EPOW - Ecology Picture of the Week

Each week a different image of our fascinating environment is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional ecologist.

20-26 February 2006

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Window to Past Climates:
Dalai Nur Lake of Nei Mongol

Dalai Nur Lake, Dalai Nur Nature Reserve,
Hexigten Banner (county), Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region), 
People's Republic of China

Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G. Marcot

Explanation:  It is November, and we are in the frozen interior of Nei Mongol or Inner Mongolia of China.  Before us stretches ancient shorelines of the interior playa salt basin of Dalai Nur Lake.  

Historic and prehistoric fluctuations in the size of this lake are astounding.  You can clearly see the ancient lakeshore lines extending tens of kilometers from the current shoreline.  

These are clear demarcations of many extreme variations in the local climate ... a window to past periods when the region was far more wet and likely far more lush with woodland vegetation.  The area is now arid ... and in fact hosts the thinnest river in the world, the Haolai River that empties into Dalai Nur Lake.

The ancient shorelines extend up the side of extinct volcanic hills or "plugs" that occasionally dot this bleak landscape.  During ancient times, these volcanic hills occurred as islands within the Dalai Nur "inland sea" during one of its expansion periods.  At least one such island contains important petroglyphs of wildlife long gone, although the lake and surrounding wetlands of Dalai Nur Nature Reserve still host some 160 bird species during the warm summer thaw period.

Various views of Dalai Nur Lake shorelines 

The name "Dalai Nur" means "scapula lake" because dalai is Mongolian for scapula -- the lake is shaped like a scapula bone -- and nur is Mongolian for lake.  

Gallery of space shuttle images of Dalai Nur Lake.
You can clearly see the "scapula" shape of the lake in these photos.

Gallery of false-color satellite images of the Dalai Nur Lake area.
In these images, blue and black is open water (Dalai Nur Lake being in the center of each image); shades of green are trees, bushes, crops, and wetland vegetation; and shades of pink and red are mostly bare soil and desertified land


Next week's picture:  The Unicorn of India

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