explore the junipers (Juniperus przewalski) treeline.

Juniper is the only tree that grows here, and it reaches treeline at varying elevations depending on temperature and moisture availability. This view is looking towards the north.

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The unBalanced ecoLOGogist: Climbing onto the Roof of the World

Early Saturday morning, Eryuan Liang and I flew from Beijing to Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, which is the province to the east of Tibet. Qinghai and Tibet together span the Tibetan Plateau, but it’s much easier to travel into and around Qinghai. Even for Chinese scientists like Eryuan, who is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Tibetan Plateau Research, which itself has a branch campus in Lhasa, it is far easier to do research in Qinghai than it is to do research in Tibet. And here be treelines, which are the focus of this nine-day field expedition.

Panorama from the lower treeline at the Wulan site (click for a larger version)

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Dispatches from Abroad: A First Look at, and Taste of, Beijing

Well not really a first look, but my first for this trip and this blog.1 I left Xi’an mid-morning on Tuesday on a high-speed train to Beijing. The Xi’an high-speed train station (across town from the regular train station) is its own marvel. With more than 20 platforms, the whole complex felt a lot more like an airport—complete with security checks, x-ray machines, pat-downs, and gate-checks—than a train station, and it was easily as big as a standard international airport terminal, too.


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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Help Science Meet Art at ESA 2017 (I)

I’m taking a day off from writing about my scientific and culinary adventures in China, and turning my attention to science and art. I spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between science and art, but not in the way that it is mostly written and talked about, which is art drawing influence from science and technology, and reinterpreting it for different audiences. Rather, I’m particularly interested in how science and scientists – which in my case means ecology and ecologists – have been and continue to be influenced by art and the humanities in general. I’ve even written a couple of papers on the subject, which you can read elsewhere on this site.

But right now, I’m working with Carri LeRoy, a faculty member at the Evergreen State College in Washington State, to organize an “ignite” session for next summer’s Ecological Society of America meetings, to be held in Portland, Oregon. If you’re interested in this topic, and want to give a talk/presentation/exhibition or join the discussion, then…

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