Tools for Undergraduate Research in Environmental Science and Field Biology:
(Note: As of Fall, 2013, only Units II and III are active. Other Units will be added over the coming months.)

I. Scientific Inquiry: How to identify a research topic, question and hypothesis

II. Fundamentals of Field Sampling: How to design a field study

III. Graphing and Statistics: How to interpret your data using MS Excel

IV. Communicating Your Results: Tips for writing effective papers and making clear presentations

  maps of region where we're living

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November 4, from Munsiyari: Glacier Trek

April, Jordan and I (along with our guide Raju and our friend Raj) recently went for a nine day trek high up into the Himalayas along an old trade route near the border with Tibet. There were many, many highlights (some featured in the pictures below), but my main focus for this post is the way the environment has been shaped by human actions, even in these remote high altitude regions.

Early on in the trek we noticed that some of the hills were devoid of trees long before we reached treeline. It turns out that villagers burn many of the hillsides each spring to keep them open for pastures for cows, goats, and sheep. According to Raj (a local botanist and environmentalist), the burning is unecessary for maintaining pastures and suppresses the growth of important native plants, some with medicinal value. He's hoping that folks can be convinced to stop the practice of burning.

The "hotel" where we spent our first night. In the background you can see a steep grassy pasture that's maintained by burning:

Further up the trek were ruins of numerous villages that were abandoned after the Tibet border closing in 1962. Nonetheless, shepherds still bring their flocks through the high meadows for much of the year, and some villages are partially occupied for the warmer months.

On the bottom left of the picture, one of the many abandoned villages we saw along our trek ... to the right below the steep hill,
you can see old pastures:

I found myself repeatedly wondering about the impact of all of those villages and grazing animals on the alpine meadows. Given the centuries and centuries of trade that occurred prior to the border closing, these ecosystems must have been shaped in part by human presence with many of the native plants and animals evolving in response to grazing and other land-use pressures. Now that human presence has diminished, how are the ecosystems changing?

A goat-herder bringing his flock down from the high meadows
before winter sets in:

Though the analogy of New England comes to mind (in many areas local ecosystems have made a remarkable recovery since the abandonment of agriculture in the mid-1800s), here the intense human presence and land-use lasted much longer than a couple of centuries. It begs the question, what is the "natural" state of these ecosystems? How is species composition changing now that human presence is so much less pronounced than it once was?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the landscape is strikingly beautiful, as you'll see below.

"Himalayan Jackhammer" - a metal wedge is held to a boulder so that it can be split with a sledge hammer. Each year, tons of debris added by landslides during the monsoons are cleared from trails:

Looking back down the Gori River Valley after the beginning of our trek ... you can see more of the steep pastures that are burned each spring:

Some of the many porters that we saw who carry supplies to the ITBP (police that monitor the border with Tibet). These porters are carrying kerosene, but others we saw were carrying 50 kgs or more (over 100 lbs) of supplies such as rice and beans along these incredibly steep trails - BTW, the typical footwear for the porters is flip-flops!:

A couple of views up the valley that our route followed:

Some views of our trail:

The outside and inside of the "restaurant" where we stopped for lunch on the second day:

A couple of the many landslides we had to cross along the way:

One of the mule-trains we passed:

Another lunch spot:

Where we spent our second night:

Last year the village of Nahar Devi - complete with a hotel and temple - stood where the field of gravel is in the center of the photo - the floods in June entirely wiped out the village:

Another view up the river:

An abandoned village along the old trade route:

A couple of views of the trail hugging the cliffs along the river:

A sign marking the "Restorent" near where we spent our third night:

An old destroyed bridge with a new bridge recently built below it:

Crossing the "new" bridge:

The two peaks of Nanda Devi, the highest mountain in India (7,816 m or 25,643 ft). This picture doesn't do justice to the scale of the landscape - the river winding down and the valley that we
are looking across are HUGE!:

April and I in front of Nanda Devi:

Where we spent the fourth and fifth nights of our trek:

A herd of goats wandering through our campsite:

Check out the cool horns on this Himalayan beast!:

An alpine meadow along the trail - the dark green shrubs are juniper - I suspect there would be fewer if it weren't for the history of grazing:

Views of the village of Milam, an old center for trading before the border with Tibet was closed:

On the way to the Milam Glacier, the source of the Gori River:

View of the glacier in the distance:

Closer to the glacier:

Our guide, Raju, at the source of the river where the glacier is melting:

The source - you can see water and pebbles dripping from the glacier into the river:

Raj holding a giant fungus that has some type of medicinal value:

The small barn where we sheltered on our sixth night to avoid the rain and sleet:

Views of the incredibly steep trail/stairs that we descended near the end of our trek:

Leaves (and red berries in the background) of the timur plant that Raj showed us. Sucking on the berries results in a very spicy/citrus flavor and extreme tingling of lips and tongue - WOW!:

View showing what this landscape looks like - note the person in the center of the picture that gives some sense of scale:

This site created and maintained by
Dr. Rhine Singleton
Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science
Franklin Pierce University, Rindge, NH 03461
You can contact me at: singler at franklinpierce dot edu