ABOVE: Domestic reindeer saddled for riding outside a Tsaatan summer camp in Khuvsgul province, northern Mongolia

For the first time in memory, “eternal ice” on the steppes of Mongolia is melting, affecting the lifestyle of the local Tsaatan people, according to a paper published November 20 in PLOS ONE. Researchers led by William Taylor, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, interviewed eight families in Mengebulag, northern Mongolia, who said that many ice patches in the region had melted between 2016 and 2018 for the first time that they could collectively remember.

The ice, which typically accumulates in winter and does not melt completely, is a source of fresh water for the Tsaatan people. It is also important for the reindeer that they herd, which lie down on it to cool off in the summer.

The researchers also conducted an archaeological survey at melted...

“The area’s ancient ice appears to be rapidly melting due to changing climate and warming summer temperatures, putting both cultural heritage and traditional reindeer herding at extreme risk in the years to come,” the authors write in the paper.

Reindeer on a snow patch in Mengebulag (left) and heat-stressed reindeer laying on dirt in Zuun Taiga (right)

W. Taylor et al., “Investigating reindeer pastoralism and exploitation of high mountain zones in northern Mongolia through ice patch archaeology,” PLOS ONE, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0224741, 2019.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com

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