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All the trees in China

I spent a week in China recently helping on a research project into the effects of global warming.  The trip was sponsored by my company Credit Suisse, as part of the Credit Suisse Cares For Climate initiative, and was delivered through the global environment charity Earthwatch and their local research partner the Chinese Academy of Sciences. On the way back I spent 36 hours in Hong Kong, where I hadn’t been since I lived there for four months in 1998.

We were based at the Dinghushan national biosphere reserve, in Guangdong province, in the south west of China.

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As well as the four colleagues from London, Singapore and Hong Kong who went to China, four people from Credit Suisse in Zurich and New York went on a parallel expedition to a coffee plantation in Costa Rica.

Most days we ate a vast breakfast involving several species by the side of the river, then headed into the forest for a few hours of field work. This involved measuring and tagging various trees, recording their GPS coordinates and a photo, and making and fitting a dendrometer – a steel sprung band which stretches as the tree grows, and allows easy measurement of the tree growth over time. More volunteers will return to these trees every few months for the next five years or so to read the dendrometers.  This gives the scientists an understanding how how different species will tolerate climate change, and the impact of various factors such as altitude, human interference, hill slope etc. After a couple of hours in the jungle we’d head back to the hotel for another huge meal (in the river next to the restaurant were a flock of captive ducks, and a net full of live fish. Over the course of the week we worked our way through most of both). An hour to digest, and soak up some air-con, then back into the forest for a few more hours of fitting dendrometers. After a shower we’d head into the town at the edge of the reserve for several courses in the private room of a restaurant. We also spent a few hours doing lab work – sorting piles of matter from forest leaf traps into leaves, seeds and insect poo. One of the local scientists would then identify and count the leaves. The seeds would go into a seed bank, the leaves would be dried, weighed, and buried in the forest – then recovered later and reweighed to measure the rate of carbon flux from the atmosphere, through the trees, into long-term storage in the soil. We could do whatever we wanted with the insect poo.

Sema Tags a Tree Earthwatch China 14 Earthwatch China 18 Earthwatch China 4

I was surprised to discover the focus of science has moved on from determining if global warming is real, through understanding its mechanisms, and is now looking at how to cope with the impacts. There is no ambiguity any more about its existence or gravity.

We managed to squeeze in a few hikes through the nature reserve, one along a river up to a chain of waterfalls where I satisfied a long-time wish to walk through the back of a waterfall. Another took us along the main tourist trail to a Buddhist temple complex, and then on to more waterfalls and pools.

Barn and a Waterfall 1 Temple 3 Sun Yat Sen Waterfall 1 Sema, Sav, Barney at the lake

One afternoon we got caught in a huge rainstorm, an arm of typhoon Tembin, but as the rain’s so warm it made a perfect opportunity for a swim in the deserted hotel pool (fed from the river via a waterfall!)

Rain 3 Rain 2 rainstorm Hotel Pool

Earthwatch China 8 Field Work Rain 4 Dinner Barn and a Waterfall 3Fish pigeon Boots Not Come In

After the Earthwatch expedition, I caught the train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, and spent 36 hours revisiting some favourite locations I remember from my four months there in 1998, when I was developing software for the Hong Kong Monetary Authority with Midas Kapiti / Misys. I was pretty busy running around, and managed Temple Street Night Market for dinner, the bird market, goldfish market and flower markets in the morning, a couple of harbour crossings on the Star Ferry, a three-hour hike across Lamma Island and a swim in the South China Sea (I never managed this last time I was there!), the Man Mo temple on Hollywood Road, the towers of Central, and a few other places beside. Quite a contrast to a week in the rainforest.

Hong Kong Goldfish Market Hong Kong Skyline 1 Hong Kong Bird Market 2 Hong Kong 3Hong Kong Star Ferry Lamma Island Hike 3 Hong Kong - Man Mo Temple Hong Kong Bird Market 1Lamma Island Hike - Giant Spider 2 Lamma Island Hike - Banana Beach

All in all, brilliant. And Credit Suisse offset the CO2 from the flights!

More photos on Flickr.

Created with flickr slideshow.

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