Collaborative Research: Climate, human and ecosystem interactions in the face of a rapidly changing North Asian biome


In many parts of the globe environmental change and socio-economic conditions are increasingly tied together producing regional vulnerabilities that are still poorly understood and under-anticipated. Northern Asia, and particularly the subarctic zone of southern Siberia and northern Mongolia, has experienced rates of warming that are so far unprecedented elsewhere and provide an opportunity for the early study of human and environmental impacts due to global warming. A Mongolian-American collaborative research team will investigate the three way relationship between pastoral nomadic food production, environmental robustness, and climate fluctuation in order to better understand principles of human organization that serve to sustainably manage this complex relationship.

The project framework relies on a combination of high-resolution historical and environmental data that will be analyzed as time series and compared across two time scales: a short sequence of 25 years (1990 to present) and a long-sequence of 1300 years (700 AD to present). Data from the past quarter-century will comprise 1) trends in forest productivity as revealed by the tree-ring record; 2) trends in steppe productivity; 3) ethnohistorical and ethnographic evidence of human use of these ecosystems in relation to recent socio-economic change; and 4) livestock population and mortality data. Contemporary patterns will be contextualized by more than one thousand years of climatic and socio-cultural observations. These will be compiled from tree-ring analysis, lake core and palynological studies, and from archaeological research, all of which provide alternate environmental indicators as well as a record of the relationship between nomadic pastoralists and the northern forest ecosystem. By juxtaposing the trajectory of the forest-steppe and human communities over time, this research develops new approaches and insight to the linkages between ecosystems, climate, human culture, and policy that promote long-term sustainability.


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Polar Programs (OPP), Arctic Natural Sciences (ANS) Program.