Dust flux, Vostok ice core

Dust flux, Vostok ice core
Two dimensional phase space reconstruction of dust flux from the Vostok core over the period 186-4 ka using the time derivative method. Dust flux on the x-axis, rate of change is on the y-axis. From Gipp (2001).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The ruins of Manzushir temple

Mongolia just keeps giving.

The day after going to Hustai National Park, we planned to see the ruins of the Manzushir (also Manjusri) monastery.

A significant snowfall had occurred at night, which blanketed the area and added to the traffic chaos until we escaped the city.

Traffic back in the old days was quieter.

Larches and evergreens in the snow.


 The Manzushir monastery was established in the early 18th century, and was destroyed by the Communist regime in the 1930s. Prior to its destruction, it was one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia.

Reconstructed temple, surrounded by ruins


Repainted door.

Ruins of the principal temple, currently grazing grounds for a herd of cattle.

Shrines have been reconstructed on the hill overlooking the monastery.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Realignment in Asia

Last month, China seized an American drone operating in international waters some small distance from Subic Bay, in the Philippines. China returned the drone shortly thereafter. There was some small amount of diplomatic ranting over the incident, but these things tend not to escalate.

They have been going on for a long time. In the 1980s, Russian ships routinely stole equipment that had been deployed by Canadian research vessels in Canadian waters, most of which were only doing innocuous things like measuring salinity, temperature, and the speed of sound in the water column, much as the Americans' drone is reported to have done.

Of course, even innocuous oceanographic data can have geopolitical implications. There is a lot of speculation that the Chinese were afraid that the drone was to collect information on Chinese submarines. I'm going to go with the American story here--that it was to collect oceanographic information. That doesn't necessarily mean the data was not detrimental to Chinese interests. The question is, what are the Chinese interests?

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

On the Grand Banks, we went from station to station, lowering an instrument at each one, which would be anchored in place. When it came time to recover them, the ship would emit an acoustic signal, which would trigger a cable release and the instrument (which was buoyed) would rise to the surface for collection. On our perambulations, we noticed one or more Russian ships heading to our previous station. When the time came for collection, all the instruments were gone. The Russians had triggered the cable releases and scooped them all up. Rather, that was our interpretation--we weren't close enough to see for certain that they had done this, as the stations were kilometres apart. But no other ships were operating in the area.

We were conducting acoustic surveys as well, including sidescan sonar swaths for mapping the seafloor, as well as profilers and depth sounding. I noticed a number of submarine channels on the Banks--basically underwater fjords--and also noted that their geometry precluded them from being accurately mapped with the instruments we had. In fact there was nothing that we had in Canada that could have done it back in the day, because the issue was not a technical one--it was due to the separation between the instruments we were using and the seafloor. The limitation of standard methods for mapping steeply dipping structures was a significant part of my thesis that I wrote at the time.

In those days, instruments were towed--the umbilical was necessary for power, but towing was difficult from a surface ship through a narrow, and very deep canyon. Particularly when the cost of the instrument was high, and they tended to blow up due to the stresses upon contact with the seafloor. At one time, we had had an instrument that could be towed at a much greater depth, but (as I was told) the Russians stole the prototype in 1981 as it was being deployed, and for whatever reason, the Canadian company that made it didn't make another. (note: I have never found any independent corroboration of this story!!)

Anyway, what could be more innocent than mapping the ocean floor? Well, it turns out that our inability to map these structures properly meant that things near the bottom of the fjords were undetectable from near surface. In those days, antisubmarine detection would be via near-surface towed sonar, which would be ineffective here. Of course, there were other methods that could be used instead, but as long as we Canadians remained ignorant of the existence of these underwater fjords, we would not have the equipment ready to scan them. Does it mean the Russians were preparing an attack? (Probably not--but maybe they would simply like to be the only ones with this information, just in case). Or maybe the Russians were just short of equipment?

There can be a geopolitical element to even innocuous data collection from the seafloor. What threats might the Chinese have inferred from American drones in the South China Sea?

This article suggests the Chinese are worried about Americans tracking their subs. Possible. It's also possible that the Americans are planning for some bit of nastiness involving the Philippines, particularly after Philippine President Duterte's shift towards China. Or maybe they just want the information just in case.

Sometimes, moves like this are meant to send a message. The Americans may want the Philippines to know they are studying approaches to their coastline. The Chinese may want the Americans to know that they are willing to support their new friends.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dengue in Singapore in 2016

The number of dengue cases in Singapore this year fell from the relatively high numbers at the beginning of the year.

Good news--my kids are over there right now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wild horses of Mongolia

The nomadic life

Hustai National Park is south of Ulaanbaatar. There is a series of sand dunes just outside the park entrance, which acts as a first stop on most tours.


Within the park, we are back into the more common steppe, covered by long grasses. The park is famous for its birch trees (from which it gets its name), and its population of Przewalski horses, which are the only type of horse which has never been domesticated, making them the only known truly wild horses.

This is the sort of place where they hang out. When we went there, summer had just ended, and the days were beginning to get cold. The horses had a preferred area of the park in the summer, but tended to roam elsewhere when the weather turned cold. The guides weren't sure which of the two places the horses would be. Suffice it to say they weren't where we went at first.

On the steppe there was no sound but the wind and the roaring of the deer. They were well over a kilometre away, but the sound is unforgettable. But there was no sign of any horses.

Somewhere in there is a red deer.

After waiting for some time amongst the natural bonsai of the steppe, we retreated to the visitor's centre for a traditional meal. Our guides conferred with other guides, but nobody had seen any wild horses over the past few days. They decided to have us wait until the last group in the park came out.

Success! They had seen them. The horses had gone to a spot quite close to where we had been waiting for them. So back into the vehicles and over to a spot where the stream was incised quite steeply into the steppe.

The horses move in family groupings, with normally one male and a few females and foals.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The second part of Terelj

Continuing through Terelj National Park . . .

Part of the experience on the tour was to visit one of the local families in their ger. Now, it's true, there is a certain level of artifice to the entire experience, but it was better than staying in the ger camp, which was entirely artificial.

The family had at least five children, and for some reason, there was an old school bus parked in their camp. (I was about to say 'on their property' - except they don't actually have "property" as we understand it).

So while we waited in the car for our guide to negotiate the terms of our visit, three of the children hid in the bus, popping out episodically to scream, "Hello!", after which they would hide in the bus again. I ducked below the window in the car for awhile, until my travelling companion told me they were looking for me.

After awhile, we were invited inside the ger. The father started up the fire in the stove in the middle of the tent, and then everyone went outside for a bit. From time to time, the younger sister would open the door, lean in and scream "Hello!" and then slam the door and run away. After about the third time, I crept over to the door so I was in the doorway when she opened the door. When she saw me, she ran away screaming.

There she is, the little rascal.

More children arrived on horseback. That's the older sister hiding behind her mother.


Some children in Mongolia are naturally blonde.

Assorted dairy made at the camp. Yoghurt at bottom, something like butter at middle (not quite churned enough to be butter, I think), and in the bowl, dried yoghurt. After making the yoghurt, they would spread it out on a surface until it dried. It was terrible. I highly recommend it.

Nomadic families tend to have herds--usually horses, cattle, yak, or sheep.

Eventually, we left to visit other sites at the park. As we drove off, the children chased us, shouting "Goodbye!" Our guide was impressed. "They really like you!"

Turtle Rock


Not far away is the Aryabal Meditation Centre, an old Buddhist monastery about half-way up a hill

Rock paintings at the Meditation Centre.

You can spin the wheel of fortune, and get a number. Then you wander along the path looking for the aphorism that goes with your number.

Spinning prayer wheels is a common practice at the centre, but I'm not convinced people are really praying.

There were people praying inside. As in most Buddhist temples, there were central icons, and numerous arhats on the walls.

View from the monastery