The past and present in Chaidamu Basin

4 September 2008, Keluke Lake, Qinghai Province

Today was a short day, allowing me to put up more photos.


Our gasoline-powered water pump is broken; we collected 120 30-lb. bags of sediment from the Huaitoutala area, and transported them to the lakeside. Without a working pump we returned to Delingha to get the pump fixed.

[collecting sediment in the Huaitoutala area; note the high tilting angle of the strata (rocks), characteristic of this anticline]

Some of you asked about what the present day environment is like here; we are working in a highland basin with nearly all localities above 8,000 feet elevation. The landscape is overall as you would see in the Mojave Desert in southern California. One major difference is that there are no trees (or tall shrubs) anywhere near shoulder height. The plants are short and compact, probably a common appearance to preserve water.

There is almost no flowing water besides two large lakes in the basin; somehow, the mosquitoes still find enough moisture to proliferate, making them the most common insect here (yippie...)

In terms of larger wildlife, the Keluke Lake is frequented by shoredbirds of all sizes; from large ducks to terns to sandpiper-sized critters. Large unidentified vultures are often seen circling overhead during mid-day. Sand lizards are very common, and run under your foot with every hill you hike.

[Keluke Lake]

For people interested in large predators and their prey (no bias here), the most common carnivoran here is probably the fox (possibly red fox, Vulpes vulpes). Their tracks and scats are everywhere. Once in a while I find remnants of rabbits, antelopes, and pigs in the wash between hillsides. Wolves are a rare sight now, but they still exist here.

[a partial rabbit foot some carnivore had chewed on; it was too fresh to put on my pack for good luck]

By far the most common large fossils we discovered in the past week are horncores from a variety of antelope-like animals: straight horns, curving horns, twisting horns, short stubby horns, thick and enormous horns, to name a few. The late Miocene fauna in this area was very diverse, and the abundance of these fossil creatures would have rivaled the Serengeti in Africa.

[rhino tibia]

[a complete horncore embedded in sandstone]

We also collected several large bones of rhino and elephant, including a rhino radius/ulna discovered while I was writing one of the blog entries.

[a partial elephant tusk fossil, about 1.5 feet in length]

[another elephant tusk, very broken]

We have catalogued 94 fossil localities in the past week's work; the abundance of fossils here reflect the journal entries of the great explorer Birger Bohlin, who visited the Keluke Lake area in the 1930s.

[partial fossil fish skeleton, note vertebral column]

Day time high temperature has been around the 70's F; overnight temperature reaches below freezing. Our lips are chapped from the dry gusts, our faces are covered in fine Miocene sandstone dust, but our crates are filled with new and exciting fossils which will hopefully reveal to us a better picture of the past environment and biodiversity of this present day high desert.

[making a field plaster jacket]

The morale stays high as we prepare to enter Eboliang in a few days, by far the most desolate place we will work in across the entire basin. More to come on that...



Gary Takeuchi said...
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Gary Takeuchi said...


Glad to hear that the Keluke Lake area has been so productive. Sounds like a great start to the field season.

Spencer said...

What kind of elephant do you think the tusk is? Not diagnostic enough to tell?

How about the fish?