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май / 2017 г.

The Altai Mountains:
Exploring Climate and Social Changes in the Past and Future

В апреле в Сибирском федеральном университете прошла международная конференция «Междисциплинарный подход в исследовании связей истории общества и изменчивости климата (на примере Алтайской горной страны)». Совместно с университетом организаторами выступили Институт леса им. В. Н. Сукачёва, программа Past Global Changes (PAGES), Российский научный фонд и Российский фонд фундаментальных исследований.

Участники из семи стран представили доклады в области палеоклиматологии, археологии, экологии, географии и эпидемиологии, благодаря которым можно восстановить картину развития Алтайского региона 2000 лет назад.

Рабочим языком конференции был английский, и преподаватели Института филологии и языковой коммуникации СФУ подготовили о конференции англоязычный текст — для всех, кто готов обсуждать проблемы на мировом уровне, и для создания в Красноярске англоязычной среды.

From the 10th to 13th of April the International Workshop “Overcoming reductionism when linking climate variability with human history – a cross-disciplinary approach in the Altai Mountains” took place at Siberian Federal University. It was organized by SFU along with the Institute of Forest (Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences), and supported by the Past Global Changes Program (PAGES), the Russian Science Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research. Although the scientific meeting did not have a lot of attendees, there were About 45 participants from leading research centers in seven countries were attending this conference The workshop was also of great interest for SFU stuff and students with 15-20 of them attending the meeting. The conference included multidisciplinary papers from the fields of paleoclimatology, archeology, society, ecology, geography and epidemiology.

All the participants had a common research interest. They tried to explore the relations between climate and social changes that occurred in the Altai Mountains during the last several millennia. According to one of the speakers, Irina Panyushkina from the University of Arizona, USA, “We will try to link the human history of the region around us to the reconstructions we made. This will allow us to evaluate how people in the past have been adapting to the climate change and environmental change.”.

Professor Ulf Büntgen from the University of Cambridge was one of the core organizers of the event. He is interested in the causes and consequences of changes in different environmental systems and how diverse tree-ring parameters and other archives can be compiled and analyzed to provide answers to environmental research questions and related interdisciplinary research. He kindly agreed to tell us some key points about the conference.

As Professor Büntgen said, the main goal of the meeting was to investigate the role of the Greater Altai Region on the rise and demise of nomadic steppe empires that originated in this part of inner Eurasia several times throughout the last two-three thousands years. Büntgen emphasized that scholar from different disciplines have to join forces to better understand “how climate and environmental variability contributed to shaping human history”. In this regard, he stressed the importance to increase awareness within and between field of research.

There was a broad spectrum of issues discussed at the conference: Climatology, Ecology, Society, Archaeology, Epidemiology. For instance, Margit Schwikowski from the Paul Scherrer Institute, Switzerland, presented climate reconstruction in the Altai mountain region from glacier ice cores. On the Epidemiology section, speakers reflected upon climatic aspects of past and modern plague and anthrax outbreaks, including the latest anthrax outbreak in the summer of 2016.

The main advantage of the discussion, according to participants, was the broad range of issues and communication between the specialists from different spheres. Professor Büntgen explained that the idea was to bring different communities together: archeology, history, climate science or paleoclimate science, geology and to raise awareness about the forefront of research in other disciplines, because scholar are hardly even able to follow the speed of research in their own field. He said: “Usually archeologists work here and then parallel some other disciplines. But we want to learn from each other. It is a great effort that we have to make, you have to understand the differences in languages, in publishing different journals, in publishing different styles. Some disciplines prefer to write big books, like historians. Others write very short scientific papers, some people are used to PowerPoint presentations, the others would just read lectures. So on this very trivial level it is difficult and then bringing the sciences together is even more difficult. We believe in the synergetic strength, we think that big steps in advancement can only be made by crossing disciplinary boundaries. We constantly improve knowledge in our specialized fields. When we bring it together, we can possibly make huge steps forward”.

However, exploring processes taking place 2000 or even more years ago is not only abstract history. Paleoclimatic researches are strongly connected to challenges in modern society, because environmental changes remains one of the most serious problems in the 21st century. As a result of global warming, indigenous minorities of the North abandon their traditional ways of life, or, people faced with diseases seem to be forgotten, like the recent anthrax releases in Yamal demonstrarte. So, scientists want to get awareness when and how certain climatic conditions are directly or indirectly affecting societies in various aspects in order to predict possible consequences.

Professor Büntgen emphasised that it is not possible to implicate the results of paleoclimatic research directly, because the societies today are structured differently than those in ancient or historical times. He added that “it will bring awareness to the fact that changes in the environment do affect our behavior. You could go to the Horn of Africa or to Somalia where you see drought and it is certainly affecting people now and there is consequently large-scale migration. And climate does play a role. We will have another topic, just in the afternoon, where we are interested in climate affecting the dispersal and virulence of infectious diseases. Last summer in 2016 on the Yamal Peninsula due to high temperatures, spores of anthrax were released. So, there is a direct linkage between climate change or climatic extremes on disease outbreaks that we will discuss in the afternoon. This is one aspect but it is very complex. We want to get awareness when and how certain climatic conditions are directly or indirectly affecting societies in various aspects”.

After three days of work the conference finished, but research attempting to explore the connection between social and climatic change will continue.

Paul Shields, Marina Shcherbakova, Darya Ustyuzhanina