Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems: Their Use in Mongolia

Article excerpt

The Center for QeoInformatics and Remote Sensing is providing Mongolia with information essential to good planning. Dr. Ganzorig and his students combine field studies with satellite data, for ecological insight about the country's most remote and most urbanized locations.

As a cradle of ancient nomadic tribes in the heart of Asia, the Republic of Mongolia contains countless historic relics. Yet despite its long history of human activity, Mongolia is a pristine natural landscape with unique plants and animals. Modern Mongolia is surrounded by the Altai Mountains in the west, dense forested areas in the north, vast grassy plains in the east and the Gobi Desert in the south. With only 2,655,000 inhabitants and a total area of 1,565,000 sq. km (604,250 sq. miles), the current boundaries of the country extend for 2405 km (1600 miles) from its western border point to the east and 1263 km (840 miles) from north to south. Geopolitically, Mongolia shares borders with Russia in the north and the People's Republic of China in the south.

Mongolia's vegetation and climate, watersheds and geology

Situated in the northern part of the Central Asian Plateau, Mongolia has a variety of natural environments--eternally snow-capped mountain masses and vast hilly plains covered with highland plants, marshy areas and coniferous forests that are a continuation of the Eurasian southern coniferous forest. Deserts are located in the west and south, and the grassland steppes of the center and east are an extension of the east Eurasian dry steppe.

Mongolia's climate is continental. Most of the year the weather is clear and sunny. The average air temperature during the day time in the hottest month of July is 20[degrees]C to 25[degrees]C (68[degrees]F to 77[degrees]F) in the northern part of the country and 28[degrees]C to 35[degrees]C (82[degrees]F to 95[degrees]F) in the Gobi Desert. At night it is somewhat lower. The average temperature in the coldest month, January, ranges between -15[degrees]C to -25[degrees]C (-5[degrees]F to -13[degrees]F). The heat and frost are tolerable as the air is very dry. The yearly average rainfall is 200-220 mm (about 8 inches) with 400-500 mm (about 16-20 inches) falling in the Khangai Mountains but only 60-100 mm (2-4 inches) falling in the Gobi Desert. Strong sunlight and long daylight during the summer, along with strong winds, make solar and wind energy viable sources for powering an improved life among the dispersed get (portable felt tents) of the nomads. No national power grid exists, nor is one economically via ble.

Mongolia's watersheds have long been a focus of scientific study. In western Mongolia, the arid Central Asian drainage area drains north into Russia's Yenisei River basin. This region contains the Uvs Lake or Great Lakes Depression, which was scientifically studied by a long-term Mongolian-Russian joint expedition. In central Mongolia, the Arctic Ocean watershed contains the Selenge River basin. Air and space photos have been used to study deforested areas, analyze changes in river flow level, and to measure anthropogenic (human-created) influences. Located in eastern Mongolia, a genuine desert steppe, the Pacific watershed has seen many scientific expeditions that have conducted detailed studies of ecosystem succession and climate, to create a ground-truth data base for comparison with air and space photos.

Geologically, Mongolia is located at the intersection of a complicated regional geostructure. Its general structural plan forms a nearly complete cross-section of the Inner-Asian Paleozoic orogenic belt or so-called Altaids, situated between the ancient, stable Siberian and Sino-Korean cratons. Mongolia is a collage of numerous multi-aged and multi-typed terrains. The Indo-Asian tectonic plates also meet here, so Mongolia is subject to earthquakes.

Uses of remote sensing and GIS in Mongolia

Because of its unique physical conditions, large size and low population, Mongolia is an important benchmark location for measuring global environmental change. …