Mountain peaks and plains of central Mongolia  -

Mountain peaks and plains of central Mongolia 

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the Gobi Altai Mountains and neighboring plains covered in snow and illuminated by sunlight. The photograph was captured on January 25, 2024 as the International Space Station (ISS) passed over central Mongolia.

Mountain peaks and plains

“Late-afternoon sunlight casts long shadows of mountain peaks onto the plains below. Numerous steep gullies cut into the massif, or mass of mountains, whose rugged appearance contrasts with the flat plains stretching along the top of the image,” said NASA. “The plains are a semidesert grassland, or steppe, which provides pasture for livestock herders in the region.”

“The grassland surrounding the massif is classified by scientists as a cold semidesert. At an elevation of about 1,250 meters (4,100 feet), annual temperatures are much lower there than in the mountains. The highest peak in the massif, Ikh Bogd (also known as Tergun Bogd), reaches nearly 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).” 

“The climate on the peaks is classified as a polar tundra because the average annual temperature is below freezing. Asia’s main tundra zone is located in Siberia, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean, 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles) to the north.”

Harsh winters and livestock in Mongolia

Harsh winters in Mongolia, locally known as “dzud,” pose significant challenges for livestock and the herders who depend on them for their livelihood. These winters can be particularly severe, characterized by extreme cold, heavy snowfall, and ice, which can block access to grazing grounds, leaving animals without enough food. 

The cold temperatures and nutritional shortages result in high mortality rates among livestock, which are crucial to the Mongolian economy and the nomadic lifestyle of many of its people.

The impact of these harsh winters extends beyond immediate animal welfare. As livestock numbers dwindle, herders face financial hardships, and the ripple effects can be felt throughout the entire community. 

To combat these challenges, various strategies have been employed, including the development of better forecasting and early warning systems, the stockpiling of fodder, and improved veterinary care. These measures aim to strengthen the resilience of herding communities and ensure the survival of their livestock during Mongolia’s most challenging seasons.

Diverse wildlife of Mongolia

Mongolia is renowned for its diverse wildlife, adapted to its unique landscapes ranging from vast steppes to rugged mountains and arid deserts. Among the most iconic species is the Bactrian camel, native to the region and crucial to nomadic herders. 

The resilient Mongolian horse, integral to local culture, is celebrated for its endurance across the vast, open landscapes. Predators such as the snow leopard roam the high altitudes, playing a key role in the ecosystem, while the elusive Gobi bear survives in the sparse vegetation of the Gobi Desert.

The steppes are home to the fast-moving Mongolian gazelle and the critically endangered saiga antelope, known for its distinctive nose. The mountains support populations of argali sheep, the world’s largest wild sheep, and the ibex, adept at navigating rocky terrains. The Siberian roe deer thrives across various habitats, showcasing the adaptability of Mongolia’s wildlife.

Valley of Lakes

“Part of a small dry lake appears in the top left of the image. In wetter years, water from this lake feeds Orog Lake (also photographed by astronauts), out of frame to the upper right. This and other nearby lakes are part of the Valley of Lakes waterfowl conservation habitat, protected as a Ramsar site,” noted NASA.

The Valley of Lakes is known for its expansive wetlands and diverse ecosystems that support a variety of bird species, especially migratory waterfowl. This area serves as a crucial stopover for birds during their migration periods, providing them with essential resources such as food and shelter. 

The conservation efforts in the Valley of Lakes focus on maintaining and restoring these wetlands to ensure they continue to offer a safe haven for waterfowl. These efforts include controlling invasive plant species that threaten the natural vegetation and managing water levels to create optimal conditions for bird populations. 

Education and community involvement are also key components of the conservation strategy, aiming to raise awareness about the importance of these habitats and encourage sustainable practices that help protect the local wildlife.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 


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