Fieldwork in Russia

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I’m just back from 11 days in Russia where I have been busy sampling lakes and peatlands with Russian colleagues. For a peatnik the key appeal of Russia is the vast area of peatland; the largest in the world (some people say Canada has more peat but I don’t believe that!). For those of us used to crappy British peatlands many Russian peatlands are also wonderfully undisturbed. We had a fantastic trip out to western Siberia last summer working on what is certainly the most beautiful peatland I have ever visited. Here in the UK we have some really excellent peatland science but hardly anyone works in Russia. Russia has the reputation as a difficult place to work; logistically, bureaucratically and practically. The recent onset of ‘Cold War 2’ hostilities certainly hasn’t helped either. However we can’t ignore these huge areas of bog so over the last few years I have been starting up some projects with Russian colleagues looking at both modern peatlands and their palaeoenvironmental history.

In this trip I was working with colleagues from Penza State University (where I have a visiting position) and the Institute of Limnology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. We spent a week based on an Ostrich Farm (really!) in Leningrad Oblast; that bit of Russia crammed between St Petersburg and the Finnish border. The main focus of this trip was sampling modern lakes and we clocked up thousands of kilometres of driving to sample more than twenty lakes. Russia is such a vast country that the landscapes vary hugely. This part of Russia is quite different to where I have been previously with extensive Scots Pine forest on thin, sandy soil (outwash plain?) with lots of (kettle hole?) lakes scattered around. The great thing about working with Russian colleagues is that they seem to have lots of people in their labs so the samples we took will be analysed for a whole variety of organisms and physico-chemical properties which should give a really great dataset. We also took a couple of cores. One of these goes back to the Late Glacial with lovely laminated lake sediments. The other is more recent and we are focussing on the transition from lake to bog, aiming for a really high-resolution multiproxy reconstruction. Hopefully there will be some exciting results; watch this space!

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