Day 2: The excursion begins

Day 2: The excursion begins

On the second day, our excursion really began. The program included geomorphological studies, soil science and the study of various theories about the area. From now on my entries will be formulated more geographical but in layman understandable language. I want to share our study and research content with you because they convey the fascination for the power of nature and the temporal dimension of how short our existence of human beings on this planet really is.

The day started for me with the kitchen service, which was only to make fire and stir the pot, because the driver had already prepared some things. Usually, the meals consisted of the main course, which was cooked in a pot, and some cold side dishes. The rice pudding, that was cooked that day was somehow a mixture of salty and sweet, what we would get used to during the trip, as the breakfast meals were often salted in a habituation-needly way. Anyway. Displacing the cold of the night through the meal, the group made their way to the first study site. This was on a plateau above the Katun. We were in the semi-arid steppes, which means that theoretically more water evaporates than rain falls at this location throughout the year. Accordingly, the vegetation of the plateau and the mountains around was dry and sparse. Only grasses and wormwood plants could grow in these ideal steppes. To pedological investigation, we dug a soil profile and studied various color and chemical properties. Field work has always fascinated me, because you learn something directly in nature, from nature. So we dug up a hole to 40cm of depth, because then we hit on rocks, from which we assumed, that this was the bedrock of the soil. We performed a finger test by which you can easily determine in the terrain, which grain sizes are present in a soil. In addition, we performed , using a color scale, comparisons of the different layers of soil, called horizons in soil science. Last we used hydrochloric acid, which would result in blistering, if there was some lime in the soil. The emergence of bubbles is always a sign, that the hydrochloric acid reacts with lime, so consequently a certain lime content is present in the soil. The bubbling was released by the sample only with an increasing depth of the soil profile. All these studies led us to the conclusion that the study site showed a kastanozem, which is typical for this region. It is characterized by an A-horizon with high organic content, no B-horizon and a C-horizon of Loess-Material. Loess is a fine, nutrient-rich material that has been brought in the soil once by the wind. In the C-horizon you can also find the calcareous material, that eroded over the time as a result of the acid-examination. All in all, the kastanozem, that bears his name through his auburn color, is a potentially fertile ground, but however, by the lack of rainfall in this region, it is mostly almost used for grazing. The result is this idyll, which we know from the vast, high-altitude steppes of this planet.

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A happy cow in an amazing landscape.

The second focus of this study of the morning consisted of the investigation of the valley shape. First, we were taught that the plateau on which we stood, was a river terrace. These are geological timescales for hot and cold phases, as during the transition between a cold and a warm phase, the melting runoff from the mountains greatly increased and the flow thereby dug deeper into the sediment. Depending on where on the banks of the Katun were searched, up to 23 terraces were found, ie 23 cold periods could be traveled back in time.

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River-Terraces at the side of the Katun.

So far the theory in the morning. Before lunch, we still had a little bit of time left, so we continued to walk a few meters to the mouth of the Jeloman-river into the Katun. There we had the opportunity to take a bath in the cold glacial river.

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The shore, where we could take a bath before lunchtime.

Pleasant, as the sun burns down neatly at lunchtime. Moreover, this was a good opportunity to wash ourselves a little bit, because apart from the rivers there was no chance to do that on our tour. Clean and refreshed, we then went back to the camp for lunch. There was a stew of mutton, potatoes, carrots and onions. That here they just throw the bones into the soup, with fat and all sorts of appendages, was a bit uncomfortable for some of us, but I found the food delicious anyway. In the afternoon we drove off with the cars, a couple of kilometers downriver of the Katun. One of the gravel terraces was cut there to construct the road, which allowed us to examine the inside of these. We noticed, that the gravel was sorted in layers of nearly the same gravel size. Scientists puzzle to this day, how all the gravel could get there, so far they suspected it for a long time that a megaflood of a dam failure of an ice reservoir during a recent cold phase of the earth could be the reason for the enormous masses of gravels. We couldn’t really support this theory, as we were standing there, since the sorting there wouldn’t have been such a clean sorting of the material in such a big event, but rather a chaotic deposit would have been expected. We realized, that the book about the making of the Altai still contained many unwritten pages and even the written ones could not be really approved so far. For us, this was, of course, an excellent way to develop a few theories ourselves, what often caused some lively discussions during the rest oft the excursion. Not getting smarter out of the gravel layers, we headed back upriver to the small mountain village Inja. We there had the opportunity to purchase new snacks at the grocery store, which could supplement our diet of three meals a day. Besides from that, also the driver team had to buy some supplements time by time. After this, another stop followed at a location that could possibly confirm a mega flood. Below the village in a wide valley, there were lots of large boulders on the surface. How those could get there we wanted to find out. In addition to the stones in the valley, some rolling hill forms were visible, which were referred to as so-called mega-ripples. Their formation is explained by the theory of the megaflood that could have left those waveforms in its disposal, similar to the waveforms that can be found in small on beaches when the sea goes back on low tide. So far so good, yet was still questionable, where the stones came from. For directly from a glacier transported stones, they were too sharp. It was also covered with a high probability that the glacier advances could not have reached up to this, still low-lying , area of the Altai during the ice ages.

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Stone fields on the steppe below the village Inja.

A rock fall from one of the surrounding mountains was the next theory. However, some were huge blocks, but still could be found in the middle of the valley, which could hardly be, that those were rolling this far from the foot of the surrounding mountains. A combination of a rockfall and a megaflood would have been a possible reason, that this was actually the case is still difficult to prove. A number of other considerations and thoughts in mind, we went back to camp, ate dinner and let the day end comfortably. To eat there was stew, what else. We had to get used to it.

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