Blog for the Taymyr expedition in 2012

Introduction

This year’s expedition, logistically arranged and financed by the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, began for some of us in Copenhagen the 5th of July. Others joined in Stockholm for the flight to St. Petersburg, where the rest of the expedition members from England and Russia finally met up. So, here we are, members of one Quaternary Geology group (seven) and one bedrock geology group (five persons), and then of course Åsa Lindgren from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, who has had a tough job the last half year bringing all the logistics into place. Regular flight to Krasnoyarsk the day after and then the final leg to Khatanga with the weekly flight connection, and we were on the tundra! Below follows the weekly report that I wrote each Sunday and sent back home to Sweden, to be set up each Monday on the Polar Research Secretariat’s home page together with the photographs below (most of which are taken by Johanna Anjar as my both two cameras broke down within the first two weeks of the expedition!).

On the map above you see the route for the 2010 expedition to Taymyr along the Bolshaya Balaknya River, the blue line in the eastern part of the map (described at http://www.geol.lu.se/personal/prm/Blogg_Taymyr_2010.htm). The other blue line in the central part of the map (marked Upper Taymyr River) is the path we took in 2012 along the Luktakh, Upper Taymyr and Logata Rivers. All other lines (U, Sa, J/S/K, M/UT/B and NTZ) are Ice marginal Zones on the Taymyr Peninsula, marking former ice-margin positions of the Kara Sea Ice Sheet at different stages over the last c. 200,000 years, being one of our main aims for research during this project.

 

2012-07-08 Khatanga – Bien venue!

So, we are back in Khatanga and taking up the final field-work part of my project “Taymyr revisited – a quest for Eurasian Ice Sheet margins and Late Quaternary megafauna extinction”, funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR) and the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat (SPRS). We, the expedition members, are Johanna Anjar (PhD student, Department of Geology, Lund university), Martin Bernhardson (masters student, Department of Geology, Lund university), Kenneth Andersen (PhD student, Centre for GeoGenetics, Copenhagen university), Dmitry Bolshiyanov (professor, Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI), St Petersburg), Polina Vakhrameeva (masters student, AARI, St Petersburg) and, finally, Andrei Ivanov (a geography teacher from St Petersburg). And then me, Per Möller, professor in Quaternary geology at Lund university.

The aim of the research project is to decipher the waxing and waning of ice sheets and their spatial distribution in north-western Siberia over the last to glacial cycles, the last ~250,000 years, and try to resolve palaeoenvironmental changes over this time period. We do this by investigating sediments – these can be glacial, fluvial or marine sediments – exposed along the Taymyr rivers in 5-25 m high river bluffs. These sediment exposures we clean up and document, and then we take numerous samples for age determinations by different methods (radiocarbon, electron spin resonance, optically stimulated luminescence, etc). We also take sediments for making fauna determinations on, e.g., molluscs and foraminifers, also these indicating the palaeoenvironment in which they lived. Another aim of the project is to try to understand how the “mammoth steppe” fauna evolved and how different species gradually disappeared when we came into the interglacial that we live in today. We do this by sampling sections with sediment deposited during the last ~30,000 years (these sediments are easily recognized due to their special looks, the “ice-complex sediments”).  From these we determine what type of animal species that occur at different sediment levels by means of analyzing the DNA content, of course combined with sampling occurring megafossils (bones) from, e.g., mammoth, horse, bison, muskox and wholly rhinoceros. And then, numerous radiocarbon datings.   

This year we will follow the Taymyr River drainage system (in 2010 we followed another river, the Bolshaya Balaknya), starting in a branch named Luktakh River and follow this until it reaches the main branch of the Upper Taymyr River. We will continue on the Taymyr River until we reach another branch, named the Logata River, and then follow this river up-stream. If we follow the plan – but this is not at all certain – we will cover some 600-700 km along these rivers in our three zodiacs. 

We started out last Sunday from Copenhagen, flying to St Petersburg to meet up with our Russian colleagues, and then Monday evening we had a night flight for 4.5 hours to Krasnoyarsk, the capital of that vast region east of the Ural Mountains having the same name. We landed early Tuesday morning local time in beautiful sunrise and 13°C. We then had a bit of a nervous waiting for the next plane towards Khatanga as we were flying with heavy overweight and not assured that the small propeller plane, taking some 25 persons, could take our load. However, it went very well, and we were squeezed in like sardines, and off we were, heading due north for 6 hours, with a short stop in the small town of Tura, south of the Putorana Plateau Mountains. There it was a very warm day with no wind, meaning a lot of mosquitoes and biting flies, hunting those who wanted to visit the very chick free-air toilet outside of the airport “terminal”. 

Arriving late afternoon in Khatanga in a bit of rain, it was the Khatanga that to its looks had not changed much since my first visit in 1996; I will not dwell so much on my liking of this north Siberian town (~72°N/102°E), you can read about that on my expedition blog from 2010. Then we had two hectic days of preparation before going into the field. All pre-sent equipment had to be packed up: zodiacs, motors, generators, tents, sleeping bags, kitchen utensils, etc. And then everything had to be re-packed into boxes suitable for boat transport, together with all geological field-work tools, sample bags, sample tubes, and all technical equipment. And then started the hunt for expedition food; most things had to be bought locally, and it is a lot of thing to buy – and think of – for a 6 week long field work. It takes weight and it takes volumes. All food was then divided and packed in plastic boxes into six weekly rations, of which the first three weeks food was to be flown out with us and the rest put into a depot for us further down-stream along the Upper Taymyr River.

So, Friday morning it was time for take-off in beautiful weather. We packed our Mi8 helicopter – it became quite stuffed – and away we were shortly before lunch time. After a 2.5 hours flight, including a stop at depot 1 for letting off a barrel of gasoline for later use, we landed at our starting point in the upper reaches of the Luktakh River (~73°N/92°E). We put up our Basecamp 1 on a sand plateau above the river. The weather had changed to overcast and we had some rain drops, but it was ok. Soon the helicopter left us (see movie of helicopter take-off, and we were left on the tundra very far away  from civilization. Our camp site was a flowering meadow in white, blue, violet, yellow and pink – the flowering is at places amazing and at its best just now. The name Luktakh in Russian means onion; the reason for naming the river as the "onion river" was obvious. Along most of the Luktakh river banks was plentiful of wild chives, fantastic to spice up our soups and casseroles with. A chicken chilli and a few drops of vodka for expedition success finished off the evening, and most of us turned in at one o’clock. Before that there was a bit of amusement, with Andrei singing a sort of love song to Khatanga (see short movie), how that now can be possible (to love Khatanga)...

Saturday meant a lot of work assembling the tree zodiacs, putting on the brand new motors and test-driving them. However, I myself sneaked away and had a first go at the geology of the area to get some impression of what we could expect. It is fore sure not as in Bolshaya Balaknya in 2010 with its spectacular river sections; here we can just find only smaller sections higher up in the valley slopes where sediments have slumped  due to the in the arctic typically very active slope processes; hope it will get better further down-stream the Luktakh river!

Sunday was the first real workday; we travelled downstream with two zodiacs some 4 km where we found a 6 m high section in marine sediments. It became a dirty business: of course we got heavy rain on us and the whole thing more turned out to a mud wrestling game. But we got a nice section with clay, once deposited in deep water in a marine basin, followed by shallow water sand. And an abundance of molluscs for dating. When coming back to basecamp, wet and hungry, we soon found out that our fishing nets had their first harvest for the expedition; at dinner there was lightly salted fish (sig; sik in Swedish) with onions and olive oil as a starter. And we role into expedition week two tomorrow – more to come!

 

 2012-07-15 A sort of ”hell week” (partly)

Monday saw decent weather and we made good geologic work by logging two sections with marine sediments hosting a very rich mollusc fauna; this was the first time ever that I have found paired in situ Clamys islandica on Taymyr (to the left on picture below). This indicates that the sediments probably date back to the last interglacial, some 115-130 thousands of years ago.   

On Tuesday it was time for a shift to a new base camp. We new about some good section ~20 km straight line further downstream and decided to aim for that as our Base Camp 2, in plan a decent stretch for trimming in boats, load and expedition members. It would under normal circumstances take us some 5-6 hours. The camp was packed into our three zodiacs a bit before lunch-time, and off we were in what seemed to be good weather with some blue skies. However, it took only half an hour when a storm hit us with constant rain for 20 hours and gradually increasing wind from south, the direction for our journey. Half of it was on a very shallow river with a number of rapids (I stopped counting after the 6th) with only some 20 cm of water depth on which, of course, our heavily loaded boats got stuck. This journey soon turned out to fit well into a US marines Navy Seal “hell week” programme! For us it was a test for strength, endurance and cooperation. With the boats stuck, they had to be dragged meter by meter and one by one over these bouldery rapids some 50 to 150 meters at each place. The wind getting harder and harder generated half meter high waves breaking at ours sterns and cascading us with water and filling the boats. However, we pressed on and reached our planned position a bit after two in the night, meaning more than a 14 hours journey during which the total travelled distance was 42 km, double the straight line distance due to the meandering river. To make camp on the terrace 6 m above the river was not to think about, the winds were to strong. So we put up our sleeping tents on the beach that was a bit – but not much – better protected. We came into our sleeping bags around 5 o’clock without having had any food after lunch the day before – we were just too tired. After a good 8 hours sleep we made an effort to get up the kitchen tent in the still very strong and gusty wind. We managed, but with one broken tent pole and a form of the tent making its inner area only half of what it is under normal conditions. However, we could finally have a warm, decent dinner. So, the whole day was spent for “survival”, but these lousy days did not stop by this. The strong, gusty winds just continued over the next night and the plentiful rain over the last days had made the to river rise by 40 cm; we woke up the next morning with some of our fore-tents flooded as the tents were pitched very close to the water-line at arrival day. It meant digging out level ground as close to the shore bluff as possible and relocating those tents, giving us room for a maximum 25 cm of water-level rise, or else we have to evacuate our beach location. And more serious was that some of our zarges boxes used as tent anchors also have been flooded during the night, with 10 cm of water standing in their bottoms. Logging sheets, expedition literature and some technical equipment were in different shapes of dampness, and it is only to hope fore that it dry out. And only grey skies and rain showers the whole Thursday. Life has seen better days!

On Friday the wind eventually calmed down and we had spots of blue skies, and Saturday was even better; in the evening the wind was down to zero and with that came the mosquitoes. But we can live with that. We got two days of fruitful geologic work in a 35 m high river bluff 1 km downstream from the camp. And if my guess is correct we have a glaciation at the base, evidenced by glaciotectonic folding of sand, overlain by the true glaciation signal, a till. On top of this followed 30 m of clay and silt, deposited in a marine basin, with cold-water mollusc fauna at the base continuing into a much warmer-water fauna upwards. My guess is that we have evidence of the Saalian glaciation at the base and on top of this, sediments from the last interglacial, the Eemian, all the way to the top. We are thus back in time more than 100 thousands of years, earlier than our last glacial cycle, the Weichselian.

Kenneth also made an interesting find; out of the river bluff further downstream came bones from “half a mammoth”, which he excitedly proclaimed to us after the find. This was a little bit of an exaggeration, but there were two gigantic teeth, still adjoined to the jawbone, a whole part of leg, a shoulder and ribs. Unfortunately – as often is the case - these mammoth remains were not sitting in their right place of deposition when the mammoth died; the remains have been sliding to the present river beach due to the very active slope processes.   

And on Sunday it was time to relocate again to Base Camp 3. We feared for the worst having Tuesday in mind. The day started in beautiful weather, blue skies and some spread Cumulus clouds and no wind. Camp was packed and we sailed off at 12 with a plan to reach a position 55 km downstream. And what a difference it was! Only the first 20 km we had the shallow waters and rapids where we had to man-haul the boats. After that the river changes character and was mostly deep and we could cruise at comfortable speed, strong sun in our faces. Along our path the river cut trough one of the major ice marginal zones on Taymyr, the Syntabulskaya Ridge. However, no good sections were seen, so we continued to our planned position and arrived at Base camp 3 (~N72°52’; E93°28’) at 11 o’clock at pitched our tents on a nice flowering terrace above the river. Kitchen tent up, freshly caught sik was fried and served a few hours later, after which most people hit their sleeping bags. However, I write these last lines now in my tent and start to send to Polar before it is time for me to do the same, i.e. early morning my time.

 

2012-07-22 River and Weather Gods are with us again (the latter maybe a bit too much)

Most of the week has just been blue skies, beautiful Taymyr cumulus clouds over our head, and then changing wind speed; no wind no mosquitoes, hard wind sand in our ears when working in sections - but no mosquitoes. Monday it was 18°C in the afternoon, Wednesday it was 24°C, and on Sunday afternoon an incredible 32°C, this on the arctic tundra!  

We continued working in sections revealing marine sediments, the best section of course – as in 2010 along the Bolshaya Balaknya – being beneath a pelerine falcon’s nest, having three newly hatched chicks in the nest and one egg to go. The parents dived and screamed at us for the first half hour, but then came to rest, the female just lying there in the nest keeping an eye at us 20 metres away. We also had our first visit by muskox, a large lonely bull strolling along the river on the opposite side of our camp. Continuing with animal business, reindeer had been close to absent this week, whereas we had herds of hundreds of them the week before. However, out of range for us so our hunting success so far has been zero.

Wednesday was time for camp shift, so we sailed downstream to base camp 4, reaching this after 77 km and 11 hours with a good march speed at around 10 km an hour. What a different river now; only some shallow passages that usually was to pass only with drawn-up motors and mostly deep waters in large meanders. Base camp 4 was put up on a sandy point-bar beach and with a view of the Byrranga Mountains in the far background. On our way there at our lunch stop we were amused by two arctic fox youngsters playing outside their den just 30 metres away. 

Two days of work from base camp 4 has meant different types of sediment and approach than before. We have concentrated on the more recent geologic palaeo-ecological evolution of the area, digging and coring into “ice-complex deposits”, silts and fine sand rich in organic remains divided up by thick ice wedges, and then sandy sediments with a lot of wood within them. From the former type of sediment we know from previous investigations that they often reveal a lot of information on biologic and ecologic change both on macro-, micro- and DNA scale. The latter type of sediment deposit drew our attention as we saw a number of tree trunks standing in up-right position and roots exposed, a forest surface “drowned” in sand. Our guess is that these trees stem from the last temperature maximum of the area since the last glaciation, approximately some 8000 years ago. This in turn means that the northern tree line was moved at least some 300 km to the north, compared where it is situated today. Our future datings will tell! 

Thursday evening was a beautiful such, sun, no wind and quite warm. Most of us took the opportunity to have a bath in the river – helped with a bucket of warm water – and/or washing up some clothes. Crawling around in geologic sections has made both us and the cloths quite dirty. During expeditions like this you just have to forget about civilized morning showers. On the other hand; the feeling to get into clean clothes and newly bathed is immense – for a while. For sure you will be dirty again tomorrow! 

Friday we were finished with the Logata River. The day before Dima and Andrei had taken one of the boats downstream for 10 km to our depot 1 , filling up canisters with 200 l of gasoline. After a difficult passage with many sand bars in the mouth of the Logata River into the Upper Taymyr River, we passed into this quite mighty river being 300-500 m wide and usually deep. The distance to our next goal, the mouth of the Logata River was too far to reach in one day, so we had an overnight camp after 67 km, and made the final 35 km on Sunday, meaning reaching our base camp 5 in decent time, i.e. mid afternoon. We are now camped some 100 m from a field station, an old wooden house belonging to the Taymyr Nature Reserve organisation. A "banja", i.e. a sauna, was fired up for cleaning up our dirty bodies. However, not much of need for that when in comes to temperature this amazingly hot afternoon. This hot day (32º C!), with the landscape faded out in a sort of mist, had of course to come with a grand finale – at midnight we heard thunders in the south and it did not take long until the thunder storm hit us with very strong wind gusts and heavy rain. It just took minutes before our tents were flat on the ground and we saved the kitchen tent by folding it down over everything that was inside. After half an hour we were able to satisfactorily raise our sleeping tents again, and crawled in, totally soaked.  Now it is good night; we have to fix the camp into order tomorrow. There is always another day on the tundra!

 

2012-07-29 A week of not so much geology, and a very strange weather

After the thunderstorm Sunday night the rain continued on and off on Monday until noon, and then blue skies again. All had a rest, sleeping until the brunch was served, and after that sorting up the mess after the storm. After some repair our kitchen tent sort of took its initial form again! The evening was beautiful, comfortably warm and with a light breeze. We had our dinner outside on the river terrace; fried shir, boiled potatoes and melted butter, quite superb! However, it was hot again on Tuesday, more than 25°C. Four of us made a hike over the tundra for 7 km to a small lake between what I thought was highly situated beach ridges. This assumption was correct but the geologic result was poor as no sections and dateable material was at hand. It was tough going over the tundra, for 80 % wetland in which your feet sink down a decimetre for each step; it just drags out the strength from your body; and then in this heat!  I think I consumed four litres of water, and was quite exhausted when we came back to our boat after the 15 km walk.

Wednesday we were totally fogged in until noon, the sight length was only some 50 m. Dima, Polina and Andrei prepared for a 4 days long trip to a lake ~30 km from our camp straight line; first 30 km downstream the Taimyra River, and then carrying/dragging all their stuff for 12 km to the target lake. The aim was to make a lake coring, retrieving sediments from the lake bottom as far down in time as possible. On sat telephone at night we got the message that they did not make it to the lake the first day. The equipments was too heavy and the terrain too rough, so it actually took them two days to reach the lake, and the campaign had to be extended for another day. The reaction on the hot Tuesday weather came of course as thunder and heavy rain in the afternoon, but not at all in the dimensions as on last Sunday. Dima’s group, sitting in their zodiac on the taimyra, was soaked, whereas the rest of us were safe in our tents.

Thursday and Friday were nice days, a pale blue sky, not much wind, the landscape in a haze. Kenneth cored an ice-wedge complex just outside the camp, whereas I, Johanna and Martin made two long reconnaissance trips with one of our zodiacs. On Thursday we drove the Taimyra River 55 km downstream, on its way cutting through the wide moraine belt that we call the Upper Taymyr Ice Marginal Zone, a strand-still position for the ice sheet when it last was here. My purpose is of course to put an age on this event – I have an idea but not any proof. However, none what so ever sections along the river was at hand, so these proof have to be sought after at other places. So, it was a long journey mostly for nothing – but a beautiful trip! On Friday we made another 55 km trip, but now upstream the Logata river, the river system that will be the last leg on the zodiac part of the expedition. A deep and easily navigable river so far up, but the current had its effect; up-streams our average cruising speed was 9 km an hour, whereas it was 15 km an hour down-stream when heading back to the camp! We localized two promising sections during the last 5 km of that trip and decided that this will be the goal for the next base camp.

Saturday was again a very warm day, no wind and a haze until the afternoon. However, a storm came in from the west in the afternoon with much more chilly winds, and we finally got a change in the weather system to more normal arctic conditions. The day was a preparation day for take off to base camp 6, sorting up the food that was delivered to depot 2 by helicopter, pumping over fuel from barrels to canisters, etc. We also changed propeller on our boats; my judgement was that at around 25 % of their area was gone due to the tough going in sandy and gravelly river beds. Our take-off from base camp 5 will be a bit complicated. As the lake coring group comes in late Sunday night, and that we expect a Mi8 helicopter on Monday morning, retrieving the now empty fuel drums and garbage, and taking out Dima and Kenneth’s frozen sediments samples to a freezer to Khatanga, as well as all our sediment samples for dating purposes. However, I, Johanna and Martin decided that we could not loose time doing nothing for two days, so the plan set to sail with one boat to base camp 6. Then the others will catch up later when the exchange business is done at depot 2/base camp 5.

So Sunday morning our boat was packed and we sailed upstream Logata River to base camp 6 where we set camp after 50 km on a nice river terrace, with one of our previously spotted sections at eyes sight. On satellite telephone I got confirmation that Dima’s group was safe back at base camp 5 in the early evening, joining up with Kenneth, and preparing for helicopter exchange tomorrow. With this also comes new bread and fresh vegetables. The bread has been uneatable for the last two days, totally covered up in nice green mould. We have gone for pasta salad for lunches instead. With Dima and samples gone, the rest of the gang will join up tomorrow night at our new camp.

 

2012-08-05 A good hunting week on various things!

Monday came with chilly winds and fair enough weather, good for geological digging and documentation. We had a go at our previously discovered river section in eyes sight from our camp. After digging out the marine sediments in a step-wise manor, we had a very interesting sedimentation history to tell. Alternating with each other we had beds of massive clay with a lot of molluscs, suggesting slow sedimentation rate, and beds of laminated silt and clay with no molluscs, suggesting a much more rapid sedimentation. Alternating with these were thin beds of clay with a very high occurrence of pebbles and also small boulders, in turn suggesting massive sedimentation at occasions with a lot of drifting ice bergs; it was fore sure an “icy” environment when these sediments were deposited!

As I have been entrusted with Andrei’s gun, and fresh meat had not been around, a large flock of gees were not safe from me. I quickly interrupted logging and went for them, and a few minutes later the evening supper was secured. After a lot of feathers removed, I prepared a goose stew with some salami and tomato pure on the legs, and then the goose breasts for frying “a point”, supper ready for the rest of the gang supposedly arriving at around 9 in the evening. However, after sat telephone contact at 8, we got the information that they had not left camp 5 as planned; the helicopter came in late and they judged that it was too late to start the 7 hours travel to our camp 6. So the goose dinner had to be put aside, waiting for tomorrow.

Tuesday brought strong wind in the morning, and we decided not to leave the camp with the risk having the kitchen tent blown way. The other spotted section, in reach from reach from our camp, was not that important as the section from the day before showed up to be so good. Kenneth, Polina and Andrei arrived a bit after 6 o’clock after some minor disturbances; suddenly Kenneth, sailing one of the zodiacs by himself, lost track of the other boat. He climbed a small hill and saw the other boat in far distance sailing downstream in opposite direction! After an engine problem, they lost direction and sailed back the same way as they were coming from! Easy to do when cloudy and no sun giving direction. Of course they understood their misjudgement after a while, but the whole incident did cost an hour in travel time. However, all back together again at camp 6, the goose dinner came handy. In the middle of it all, Johanna came into the tent saying that a reindeer just have walked up our toilet ravine a hundred metres away. After quickly loading the gun a very alive reindeer was a very dead such. And suddenly we had a lot of fresh meat after the quite greasy job of skinning it and cutting out back legs, front legs, the filets and liver. In the early night skies cleared up and the temperature dropped close to zero. The mosquito season was over! And no problem having meat hanging on a tripod when tropic nights finally were gone!

Wednesday it was time for camp shift again. A bit of sunshine in the morning, but in the afternoon cloudy and a few rain showers. The river was tricky for the first 10 km, having a lot of shallow sand bars making it hard to judge where the main channel was. And the current was slowing the boats as we now travel upstream the Logata River. After that there was a fair distance of easy travel in deep waters in the river meanders. However, the last 25 km was a struggle. The river bed started to be quite bouldery and we had to pass two rapids, of which the first was so powerful that the engines could not make it. It was man-hauling again. And one propeller got too much of close encounter with boulders and gave up. So it was just to unload and get the boat box out for spare parts. Thus it was a late arrival at base camp 7 a quarter past eleven that night after travelling some 75 km, the longest distance for camp shift. Kitchen tent up, and a very late dinner was served at one o’clock in the night: fried reindeer filets, fried onions and bread - reindeer burgers! And a bottle of red wine to go with that. Although all very tired, it tasted wonderful! 

Thursday meant reconnaissance after a somewhat later breakfast. The travel to base camp 7 had been extremely disappointing as there were actually no geologic sections exposed along the river. There was indication from Russian literature that something better was at hand a bit further upstream. However, what described we could not find exposed, but along a 4 km long river bluff we found marine sediment on top of which was fluvial (river) sediments, and on top of that “ice complex” deposits. Soon we spotted the first mammoth bone at river level, and the hunt for mega-fauna was on. It only took an hour to “harvest” four mammoth tusks, of which Johanna was the proud discoverer of the first one! We understood that we were in for hard work next day to come.

When Kenneth and I surveyed which ravine was best for the ice complex studies the next day, we scouted the tip of what looked like another mammoth tusk. After digging further into the sediment pile of silt and plant debris, it was soon realized that it was not at all mammoth; it was the whole skull of a gigantic steppe bison. Big game again! From that block of icy sediment, jaws and parts of legs and spine soon were found, indicating that the whole animal was there more or less in place where it once died on the mammoth steppe.  When this was, our future datings will tell. This animal was at the base of the whole "ice complex" sediment sequence of some seven metres thickness. Kenneth, with help from Andrei, then got a lot of dirty job coring the frozen sediments for later DNA studies.

The rest of us dug out underlying geologic units at three different localities, securing information about the geologic evolution here. If Russian previous studies being correct with a till deposited from the last glacial advance over the area – a till that we could not locate but for sure was indicated by a high frequency of many and large boulders at river level – then we have a story of a following marine stage with clays deposited close to an ice-sheet margin. After that followed erosion of the landscape when lifted above the water level and river deposition set in. From this period we had deposition of beautifully laminated sands – alternating beds showing cross bedding and ripple lamination – and with a lot dateable plant remains.  This environment was later followed by deposition of ice complex sediments, which builds up vertically from inflow of windblown silt and sand, combined with  water transported sediment, all deposited on vegetated land surfaces, the vegetation just moving upwards as new sediment is added on top of it. And on these former land surfaces we find the so common bones of the mega-fauna once grazing here. It for sure became a long working day; reindeer stew was served a twelve o’clock. And an hour later we could crawl into our mosquito-free tents (no more blood smears on the inner tent after killing those bastards). 

Saturday, and time to shift to our last base camp. It was a cloudy, totally calm morning with the river as a mirror. Some reddish autumn colour has already developed on the valley sides; the summer is short here! A large herd of reindeer – more than a hundred – waded the river just a hundred metres downstream. This was the theme of the day, everywhere reindeers now have gathered in larger groups starting their migration southwards, wading or swimming across the Logata River. The first 35 km on the river were tricky, with a lot of hidden sand bars. But it was nice travel at slow speed, and the skies broke up giving nice sunshine on an otherwise chilly day. Later, the river changes its mood, going deep with stone shores, and boat speed went up again. But this of course had its costs; we had to pass a few rapids as the gradient of the river now had increased. The last one was 200 m long with violently flowing waters, and the boat engines barely made it. We finally reached our destination at 10 o’clock in the evening after 55 km of sailing, and set up base camp 8 on the nice, flowering beach terrace above the inflow of the Syruta Yamu into the Logata River (N73°21’; E97° 37’).

Sunday started with no wind at all, and some blue ribbons among the clouds that eventually in the afternoon developed to bright sunshine on an otherwise delightfully cool day.  The day’s hunt was for the illusive “Russian till”, the till that we without success has searched for around our camp 7 in the middle of the week, and that also - according to Russian literature - should be exposed just within some hundreds of meters below our new camp. No success there either; however I spotted some dark sediments high up on the valley side some 5 km downstream from our camp when we travelled up here the day before. So we parked our zodiac up-steams from the rapids and walked the remaining 3 km. And there, 40 m above the river it was, the most beautiful tectonically laminated till I ever have seen, something that we glacial sedimentologists call a glaciotectonite, exposed in a 3 meters high back-wall of a slump scar and lying on top of sand that was partly incorporated into the till into something that we call boudinage. My day was made! By dating the sand inclusions in the till and the sand beneath the till, and by dating the marine sediments that are on top of it, we now can get a maximum and a minimum age of the last glacial advance over the area, one of the goals of the expedition. 

A perfect day of till hunting had a perfect ending; our net was full with fish, three sikh and two shir, the latter in the order of 4 kg each. The evening meal was a feast with thin-sliced, lightly salted shir with onion and olive oil, and shir caviar with lemon as starters, followed by fried shir, boiled potatoes, butter and dill, washed down with a few cans of beer. When this report is sent to Polar at 2 o’clock in the night, the sun has been just dipping it self at the horizon and is climbing again, the night is chilly – only 3 °C – and a full moon is mirroring itself in a calm Logata River.

 

2012-08-12 Novorybnoe – a bit of a disappointment

The week started as the last ended, with marvellous weather; blue skies with only a few cumulus clouds. Monday we took a 20 km reconnaissance trip upstream the Logata River from our base camp. Only 5 km away were some fantastic, steep and 20 m high sections in lacustrine silts and clays, which we schematically logged and took some samples from sand beds at the top for OSL dating Another 15 km away, the same type of sediment were exposed in a meander bend. We had lunch at the site, and when Polina sat down she proclaimed “I think I am sitting on a mammoth tusk”. And right she was; we soon had dug out the most perfect and largest specimen on the expedition, measuring. 1.6 metre in length and 25 cm in diameter at the base (see top of the blog!). Some other bones were soon found, all emanating from a quite thin ice complex deposit at the top of the lacustrine sediments. Back at camp our net again had a good harvest of sikh and shir, meaning salted fish and caviar on toast as starters. We are becoming quite spoiled now!

Tuesday the weather was even better, a totally calm morning giving way for a light breeze later. I spent the day in camp making sample lists on the computer, dressed in shorts and T-shirt. A few of us made some additional investigations in the till section down-stream – pain-staking search for and measurement of elongated stones, what we call a fabric analysis, which under best circumstances reveal the stress direction beneath a glacier and then tell in which direction the glacier moved. In the afternoon we also started the cleaning and disassembling of the zodiacs as preparation for tomorrow’s helicopter pick-up.

Wednesday morning was cloudy but warm and with a haze. There was also a peculiar smell; some said it smelled like smoke in the light breeze. But there is not much to burn up here on the tundra! Later, back in Khatanga, we learned that there were massive forest fires in southern Siberia, and that smoke for sure travelled far! In delightful pace we started to pack down the camp during the morning hours, awaiting the Mi8 pick-up scheduled at around 1 am, and it came in prompt. After loading it was 1.5 hours flight to Khatanga at 180 km an hour, and we were back to a kind of civilization. After delivering all our stuff at the storage, we went shopping for fresh stuff for our last five day’s in the field, and best of all was an ice-cold coke in the store!  To our surprise “Khatanga Hilton” – our standard airport hotel - had plenty of very warm water in the showers, and that was also a delight.

Repacking again on Thursday and then all things driven to the kind of harbour in Khatanga were our transportation waited; one speedboat with a 115 horse-power motor for us and then a large zodiac for all our equipment. We were now aiming for a river bluff close to the small village named Novorybnoe – a Dolgan settlement of some 300-400 persons. Dolgans are the native people of the area, living in the border zone to the tree-less tundra, making a living out of hunting, fishing and having domesticated reindeers. The geologic site at Novorybnoe is described in a Russian paper from the 80’ies to show three tills – meaning three separate glaciations – with marine sediments in between. If correct, this should be one of the few localities where more than one till is exposed at one and the same site, and thus a key site for resolving the glacial history with not to much of puzzle work. However, the proposed timing of these glacial events was made from pure speculation as no datings what so ever are made here. Our primary goal was thus to find and confirm the previously documented stratigraphy - that is how geologic bed after bed is put on top of each other - and then make a comprehensive sampling for age determinations of  the stratigraphic units, meaning sediment sampling for OSL dating and sampling molluscs and sediments for ESR dating. Expected ages of the sediments are probably beyond the age range for radiocarbon dating, but that should of course also be tested for.

Our journey to Novorybnoe went smooth on a calm Khatanga River at 40 km an hour, though we had to make a few stops on the way to let the zodiac catch up. After some 170 km we reached Novorybnoe and set up our base camp (the 9th on our expedition) below the river bluff some 300 m up-stream from the village. Here the river is a mighty such, being approximately 4 km wide and starting to form an estuary towards the Khatanga Bay that opens into the Laptev Sea eastwards. Kitchen tent up and a few sandwiches served outside in the nice weather; the zodiac was there an hour later, and we could have a pasta dinner at around midnight.

Friday started out with nice calm weather and a bit of sun. We did a quick reconnaissance along the river bluff and all side ravines, and found soon that our best shot was the ravine just up from our camp. Then a furious digging stated, trying to locate the previously described geologic units. Of course we were the "news of the day" for the locals; curious boys put millions of questions on Dolgani and Russian on whom we were, what we were doing, not easy for us non-Russians to respond on. “Njet ruski” was my standard answer, and Polina was kept busy explaining that we were neither digging for gold, nor oil, and found that it was not easy to explain – or to get them to understand –  that we were digging for geologic history. Women and girls were shyer, and watched us from distance on ravine ledges, probably wondering what in the world we made us occupied with. Afternoon came with clouds and increasing wind, and field work had to be stopped in the early evening as heavy rain came in with hard wind gusts. We had to put up more rope and fill in more sand on storm mattresses to secure the tents on our a bit exposed beach location. Soon the calm river had transformed into one with rolling waves and it felt more like camping at the ocean when lying in the tent that night, hearing the waves breaking at the shoreline.

Saturday and Sunday continued more or less in the same way and with the same kind of weather; mostly cloudy and with strong wind. Frequent but short rain showers and even shorter sun spells. And whatever efforts we put into it we could not reconstruct the proposed stratigraphy. Only the middle till bed was found, whereas the lower and uppermost tills still are mysteries to us. We did not find any geologic beds that could have been misinterpreted as tills and we do believe that previous researchers working this site were good geologists, not producing a “geofantacy”. So it is just to accept; some ravines are so heavily soliflucted that it was impossible to dig in to unaffected sediment and we thus did not get total coverage of the whole height of the sediment bluffs. Another possibility is that these tills have a patchy distribution, meaning that they are not lying there totally uniformly, as pancake after pancake put on top of each other. However, we found the marine units that envelopes the middle till, and this should make us able to get a much better chronology of the site than that existing (or actually does not exist, it is close to wild guesses).

Just before lunch on Sunday we heard wild shooting all around, and when we looked out on the beach we saw some hundreds of reindeer running down the bluff and out into the water, chased by barking dogs and firing men. After this massacre on wild reindeer there were dead such in ravines, on the beach and out in the river. Later in the afternoon when we visited the village, most reindeer (they wouldn’t say how many were killed but my guess is some 30 to 40 animals) were skinned and brought steadily into their freezer. This is a 100 meter long tunnel drilled into the permafrost some 5 meters below ground surface, holding a summer temperature of -12°C. Of course we were able to buy some meat – a whole back leg – for a reasonable price, and the evening meal was a treat on “a point” roasted slices of the inner loin, boiled potatoes and carrots and the lovely, buttery juice from the meat.

The plan is to leave Novorybnoe for Khatanga tomorrow, but we have a problem; the wind is still pressing on and the waves go high. It is hard to get the boats loaded and out on the river. So we are stand-by during the night; there has usually been a break of the wind in the early morning hours. If this happens it will be as short night.

 

2012-08-19 Home again!

Waves never stopped rolling in, so we had to stay put during Monday, the planned departure day back to Khatanga. Constant strong wind from the northwest during 4 days, and with no tendency to stop. So alternatives had to be planned; was there any possibility to get out a Mi8 on Wednesday? Last escape possibility; a passenger boat was said to come to Novorybnoe in the afternoon on Wednesday, arriving back late in the evening in Khatanga …

However, on Thursday after lunch there was a sudden change; within an hour the wind went down and the breaking waves died out. We quickly packed the camp into boats and were off up-streams the Khatanga River in the early afternoon. It became a nice trip on partly mirror-calm waters in the nicest weather. At several occasions we had to steer around reindeers swimming across the river. We arrived to Khatanga after some 5 hours with the sun just dropping down below the horizon for an hour or so, and then had to wait for the zodiac with most equipment that should be transported to our warehouse. It became quite late in the night before we could throw our self into the beds at “Khatanga Hilton”.

Wednesday the work with repacking all our own equipment and sorting out and packing samples in appropriate boxes went smooth; we were finished in the afternoon and ready for take off. We said good-by to our valuable logistic personnel from INTAARI, Sergey Kessel and Sergey Sacharov, who were to stay another one and a half week to sort out all camping equipment, partly selling what could be swallowed by the Khatanga market, and sending the rest of it together with all samples as cargo to St Petersburg. Our plane left Khatanga Thursday morning, and after a 5 hours flight with a propeller plane we were in Krasnoyarsk, approximately 2000 km south of Khatanga, a large (~900 00 inhabitants) and beautifully located city at the river bank of the Yenisei River. By pure chance we got into one of the best restaurants in Krasnoyarsk. Here we got a wonderful expedition-end dinner with salted mouksun (fish), tender venison chops with mushroom sauce, and cheese-cake for desert, all at a very reasonable price – this is not touristic St. Petersburg! 

Friday took us to St Petersburg after a 4.5 hours flight; with the time difference (4 hours) it was only lunch time when we arrived. We said good-by to Polina and Andrei – St Petersburg is their home town – and then went touristic. We thus had a nice afternoon strolling along the St Petersburg canals and visiting some of its most beautiful churches, the St Isaac’s Cathedral and the most marvellous “Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood”. The latter was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881 and it hosts some fantastic mosaics on bible themes and also the most beautiful intarsia floors of different types of marble. The evening was ended with a very Russian dinner and then some street night life at a café along Nevsky Prospect. Quite another world in many aspects, compared with Khatanga!

Flight to Kastrup via Arlanda on Saturday, and afters saying goodbye to Kenneth, I, Johanna and Martin were back in Lund in the evening. I am now sitting here in the “mediterranean patio” part of my garden on a warm glorious Sunday morning (25°C), precisely as I wrote in the final remarks on the blog from 2010, “surrounded by vines, my olive, lemon and orange trees, and the clay pots filled with thriving lemon verbena, pineapple sage and basil”. Since then it has been added figs and a lime tree. So, its time fore a short summary of the 2012 Taymyr expedition.  

We travelled the Luktakh, Upper Taymyr and Logata Rivers for ~350 km, setting out eight base camps. In addition to this we made additional ~300 km reconnaissance trips or “work trips” to found sites a bit outside our base camps. We have documented 15 geological sites around these base camps, including taking samples for OSL (34), ESR (27) and radiocarbon (20) dating. In addition to this come Kenneth’s three main sites in ice complex sediments with in total ~120 samples for DNA analysis, combined with radiocarbon dating on sediments and sampled mega-fauna remains. The Novorybnoe site, investigated in the final expedition week, was not that spectacular as I had hoped for. But sampled units will hopefully give a much more accurate chronology when OSL and ESR results are at hand. And when will this be? Well, first we must get all samples out of Russia, which is a painstaking job for Dima to start with this autumn. We still have some samples left in Russia from the 2010 expedition! Why it should be so difficult to get export permissions for these scientific samples is totally un-understandable and nobody can explain in any detail why. Such protectionism is a back-lash for this kind of international co-operation! Even though the geologic sites along our travelled rivers were not as spectacular as along the Bolshya Balaknya in 2010, it will all together give us a much greater understanding of processes and timing of glaciations and deglaciations on the Taymyr Peninsula over the two last glacial cycles, and hopefully the goal for my research project will be fulfilled. But it will take a few years until the final papers are published!

 If any of you have questions about this adventure, or other questions about my research, or Quaternary geology, please do not hesitate to contact me on per.moller@geol.lu.se.

Best wishes!