Jargalantyn Mukhar: the driest cold (3/3)

Interpretation of the logger’s graph (using LogTag Analyzer 3 software)

The temperature curve of the 6 nights/ 5 days research period. The device was registering a value every 5 minutes (zoom in for better view)

First night (14th January)

I installed the measuring equipment on the bottom of the closed basin in the second part of the night during clear and calm conditions. The logger set for 5 minutes intervals was started at 2:26 AM and the first reading showed -32.5 degrees Celsius. The second value is -33.2 C, which remains constant for the next 20 minutes, so its possible that the debut temperature actually was the same. I left the tripod around 2:40 AM and returned there in the early morning. During my walk from the tent situated aproximatively 2.5 km to the south I measured in the col between -26, -27 degrees with the handheld device, noticing also some wind there. The night remained entirely clear and on the bottom were the same calm conditions as at the time of the installation.

The temperature curve of the first (half) night and the following day

However, the temperature wasn’t lower in the dawn than before, the device showing -32.5 degrees at the first check. The recorded minimum was -34.1 degrees Celsius, which happened at 5:31 and 5:36 AM. A pretty constant night curve. But there are two more interesting aspects, one is the weak thermal inversion related to the context, which is around 6, maybe 7 degrees compared with the col, the other the complete lack of hoarfrost, which denote an extremely low humidity. I left the basin after sunrise. The entire day remained cloudless with only weak wind even on the ridges. The maximum, which I saw after returning in the next morning reached -16.3 degrees Celsius at 2:56 PM. That means a pretty big amplitude (17.8 degrees), which was expectable for a high altitude basin.

Second night (14-15th January)

The dark hours were completely starry again, but the wind intensified in the latter part of the night. Before the instability I measured down to -27 degrees inside my tent, expecting to see an even colder recorded minimum in the endorheic basin. It wasn’t the case, the lowest achieved temperature being only -33.6 degrees Celsius (at 5:21 and 5:26 AM), half degree warmer than before. As these two nights represents characteristic anticyclonic conditions I think that a generalization regarding the relatively weak thermal inversion of this place in snow-free context is very plausible.

The temperature curve of the second night and the following day

While there before sunrise I observed the first cirrus clouds coming from the west. I left the basin soon and around noon also my camp. The day was generally fine but ocasionally windier, the sky partially covered by cirrus and cirrostratus clouds, with some thickening in the late afternoon period. I was spending my time around 10 km to the south of the research area staying in yurt with locals. The maximum of this day reached -13.1 C at 2:06 PM, which combined with the minimum of the dawn gives an amplitude of 20.5 degrees.

Third night (15-16th January)

From now on I will not visit the studied spot until the final day when I will collect the equipment, but will remain in its neighborhood (no more than 15 km away) most of the time. In the morning I measured -20.7 degrees with the handheld device at the yurt. The sky was mostly cloudy, overcast or variable with intensifying wind in the early afternoon when there were some very weak snow showers here and there, covering some parts with a new veil with a thickness of a few millimeters. In the latter part of the day the sky cleared up.

The temperature curve of the third night and the following day

The diagram confirms the unstable weathern pattern, the curve being less regular and showing a smaller amplitude. The minimum reached -25.6 degrees Celsius at 9:25 AM, while the maximum -18.2 at 1:36 PM, the latter actually being colder than the late evening hours of the previous day. The 7.4 degree amplitude is the weakest one in the entire research period.

Fourth night (16-17th January)

While fair in the first part, the sky became overcast during the night. The curve reflects this as the minimum of -31.5 degrees Celsius was reached already in the late evening at 11:16 PM. In the morning I measured -20.8 degrees at the yurt, while observing a cloudy sky. The mostly overcast conditions persisted throughout the day in the whole area, including Ulaantolgoy where we made a trip with the car. Generally it was moderately windy.

The temperature curve of the fourth night and the following day

The maximum reached -10.9 degrees Celsius at 1:56 PM, which is the highest temperature of the entire research. The daily amplitude of 20.6 degrees is also the biggest one, slightly exceeding the one from 15th. However, this can’t be considered a real endogen thermal span like the ones forming during stable weather conditions.

Fifth night (17-18th January)

This night was the windiest, more precisely the second part when I observed the yurt’s rooftop shaking a little at a certain time. In the morning the sky was clear, but because of the instability the temperature was even less cold than in the previous two cloudy days: -19.4 degrees. The minimum was reached again in the first part of the dark hours: -27.5 degrees Celsius at 11:21 PM when the conditions were more stable, while afterwards the temperature rised 10 full degrees during the second part of the night when the wind became dominant.

The temperature curve of the fifth night and the following day

The maximum happened at 2:16 PM when the temperature climbed to -12.2 degrees, the second highest peak of the research. Today the sky was strikingly bright, even more transparent than on 14th, with only a few isolated clouds lingering above the higher peaks on the distance. It remained moderately windy throughout the day. The 15.3 degree amplitude can be considered average.

Sixth (last) night (18-19th January)

This was the coldest night by far at the yurt. The sky remained starry and there was nothing more than light wind. In the morning I measured -26.8 degrees. This time I observed also hoarfrost on the surface, thus the humidity was higher than before. I expected again to found a lower temperature in the closed basin (at least -33 to be precise), but surprisingly the minimum didn’t went below -31 degrees Celsius there, reinforcing my previous conclusion regarding the weak thermal inversion of this high elevation + snow-free combination.

The temperature curve of the sixth (last) night

The low temp was reached at 7:21 and 7:26 AM in the morning after a relatively regular night curve with some mild to moderate disturbance between 1 AM and 4 AM. Leaving the yurt, as we started our way back to Khovd, I went to collect the measuring equipment. The logger was stopped at 10:18 AM, the last reading showing -25.4 degrees Celsius. During this period it was calm and the sky was partially covered with cirrus and cirrostratus clouds.

The mean temperature of the 6 nights/ 5 days research period is -22.5 degrees Celsius, with the average minimum -30.6, respectively the maximum -14.1 degrees. The average daily amplitude is 16.3 degrees.

General conclusions

  • The elevated basins situated on the lee side of the Mongolian Altai’s main ridge are characterized by very dry winters, receiving scant amounts of snowfall, often remaining without snow cover for the biggest part of the cold season. The stronger solar radiation and more active wind also helps to maintain the already desiccated state, sublimating the thin layer of white powder. This combined with the seasonally dominant anticyclonic conditions make these places some of the best contestants to produce the lowest temperatures in snow-free context.
  • The thermal inversion formed at the bottom of these bare basins are not really strong, the surrounding ridges and slopes cooling down to almost the same degree during the night. The main cause in this respect probably is the absence of the snow cover and not the elevation itself, also maybe because the plateau as a whole could be partially inside the inversion layer.
  • Compared with similar topographical contexts situated at lower elevations the daily maximums are higher (the inversion here brakes completely), while the minimums can be close to each other.
  • The air is very dry on the high plateau, sometimes also in the night, restraining the formation of the hoarfrost even at extremely low temperatures.
  • The wind in the wintertime is generally not strong.
Satellite image taken on 14th January 2023 showing the marked snow-cover discrepancy between the outer and inner sides of the Mongolian Altai with Jargalantyn Mukhar basin inside the red ellipse

Comparing my logger’s results with the minimums registered at the official local stations situated also in generally snowfree areas

During my staying I visited the weather stations of Möst, Mönkhkhairkhan and Khovd where I asked about the parameters observed in these colder winter days. On 14th Khovd (Khovd aimag/ 1406 m) and Ömnögobi (Uvs aimag/ 1590 m) both recorded -28.7 C, the latter -31.2 C the day before, while Nogoonnuur (Bayan Ölgiy aimag/ 1480 m) -26.2 C, respectively -30.8 C on 13th. Möst (Khovd aimag/ 2020 m) reached -30.1 C on 14th and was slightly warmer both on 13th and 15th, while Mönkhkhairkhan (Khovd aimag/ 2090 m) was colder on 13th with -30.3, while having only -28 on 14th.

The coldest station which reported no snow cover at that time was Tsetsegnuur (Khovd aimag/ 1715 m) situated in a closed intermountain basin near the lake with the same name: -34.4 degrees Celsius on 14th January. This is even slightly colder than the value registered by my station. However, I checked the satellite image of the Tsetseg basin for that day (lower-right corner of the above image) and saw that actually there is a thin layer of snow in most parts. This doesn’t mean they gave incorrect data as the stations are obliged to report the snow depth they see at the rulers placed on the weather platform. The snow often can disappear sooner there, while in the surroundings still remains some.

At the weather center in Ulaanbaatar I asked if they have some statistics regarding the lowest temperature measured in snow-free conditions. They didn’t have, but together we searched for Tsetseg specifically and found a minimum of -36 degrees on 23th January 2012. At home I checked the satellite image also for this day and the result was similar: the basin wasn’t completely bare (see the picture below).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Tsetseg_Eosdis-1024x675.jpg
Satellite image showing the snow cover situation in the Tsetseg basin on 23th January 2012 with the location of the weather station (red dot)

As a conclusion I would say that between the official weather stations of Mongolia indeed Tsetsegnuur has the biggest chances to reach the lowest temperatures. This because of the combination between the good topography (high+closed), respectively the rain shadow effect caused by the Mongol Altai’s main ridge which blocks the humid airmasses on the other side. The same as in the case of Jargalantyn Mukhar.

Final question: How cold can get in snow-free context and exactly where in the world are the best chances for this to happen? My opinion is that some areas of Mongolia and the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau could reach even slightly lower than -40 degrees in the best circumstances. As I am determined to research this little studied domain farther, the future certainly still has many other thrillful things to offer.

Jargalantyn Mukhar: the driest cold (2/3)

Journey photo album

My plane landed on 12th January in the morning at New Ulaanbaatar International Airport (Sergelen area). After solving the main issues regarding the forthcoming trip in Khovd aimag (local SIM card, arrangement with 4 wd driver) with my old friend/ guide Gansukh, I rested a little in my hotel room (lucky number 1111!) then went for a short evening walk to the city center. I take this as a humble acclimatization-intro as the weather forecast rushes me to reach the research area as soon as possible.
First measurement near my hotel. The city is significantly warmer than the airport area, especially the old one, which reaches 6-7 degrees lower temps during characteristic “good weather” pattern. Now the difference is small as there was some wind: -28.4 at Buyant Ukhaa (falsely named “Songiin” station in the Ogimet database). Bayan Uul (false “Gandan Huryee”) of Dzavkhan aimag was the coldest in the country: -47.2 C, followed by Tsetsen Uul with -45 C. The anticyclone is here, I definitely want to reach the research area during the following night.
View from my hotel room. The famous UB smog is not so bad today, the wind had somewhat dispersing it. We soon go back to the airport as my plane to Khovd will depart in the early afternoon. The driver knows my plan, he contacted a local family who lives in a yurt not far from my target and told them that I will stay around a week in the area.
Flying above Otgon Tenger (4030 m), the highest peak of the Khangai and one of the most iconic mountains of Mongolia. The weather is great, the awaited cold snap descended and covered the entire country.
In Khovd the driver was waiting me and we went for shopping a few things (mostly food for the one week home-stay), respectively eating and repack my luggage before starting the trip towards Möst sum after sunset. Most part of the road is good chinese asphalt. Nonetheless, we just started when the car already showed signs of internal troubles. After passing Mankhan it broke down completely. It seemed that I will lose this first important research night, but miraculously some good people of the village helped to repair the car in the evening. No problems from now on. We met our host where the asphalt ended and following him on the dirt track we made the last 20 km or so to the spot from where I will start the lonely walk to the research area. No snow, nor moon yet, still better without the headlamp as the contours of the track are visible in the dim light. It’s around 11 PM, pretty cold with some light wind, probably around -25 C or lower.
The enthusiasm softens the combined tiredness (little sleep, cold car, acclimatization deficit) and after around 5 km I decided to rise the tent. The col is a little farther, but there should be more wind. My head is somewhat confused, still can properly handle the challenges. After a quick “dinner” on my knees I am heading towards the main target. The moon appeared just when started the descent into the endorheic basin. The light color of the bottom (salt marsh) is in front of me, the direction is evident without any gadget. Around 2 AM I’m there and soon the tripod is rised on the northern fringes of the solonchak, where the gravely surface meets the saltier one. The attached logger was started at 2:26 AM. Before leaving I saw -33.2 degrees Celsius. I’m content.
I rested a little at the camp, then returned to the basin (2.5-3 km) in the early morning. Usually I don’t put the tent so far from the measuring equipment, but now the context was different (night, wind, tiredness). As I don’t need to cover big distances otherwise, it’s okay this way. The night was entirely clear and there was only weak wind. In the col I measured -26, -27 degrees with some wind. Meanwhile complete calm dominates the basin floor.
Marco Polo sheep (argali) horn not far from the tripod
The installation before sunrise. The sensor of the logger was placed inside the Barani radiation shield at around 170 cm ground elevation.
Success, the logging is okay. The temperature wasn’t lower than in the deployment period, actually exactly the same
More happy than tired
The night’s minimum reached -34.1 degrees Celsius, a decent value in this context without any doubt. I never saw a lower temp without snow cover anywhere. Below -35 is certainly possible, -40 …maybe? I must confess, this is the Holy Grail for me 😉
Real serenity, strong feeling of fulfillment
I took a small reddish pebble with me as a souvenir, it’s very representative here
The sun will reach soon the salt marsh on the bottom
View of Jargalantyn Mukhar from a smaller peak just east of the col. The mountain in the background is over 3600 meters high, still mostly snow-free. This place reminds me of the Atacama Plateau in Bolivia, around 4500 meters elevation.
Descending the other side towards my tent
After a little rest I went back to the col to make some photos in the more pleasant early afternoon period
There is an “invisible motorcycle” in this picture, approaching the col. He probably will be amazed to see my tent beside the dirt road.
From the top I can see the ice covered Mönkhkhairkhan range. This high mountain is the cause of the rain shadow effect here, so I am thankful of its existence.
Let’s check the elevation
The Zobject at sunbathing
View towards SSE, from where we came yesterday
The first sign of life, a big herd of mixed sheeps/ goats with the shepherd also present
Three yurts not far from here. I knew it could be as I saw the dark spots on Google Earth, but wasn’t sure about the winter situation.
The bearded vulture is pretty common in the area. This big bird’s diet consists mostly of bones (scavenger), he even drops down the bigger pieces from above to broke them.
Heading back to my camp. A very long second night is waiting for me soon.
The next morning, checking the instrument. This night was also entirily starry, but towards the end became windier. Thus the morning temperature was a little moderated too, the night minimum being -33.6 C, quit close to the previous one. I measured -27 degrees inside my tent, so it seems that the inversion is not that strong here, probably because of the lack of snow. What’s really weird is the complete absence of hoarfrost at these frigid temperatures, the humidity must be extremely low here.
Before sunrise the first cirrus clouds appeared
Cracked clay surface (takîr) surrounds the dried salt marsh (solonchak)
After securing the tripod with some improvised weight (hanging rocks in a bag) to can handle windier conditions too, I left the research area
The road on the western side of the basin
Lichens on the desolate surface, another peculiarity of this weird place
Modern art-like “double-head” structure not far from the col
Around noon I’ve packed my things and soon was heading towards the meeting point with the driver (same spot)
Another herd was just beside the road. No dog?
With some delay he appeared and started running in my direction. After he was convinced that I’m pretty far to constitute a danger for the herd calmed down and just watched me from the distance
Looking back towards the col
Incredible synchronization: even if there were more than 20 minutes to the exact meeting moment, the driver came there in the same minute as myself
First we went to take water from a nearby source (breaking the ice). Our host filled 5 big 20 l canisters in a pretty short time.
Approaching my new home. The driver already slept two nights here, there will be four more before we leave. The yurts are situated between 2600-2700 m elevation, a few km’s from Davst Nuur lake. The all area is named Davst (salt).
The locals knew that there is some signal near the lake, so we went there to use the Internet. Pleasant atmosphere inside as the greenhouse effect was warming the car before sunset.
First night in the yurt was nice, the dogs were surprisingly calm, no barking at all. The morning was overcast, thus the temperature moderately cold.
Day start in the Altai mountains
There are three yurts, the middle one is our home
The right one is only for younger sheeps/ goats during colder weather
Today I went to a hike in the surroundings, starting with Davst Nuur
The ambience is pleasant as there is no wind at the moment
The lake is shallow and extremely salty, therefore doesn’t freeze even in the frigid winter
Yeah, that was expectable. Who wants a bath? 😉
You again. Forgot it, I need my bones.
The clouds are thickening from the south-west
On the way to Nogoon Nuur (green lake) the wind became active, thus the real feel was much colder than before
So that’s why “green” is its name. Some plants are sticking out under the (probably) very shallow frozen waters. The locals said it’s a fresh water lake.
Some very weak snow showers here and there. The severe cold make the cumulus clouds look more like a “low flying” cirrus spissatus.
These guys are very resilient, I saw them thrive in the harshest climates, on almost any kind of terrain and elevation
On the way back, while mainly following the contour lines I decided to climb the highest peak of the surroundings
The last, steeper part. The wind is not active on this side.
On the top there is a little new snow, the same can be seen in the distance on the mountain which I climbed on 14th. This one is slightly higher, the GPS shows around 3150 m elevation.
The crescent shaped Nogoon Nuur seen from near the top
The other, slightly lower peak is the one above our yurt. That’s my direction, maybe I can see some ibexes.
On the top I spotted a guy watching around, then disappearing soon
Davst Nuur, the unfreezable lake
Wind sculpted strange formation of the rocky peak
Another, even more interesting
Baatar Khairkhan (3984 m) in the eastern background
Again a cloudier morning with similar temperature
He/she came for breakfast too
The locals say that the wolves are coming from the other side of this mountain
Heading to Möst sum’s center (also known as Ulaantolgoy) to buy fuel
This is not the same dirt road we came on 13th, the previous pass was higher and with more snow
The 4200 m high Sutai Uul, the tallest mountain in Gobi-Altai province
Soon we reach the smooth chinese asphalt which gently descend into the Tsetseg basin where Ulaantolgoy is situated. The bottom of this deep endorheic basin contains Tsetseg Nuur (lake) and the nearby settlement with the same name, which is the coldest populated place in Khovd aimag.
At Möst weather station. I found out that the lowest temp on 14th January was -30.1 degrees Celsius here (also without snow) and actually was the coldest day of this winter until now, slightly colder than both 13th and 15th. Tsetseg instead reached -34.4 C, even slightly lower than my logger in Jargalantyn Mukhar, situated more than 1000 meters higher. Actually I kind of knew that the medium-high basins of Mongolia can be the same or even colder then the highest ones, the inversion strenght being stronger with the decrease of elevation. Though, I’m not very sure if Tsetseg station’s surroundings is completely snow-free, which could change the game.
Okay, they have the Vaisala too
But the good old Stevenson screen with the graphs inside can’t miss from a remote place like this, right?
Finally this was our main purpose. One litre of gasoline is around 75-80 cents here, the UAZ consumes around 20 l/ 100 km.
View of the village from a nearby rocky outcrop. Möst in mongolian means ice, maybe because the flooded plain freezes in the often snow-free winter.
Two cinereous vultures were feasting on a horse corpse beside the road and they doesn’t looked too bothered because of our presence
It’s the largest old world vulture (and flying bird for that matter) with its wingspan up to 300 cm, exceeded only by its relative from South America, the andean condor
Horses on the way back to Davst
Before returning to our yurt we went up the mountain pass where the son of out neighbour lives
The host showed me a small frozen pond which in the warmer season is a mineral water source…
…but I was more interested in climbing to the top of the huge red sandstone boulder (from behind). Yeah, there was some adrenaline in the latter part, especially on the descent.
Aha! He was the guy I saw yesterday on the mountain top. Actually he was looking for yangyrs (ibex) and saw around 20 of them on this side.
Driver Ganbold with his old UAZ and “my rock” in the background. From the reactions I concluded that they think I’m a little crazy. Could be true.
Big bustle in goatland
A typical mongolian evening
Next morning just a few meters from the yurt
Even milder now than in the previous two days, but the sky cleared up completely after a pretty windy night. The old black dog went crazy and literally barked almost all night long. Maybe the wolves, who knows?
Yeah, this is a nice refreshment after the noisy dark hours
A neighbor with his companions
Today we will do a trip to the small salt lake, which according to my online searching sits in the very highest endorheic basin of Mongolia (around 2935 m elevation). The place is about 20 km from here in the direction of my research area.
While passing near the salt marsh I checked with the max zoom if everything is OK with the tripod. It was.
Crossing the rusty landscape of Jargalantyn Mukhar
This is it, the frozen shallow lake is named “Tavyn Tolgoy” (five heads) referring to the surrounding peaks. The windchill is pretty strong here.
They say its salty, but looking at the rockhard surface must be far from the concentration of Davst Nuur
The basin is around 20 meters deep which per se should be enough to cool down efficiently during the night, but I think that the location in a high pass makes it susceptible to the wind most of the time
On the border between Möst and Mönkhkhairkhan somoni, looking down towards the latter
The rain shadow-maker high ridge in the south-west
The highest peak is 4230 m, second in Mongolia after Khüiten (4374 m) in Bayan Ölgiy aimag
An eerie place for sure
The ice has a grey hue, probably because of the sediment underneath
On the way back we stopped to measure the lowest col of Jargalantyn Mukhar, situated on the NE corner. It seems that the elevation is a little lower than Google Earth shows, thus the endorheic depth is closer to 70 than to 80 meters.
Some local shepherd boys visiting our car
Indeed, despite the cold, there is some activity going on here
Crossing the arid plateau
View of Jargalantyn Mukhar from the southern col
The sky is extremely clear today, this photo was taken using a pretty big zoom
My host searching for yangyrs
As the man is determined to help me see the ungulates we climb the pass from the other direction, which seems even more difficult than where we first went up. Ganbold certainly knows his job very well.
Altaian atmosphere
From the col we headed towards the rocky peak
He just went to check the other side when I saw his body language turning enthusiastic
That’s right, we found them
A herd of 15-20 exemplars. They were pretty far, but not too far to can observe and film them.
8 days old mongol bankhar (also known as tibetan mastiff) puppies
In the afternoon we went to Davst Nuur to collect the local treasure: salt. They said it’s naturally pure, doesn’t need any posterior treatment.
Back to the mountain yurt
Relaxing after work. The salt plates were left to dry on the rocks.
My bed with the many horse race medals hanging above. How I didn’t dreamed with them?
The last night was the coldest. I’m glad, also because the dog behaved well this time. Maybe he just needs more cold.
I think his alive
Ganbold preparing his car for the long trip back to Khovd. This time there is frost on the ground, I’m curious how cold was in the researched basin.
Before 10 AM we said goodbye to the nomad family and headed to collect the measuring equipment
Last time here, at least this year
Okay, the installation looks right
Now -25 degrees and the minimum didn’t surpassed the old record. The maximum reached -10.9 degrees on 17th.
In 4 out of 6 nights the temperature dropped below -30 degrees, including this last one.
That’s it, the research is over. The results are good, I’m content.
The UAZ is waiting for me
Surprize: before leaving the closed basin we will visit the family who lives the closest to my measuring spot. Our host announced him beforehand about my presence and activity and now we brought them a little present. The final part of the road to this yurt was even more extreme than the second climb to the local boy’s place. Pure insanity.
So they are the guys living in Jargalantyn Mukhar during wintertime. Through my driver’s russian translation I found out some interesting infos from the family head, like that the “biggest snow” here is around 5 cm, there are 8 wolf families in the surroundings and that in the summertime a lot of rain can occur and the formed lake can reach 2 meters depth.
Melting the ice on the stove. It’s the single reliable source of water here, they are collecting the chunks from a few km’s away.
We left the mountain people and started our journey towards Khovd. This time we will travel on another, more difficult dirt road until Mankhan, passing through Mönkhkhairkhan village.
The highest pass (above 2950 m) is the one near Tavyn Tolgoy lake, where I already made a short hike yesterday
Starting the descent. Pretty steep, but without ice seems okay.
The road first went down into a valley then climbed back to another pass above 2800 m elevation
Approaching Mönkhkhairkhan settlement
“We are searching the weather station”. – “I am the meteorologist”, said the archer guy.

The weather station of Mönkhkhairkhan
The office with a red-billed chough flying above. The coldest day here was 13th January, when the minimum reached -30 degrees Celsius, while on 14th only -28 C (also without snow cover).
The road became even more adventurous downstream the village
Golden eagle patrolling
There were 3 or 4 aquilas and while I was observing them, first I didn’t saw the fox which was actually hunted by them. But the photo camera captured the red coated just before he was attacked.
The driver checking the ice
Other winged creatures trying to reach higher on the rocky slope
We are literally driving on pure ice
There are a few wood bridges also
Ganbold stopped to help a family with their broken car. This is very common among mongolians and it’s based on the harsh reality that it happens pretty often here and anybody could be the next victim.
Yes, this is the road
Wild, remote cliffs on the right side of the gorge. Snow leopards probably live there.
The worst part is over. We are out from the mountains and slowly descending towards Mankhan through the barren gravel desert
Jargalant Khairkhan (3800 m) seen from the asphalt road around sunset. From here the remaining km’s will pass much faster.
In the dusk we spotted a pair of saiga antelopes
Khovd the next day after spending the night at a very hospitable family. As there were no free hotel rooms in the entire town because of the forthcoming “Ice Festival” at Khar Us lake, Gansukh saved the day by contacting some local aquintances.
Awaiting for the challengers
The weather station of Khovd, just from the balcony of our hosts. I got important infos also from them, namely the minimums of some local stations of the aimag for each year between 2012 and 2022. Tsetseg stands out by a mile with -47.5 C recorded in January 2016 (of course with snow cover).
They even gave me a huge bottle of sea buckthorn concentrate as they saw I liked so much
Leaving Khovd province
First the plane went to Ulaangom and only then to the capital
Ulaanbaatar the next day. It’s colder now and on 23th the weather could turn especially frigid.
Chinggis Khaan history museum is a huge collection of old artifacts housed inside a well maintained monumental building on 6 levels, each representing a particular period. Downside: no photos allowed.
And no mongolian journey could end without Gandantegchinlen monastery. Thanksgiving time.
Cold and warm at the same time
Giant Buddha inside (26.5 m), claimed to be the tallest indoor statue in the world
The number was indeed lucky
Next day we visit a tuvan man who stays in the wintertime near the capital with his two reindeers as tourist attraction beside the local hiking trail. Tuvans are living in the northermost parts of Mongolia in Khövsgöl aimag, respectively in southern Siberia’s Tuva Republic
I couldn’t resist…
Later we went to the old airport to visit the weather station. We hardly could found anybody in the whole area. But nice decoration, anyhow.
I chose a place in a dried riverbed for the tomorrow morning cold hunt, when we will come back here for measurements
Next morning near my hotel, waiting for Gansukh. That’s pretty good for the city center…
…and that’s VERY good: back to Buyant Ukhaa
I mounted on the tripod another logger, which can measure below -40 degrees (it was for the hypothetical “B Plan”) to record the coldest early morning period
I can feel that it’s brutally cold, my hands are unusable after very short time while doing the photos
The sun reaches the higher topography
It’s probably rare when a selfie can be really helpful. This time it was: uncovered, my face was literally on the way to playback Han Solo’s case from the Starwars
We visited the weather center in the capital where I asked the unusual question if they have a statistics regarding the lowest temperatures measured without snow cover. They didn’t have, but together searched for Tsetseg station (which I think it could be the best in this context) specifically and found a -36 degrees Celsius on 23th January 2012. Nice value, the quest will certainly continue.
This was the minimum recorded by my device in the morning. Could have been even close to -44 as the gadget was set for 5 minutes intervals and there were pretty big fluctuations in a short period of time around 8:30 AM. Nice bonus for the final part of the journey anyhow.
It’s my last day in Mongolia, tomorrow in the early morning we are going back to the airport, this time to the new one
Mission accomplished

To be continued…

Jargalantyn Mukhar: the driest cold (1/3)

Choosing the target

Regarding my research plans, overall the best fitting country is definitely Mongolia, so it’s not a coincidence that I chose it again. It’s the perfect amalgam between an excellent natural context and decent travel conditions, even more now, when some other countries, which are on my bucket list from a long time are going through turbulent times.

The strong Central Asian anticyclone is the solid base for the severe cold in this part of the globe, north-western Mongolia being the actual center of this major baric system, bringing stable weather with clear skies, which favorizes the nocturnal cooling and the formation of thermal inversions in the valleys and basins.

Digital Elevation model (DEM) of Mongolia with the “eye-like” feature marking the location of the chosen spot

From a long time I have a dominant wish regarding the extreme climates. It’s the particular case, when there is no snow on the ground, but it’s still unusually cold. I would even say that this is my favorite research context between all the existing combination possibilities. It’s the certain kind of “otherworldliness”, reminiscent of Mars or Moon, which gives it the special charm.

For many years I followed and remotely monitored the weather’s evolution in the spots with the best potential, waiting for the ideal congruence to occur. However, as a generality covering many aspects of life, the best things usually doesn’t happen easily. Even if you are ready to pay the price. But this is the “entry level” without any doubt. So here I am now targeting the fragile equilibrum between extreme cold and bare ground.

The arid plateau (reddish area) on the eastern side of Mönkhkhairkhan range with the location of the research area (red dot)

Some people could ask, why is this so difficult to achieve? Well, there are two major causes:

The first is based on simple physics, namely the fact that the snow cover seriously enhances the cooling of the air above, partly because of blocking most of the Earth’s internal heat under its isolating blanket (air particles between the snow flakes), then because its white color reflects the Sun’s heating rays during the daytime. In short: without snow cover can’t be that cold.

The second is related to the weather patterns, which have their own limitations regarding the relation between snow fall and snow melt/ sublimation in a certain situation. Thus, during very cold weather if a little bit of new snow falls (even less than 1 cm) it will last pretty long time on the frozen ground. All these together are severly narrowing the range of possibilities to found a proper context regarding this plan.

The chosen high altitude basin with the contour lines (5, 10, 20, 40, 60, 80 meters) calculated on GoogleEarth

After a thorough analysis of concrete weather/ climate data, satellite images and topography I got to the conclusion that the best chances to produce very cold without snow on the ground are some areas of Western Mongolia, respectively the northern part of the Tibetan Plateau. These regions receive minimal precipitation during winter, while at the same time cooling down to almost arctic levels. Tibet has the altitude, Mongolia the latitude advantage.

How about to have both? Maybe a compromise between a relatively high elevation and a sufficiently nordic setting will be the best choice. Let’s check this out.

There are some parts in the arid interior side of the Mongolian Altai where the elevation is above 2500, even 3000 meters, while the latitude is between 46-47 degrees N. A closed basin here should be great for sure. I was very glad when realizing there are some promising topographical settings.

Soviet topo-map with Jargalantyn Mukhar basin in the upper-middle part of the image

The best seems to be the one named Jargalantyn Mukhar, a 75-80 meters deep bowl situated on a semi-desertic plateau of rusty nuance in the central part of Khovd province. Its bottom is situated at 2780 m elevation and looks like it’s completely dried up (only solonchak, no lake). It’s the second highest between all the endorheic structures with significant depth in Mongolia, surpassed only by a smaller one with a quarter of its depth and also more exposed.

According to the statistics of the weather stations located on the mongolian side of the Altai range the average precipitation of the winter months is around or even less than 1 mm, Tonkhil receiving no more than 0.5 mm during each. I think it could be similar in my target area too. Certainly rain shadow, respectively föhn effect, the other side getting almost all the rain and snow.

After analyzing the seasonal satellite images of the last two decades which prove that in more winters the snow cover was completely missing there, I became optimistic that with some luck this particular place could deliver what I am searching for.

Brief summary of the research

Because in this plan the uncertainty factor was significant, I was prepared with a “Plan B” for backup, in case that the bare ground context could not be found in the targeted area. This is a little more complicated as it sounds, as the “Plan A” location is strictly reserved for snow-free conditions, thus in case of a new snowfall the study area will move to a different place. This is because the intermediate situation when there is only a thin snow-cover is not good for any kind of research, therefore I will rather go to an area which already had snow before to be able to reach lower temperatures.

Satellite image showing the snow cover distribution on 14th January 2023 with snow-free Jargalantyn Mukhar basin in the center (red ellipse)

Actually there were some chances to snow a little just before my plane will land in Mongolia, so I was very pleased when checking the newest satellite imagery while in transit in Istanbul saw that the snow-free condition persisted in the chosen basin.

My plane landed in Ulaanbaatar on 12th January in the morning. Because of the forthcoming anticyclone I was rushed to reach the target as soon as possible, thus didn’t spent the next night in Khovd, but headed in the evening directly towards the high plateau in Möst sum with the 4wd driver. Little sleep, even less acclimatization. The biggest part of the road is brand new chinese asphalt, only the latter 20 km’s or so is dirt track. At the start of the latter our host was waiting to guid us towards the target. Pushing the limits, after mounting the tent nearby, on 14th January in the night I managed to reach the bottom of Jargalantyn Mukhar basin.

The weather station in the early morning

The exact coordinates are: 46.8586 N, 92.2189 E, the elevation 2780 m. The height of the sensor above the ground is around 170 cm. At 2:26 AM the mini weather station started its operation. The device is recording a temperature value every 5 minutes. First reading was -32.5 degrees Celsius, then, just before leaving I saw -33.2 C.

After the installation I went back to my tent and rested until the early morning, when returned to the tripod to check the night’s minimum. The lowest recorded value was -34.1 C while the actual temperature was slightly rising despite there were no clouds nor wind on the bottom.

In the nearby col, situated 80 meters higher I measured between -26, -27 degrees, accompanied by some breeze. It seems that the inversion is not so strong here, despite the very dry air, which holds back the hoarfrost to form even at below -30 degrees.

Checking the gadget before sunrise

I spent the day and the next night too in the surroundings, sleeping in tent and returning again in the second morning to verify the instrument. The minimum wasn’t lower, but pretty close: -33.6, while the maximum reached -16.3 degrees Celsius. The sky was completely clear during this interval, but in the latter part of the second night the wind became more active.

After securing the tripod with some improvised weight (hanging rocks inside a bag) to can handle windier conditions too, I left the research area on 15th January around noon and except a short trip to Möst sum’s center, I spent the next four days just a few km’s away, sleeping in yurt with locals. During this interval the sky was variable (sometimes windy) with some very weak snow showers here and there on 16th.

View of the basin from the south

I’ve done a few hikes to the nearby rocky peaks and visited Davst Nuur hypersaline lake, meanwhile observing the nomadic activity (sheeps, goats, horses, yaks) and wildlife (bearded vulture, ibex, hare). No wolves, but the locals said there are many on the other side of a range, coming over and attacking the livestock regularly.

While there, the studied basin itself looked empty, but I saw herds of animals and yurts not far from the salt marsh (2-3 km), also a few motorcycles passed by. All in all, despite the remoteness and harsh conditions there is some human activity in the whole area, the signs of grazing being often visible.

My tent near the col

I returned to collect the equipment on 19th January in the late morning and found the installation in its place with the gadget intact and functional. All data was correctly recorded. The lowest temperature remained the one from 14th, while the maximum reached -10.9 on 17th January.

A productive research for sure.

The instruments used on the field

-One LogTag UTRED30-16 data logger with the measuring range between -40 and +99 degrees Celsius, an accuracy of 0.5 degrees Celsius and a resolution of 0.1 degrees Celsius.

-One Greisinger GMH 2710-T digital precision thermometer with the measuring range between -199.9, +200 degrees Celsius, an accuracy of +-0.1 degrees Celsius and a resolution of 0.1 degrees Celsius.

-One photo camera tripod serving as the support for the instruments.

-One helical solar radiation shield from Barani Design Technologies: https://www.baranidesign.com/

The logger doing its job in the night

To be continued…