Penn Scientists Bring Mongolian Research Project to City Streets

Last month, members of a Penn research team transformed a parking space on a Philadelphia street into a public park for a day.

During this worldwide event, known as “Parking Day,” members of the PIRE Mongolia team showed visitors how to drill core samples from a tree stump and analyze samples for evidence of historic climate change. The researchers also displayed a miniature greenhouse to simulate the effects of climate change, and exhibited photographs documenting nomadic life in Mongolia. Traditional Mongolian tea was served.

PIRE Mongolia is a team of biologists and environmental scientists who recently returned from a three-month trip to the Mongolian steppes, where they studied the effects of climate change on plants and humans. With a goal of highlighting issues of communal space and sustainability in an increasingly urban world, participating in Parking Day was a natural fit for the team.

“Parking day is all about increasing access to open space in urban areas. One of the reasons for that is that open spaces have a cooling effect—they help combat the urban heat island phenomenon,” says Daniel Brickley, the project coordinator for PIRE Mongolia. “Planting trees and grass also helps absorb carbon dioxide, which helps fight climate change.”

In addition to studying trees, flowers and insects for biological evidence of climate change on their recent trip to the country, the PIRE Mongolia team interviewed local nomadic herders about their experiences dealing with different rain and growth patterns. Because many modern-day Mongolians live much in the same way their forebears did prior to the industrial revolution, their oral histories can provide important context for the potential impacts of climate change.

Text by Evan Lerner
Video by Kurtis Sensenig