Who Were Those Ancient Siberians?

An interesting Siberian archaeological site is the tittle-tattle of historians recently, squabbling on what ancient people get credit for the structure sitting on an island in the middle of  a lake. It’s over one thousand years old so Russians, as we know them today, are not the culture responsible for this structure. Who the heck needed a fortress in Siberia 1,300 years ago?

Experts have dated it to about 750AD. Situated in the middle of Lake Tere-Khol in Tuva, this high altitude lake location has some historians believing it could possibly indicate religious, astronomical, or imperial significance. The theories bandied about are that it is possibly a regent’s summer palace, a monastery or, perhaps, an observatory for the heavens.

Finding out what was going on in Siberia in the 700s is not as easy as one might think. A trip to Wikipedia (the source of all online knowledge, right?) reveals that Russia’s historical timeline inconveniently begins in 860AD with a record of the Rus’-Byzantine War. Wikipedia has let the gringa down.

Digging back a bit further, things get vague. One simply has to pick up a bit here and bob over there and put together a picture that, although still a bit hazy, can at least deliver a pretty good idea of who the heck was running the show in Siberia in the 750s.

The first stop on the collection route of ancient Siberian bits and bobs is linguistics. Author Rein Taagepera penned a book entitled “The Finno-Ugric Republics and the Russian State”. There is a single quote that sheds some light on the 750s mystery people of Siberia:

“Samic was previously considered a language with disparate dialects but is now increasingly seen as  a collection of half a dozen related languages that diverged some 1,300 years ago. They are spoken in northern Scandinavia and the Kola Peninsula in the Russian Federation.”

Here, at least, Wikipedia did not let the gringa down. Wikipedia explains that the Samic language is believed to have its roots in ancient Finland dating from 1000BC-700AD. The Finnish-Samic link to this Siberian archaeology site is further strengthened by an observation made by Ludmila Koryakova and Andrej Vladimirovich Epimakhov in their book, “The Urals and Western Siberia in the Bronze and Iron Ages”:

“In the sixth-third centuries BC, their northern trade was oriented to southeastern Europe, but after the second century BC, caravans went to western Siberia, where the Sargat culture constituted the most powerful ethnic and political union.”

So, the gringa believes an actual cultural identity can now be assigned to ancient Finnish ancestors speaking the Samic language who settled in Siberia – the Sargats. Researchers identify evidence of this culture in the forested steppes of southwest Siberia near Russia’s fifth century border with northern Kazakhstan. Archaeological artifacts and burial remains show that the Sargats lived a horse herding lifestyle centered around raising sheep and cattle. A nomadic tradespeople, their wares were typically milk products, meat and textiles. Social structure, determined from burial rituals, reflect that women were regarded equally as men with regard to managing herds and local governance. Warrior status, however, was an elite status reserved for only the most wealthy and powerful males.

DNA evidence of remains also revealed a curious Iranian ancestry link as well. So, the Sargats were probably originally Finnish and eventually intermarried with other tribespeople living in Siberia, coming into contact through trade and war. Ancestry for Siberians can be traced not only to Finland and Iran but also to Turkey, Mongolia and China as well as traces of Viking influences.

Interestingly enough, the style of the controversial Siberian structure shows Chinese architectural influences. The official name of the site is “Por-Bajin” and is considered a mystery by the experts who have been studying it for decades. The name is derived from the Tuvan language and means “clay house”.  Sitting near the border of Russia and Mongolia, it is then probably no surprise to see a Chinese influence in the design.

Researchers liken the layout to resembling a typical Buddhist temple. This similarity along with its isolated location and the fact that the cultures of this time were nomadic and not organized in such ways as to see an imperial palace as something useful, causes the gringa to consider the monastery theory to be more credible than a fortress type imperial summer palace or astronomical observatory. Like Catholic missionaries who traveled to remote places all over the world and constructed missions and convents, Buddhist monks followed a similar tradition.

Another curiosity is that the structure lacks any evidence of a heating system, even one that would be basic and crude. Surely that, too, would rule out an imperial summer palace. Siberia, even in the hottest period of a summer season, would still be uncomfortably cool without any heat source within a dwelling. To try to survive a winter without heat would be a death sentence. So, even as a monastery, monks could only be in residence during the summer.

The gringa loves a good mystery and will certainly be eagerly awaiting more news and future developments regarding “Por-Bajin”. With the effects of climate change causing permafrost melt resulting in water levels rising in Lake Tere-Khol, the caveman and I better put it on our climate change related priority travel list to see it before the waters swallow it up!

Source & Image Credit:           http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/features/f0009-who-built-this-siberian-summer-palace-and-why/





How Climate Change Affects Vacation Priorities

So, when the climate change poop hits the fan, who is going to be in for the worst ride? What parts of the world should I vacation at now because they will be uninhabitable in the future? Exactly where will be the safest place for the gringa and the caveman to diddle away their golden years?

Well, we better get busy and visit all the beach hotspots that are alive and kicking right now. With sea levels rising, the coastal cabanas of today will be reef material tomorrow. And, considering that climate change creates erratic and extreme weather patterns such as: heavy rain here, drought there, devastating tornadoes everywhere; well, there is no uniform model of what’s going to change where or when. The only concrete expectation right now is what models predict about low elevation islands and coastal beachlands. They are pretty much going to be history, some maybe within my lifetime.

Other areas scientists expect to change dramatically are regions that have a delicate ecosystem balance and are already experiencing hyper-sensitivity to environmental stressors. These areas include:

  • Arctic, specifically the tundra region
  • Boreal forest belt – This is the conifer forest that stretches across North America, particularly dense in the Pacific Northwest
  • Tropical Rainforest
  • Alpine regions
  • Steppes of Asia and the Americas
  • Prairies of Asia and the Americas
  • Deciduous forests of South America and Australia

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. The permafrost layer is melting. Glaciers are getting smaller and sea ice is disintegrating. The wildlife of the Arctic will probably be a loss to the world. They depend on a habitat that is going to grow too warm to support their needs. The indigenous people of this region will experience a loss of their culture that is strongly dependent on the wildlife and natural geography. The humans will have the adaptation advantage that the wildlife and fauna do not have. But the loss of their culture is still something to mourn over.

The boreal forests of North America are important carbon sponges for the earth. What will a degree or two warmer mean? As temperatures warm the center of the United States, the boreal forest will shift northward. Predictive models sees the United States losing its boreal forest as it relocates to Canada and Alaska. So, we won’t lose them, they will relocate. That’s good news in the aspect that at least the Earth will retain a critical carbon filter.

Researchers in tropical rainforests mark trees and track them for years, measuring them to see how they are responding to climate change. A group in the Bolivian Andes are studying a swath of diverse trees and plants that thrive in a limited temperature range. As temperatures rise, so do the trees. New, baby trees are growing uphill. Just as the North American model predicted a forest migration, the same is expected of the tropical rainforests. They will abandon the lowland jungle regions and migrate up the mountainsides, seeking cooler temperatures.

Alpine regions are going to experience the same forest creeping phenomena. As glaciers continue to recede, alpine plants will continue to move upwards looking for cooler temperatures and water. However, eventually, when all the glacier water has melted and run off or evaporated, this critical component of the annual water budget will be gone forever. Plants and trees dependent upon it will eventually be extinct. So Alpine ecosystems will not only migrate, they will migrate to a slow death.

The upside of forest migration is that the Earth is trying to compensate and save herself. The downside is that the migration process is slower than the warming process. This means there will still be catastrophic loss of tropical rainforest and alpine habitat. This will affect the wildlife dependent on these ecosystems as well as their indigenous people.

Experts predict the possibility of losing over half of the steppe habitats due to the effects of climate change. They are not modeling a migration of fauna, but a loss. Steppes are critical grazing areas. As the steppes experience habitat loss, growing smaller, overgrazing occurs on the remaining areas. The effects then are coupled: climate change related drought and overgrazing. Things look dire for the future of the steppes and the animals and shepherds and ranchers who depend on them. The steppes could become the Earth’s future Sahara’s.

Unlike a conifer boreal forest or tropical rainforest that are green year round, a deciduous forest becomes barren in the winter season as the trees lose their leaves. Deciduous forests exist in tropical and temperate climates. Climate change models predict warmer winters affecting deciduous forests. This could lead to tree loss from pests and disease. In regions where devastating drought occurs, there will be higher tree loss. When a tree dies in the forest it also becomes fuel. In regions experiencing drought related tree loss, the dry conditions and increased fuel of more dead trees makes conditions ripe for voracious wildfires. So, if the drought or the bugs don’t wipe out the deciduous forests, the wildfires probably will.

The gringa thinks the list of vacation priorities should go something like this:

  • Arctic expedition
  • Steppe pack-mule trip
  • Deciduous and Alpine forest camp outs
  • Beach parties around the world
  • Tropical rainforest excursion
  • Bigfoot safari in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest

I don’t think climate change is going to sound the death knell for planet Earth and mankind. The gringa does believe it will be the end of many species of animals and plants that are with us today. It is also highly likely that entire cultures will be wiped out when they lose the habitats they rely upon. And usually species loss does not mean a gaping hole is left behind. Usually, another species fills the gap or a species evolves and adapts. So, the key word to focus on is “change”. It’s climate “change” not climate “loss”. But the change is as significant as the past disappearances of entire civilizations such as the Maya or entire animal classes like the dinosaurs.

At this point, I believe the consensus among scientists is that we have passed the tipping point. There is no going back and “fixing” things. We simply have to ride the lightning and deal with it. So, if a person is able and so inclined, they need to enjoy the world as we know it today and document it for the children of the future.


Source:  www.nasa.gov

Image Credit: http://www.notenoughgood.com


The Arctic & The Big Toot

Much of the talk about climate change centers around the word “carbon”. However, “methane” is a much more sinister contributor to climate change. Per molecule, methane, that stinky “fart” gas, is twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide over the course of a century. One region where methane’s contribution to climate change is studied by NASA is the Arctic. “The Arctic?!” the gringa exclaims. Yes, I know, dear reader. You must be thinking the same thing. What the heck is in the Arctic to contribute to atmospheric pollution? I mean, what does it have, a population of a hundred or so? How could a population so small create a problem so big?

Well, methane does not necessarily need a human created industrial complex to exist. In the Arctic, methane is created from decomposing microbes within the soil. While the Arctic tundra remains sealed by permafrost, the methane gas remains trapped within. As soon as Spring rolls around and this frozen layer of soil begins to thaw, the gas is released. This is a natural cycle. This was the thinking of the scientific community.

Based on models that depict this stable, natural cycle’s past methane gas release volumes, it has been determined that current methane levels that are escaping into the atmosphere are much higher than model estimates expected. Surprise, surprise! The research team conducting these studies have used specialized precision instruments to measure Arctic methane gas emissions during the summer months. They ignored gathering data during the brutal winter months on the assumption that because the ground was frozen solid, the methane would be sealed within the permafrost.

They are now discovering they have been terribly wrong.  From September until May, the Arctic winter, the wet, lowland tundra as well as the drier, upland tundra are very actively emitting methane gas. In fact, the Arctic winter emits just as much methane as the Arctic summer. Methane seepage is just much slower during the frozen conditions upon the tundra during the winter season. However, since the winter season is about eighty percent longer in duration than the short summer season, there is plenty of time for slow winter methane seepage to catch up to the amount of emissions that are released quickly during the warmer Summer months.

During winter, even though the temperature of the soil is below the freezing point (32 degrees Fahrenheit/0 degrees Celsius), water that is trapped within the soil does not necessarily freeze completely. The active layer of Arctic soil, the top layer that thaws in summer and freezes in winter, experiences what scientists call a “sandwich effect” when it re-freezes. As the active layer begins to refreeze, there is a mid-section that is insulated by a frozen top and frozen bottom. This mid-section of the top, active layer does not completely freeze. Within this unfrozen strip of soil microorganisms do what microorganisms do, they break down organic matter which creates methane emissions. And this goes on all winter long in the Arctic.

The drier, upland Arctic tundra has also surprised scientists. Prior to these studies researchers believed that this area would produce less methane gas. However, what they have discovered is that the grasses and plants act like little chimneys, spewing higher volumes of methane into the atmosphere.

Although this may sound like bad news, the gringa says, “There, there. Do not dismay. Even if it seems like bad news at least it’s NEWS! Now we KNOW and now we can ACT.” And that is just what NASA plans to do. Now that they have this very important data, they can rearrange their climate models which are used to create predictions to calculate future methane budgets. And, if the dear reader is anything like the gringa, you know very well that any budget has to be adjusted, sometimes quite often, especially when new expenses are realized.

Since methane is a critical component to the warming of Earth’s atmosphere, it is vitally important to have correct data. Now NASA can develop better solutions to continue to improve life here on Earth and to safeguard the future of Earthlings. And the gringa is glad that they are on the job.

Source: http://www.nasa.gov

Photo credit:  http://biomesgroup2.wikispaces.com/Tundra