Blog written by Leni, Tirza and Nicolette
With as little as 30min of sleep, we all woke up at 4am this morning. The main mission of today? To cover about 650km of Mongolian style roads (bumpy, sandy and full of holes) in about 16 hours.
Split up into groups of three or four, we climbed into our 5 jeeps and made our way across the Mongolian steppes. The first stop: a Mongolian ger for breakfast. Invited by a family friend of one of our drivers, we entered the circular tent. With the boys sitting on the left and the girls on the right, we were offered a traditional Mongolian dish made of Yak milk with rice and dried meat. Clearly, some of us liked it better than others, but out of respect to the kind family, we finished the meal with a smile on our face.
During the drive, it was very interesting to see the change in landscape: slowly the scenery transitioned from green to brown and turned more and more arid. We could see the change from a dry steppe to desert steppe and finally could catch a glimpse of the sand dunes that are typical of a desert region. As rainfall becomes more and more scarce as you go south, the plants have to be well adapted to cope with the lack of water: they have very shallow but wide roots (to obtain moisture quickly from the few rain showers that happen during the rainier season) or deep roots that can tap into groundwater supplies. They have a thick waxy cuticle to prevent water loss through transpiration and there tends to be spaces between grass bundles to minimize competition for water.
We also managed to see a desert pavement: this occurs when the ground is covered in rocks and forms a “pavement” like cover, while underneath there is sand. Theories of the formation of this feature include the action of wind erosion, where Aeolian erosion blows away the sand while leaving the heavier stones behind.
It was shocking to see how degraded the soil was in certain areas. Though the grazing season is only for two months, it is still possible to overgraze the grass by having too many livestock than the land can sustain. Goats (usually Cashmere goats) tend to eat the whole plant, including its roots, and thus are particularly responsible for this loss of vegetation. With less grass available the soil is eroded, which then in turn causes less vegetation to grow, and thus a vicious cycle of degradation occurs. Livestock management is definitely a much needed solution to this problem.
After finally reaching our camp after nightfall, we were all glad to see that our lodgings for today will be a traditional yurt. Inside, it’s comfortably warm and all of us will definitely have a good night’s sleep, ready for tomorrow’s trekking (except if Moose snores too loud and he keeps us up the whole night!).
The vast steppe the Young Explorers are crossing on their way to the Gobi Desert is the livelihood of the nomads and their animals. 34% of the population rely directly on the nomadic / semi-nomadic pastoral systems as their major livelihood. They are scattered all over Mongolia with their 56 million head of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and camels, numbers are increasing.
90% of Mongolian territory is vulnerable to desertification, and especially these areas are used as rangelands. Grazers reduce biomass, cause soil compaction, and increase the surface area of bare soil. This leads to an increase in daytime soil temperatures and makes the soil more vulnerable to wind erosion.
Did you know that Mongolia is the only country in the world with an increase of nomadism? An increase in total livestock numbers is of concern because the country has lost the original traditional livestock herding system due to modernisation of the socio-economic system, including grazing control practices, and at the same time has not yet established mechanisms to ensure the sustainable use of rangelands through livestock control and monitoring.