As director of the Asia Center and the Institute for Mongolian Biodiversity and Ecological Studies at the Academy, Goulden has been studying climate change in Mongolia for two decades.
In Mongolia’s large cities, nomadic families who have lost their herds are forming tent communities in growing numbers.
The settlements are one consequence of the region’s rapid climate change. More intense rainfall coupled with heat waves have harmed grazing conditions on the steppes, causing malnourished livestock to perish during the harsh winters. Herdless, the families seek work in the cities. Urban unemployment has been climbing.
But although Mongolia has experienced warming at twice the rate of other regions of the world, until recently the country had few native-born climate change scientists to focus on the problem.
That is beginning to change, owing to a program created in 2002 by Clyde Goulden, the director of the Asia Center and the Institute for Mongolian Biodiversity and Ecological Studies at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Between 2002 and 2006, Goulden recruited young Mongolians and paired them with academic mentors from overseas universities to prepare them to pursue advanced environmental degrees in the West.
A decade later, the fruits of those labors are now taking seed. Most of the young trainees have completed their doctoral degrees and are now beginning to return home and join the country’s nascent climate science elite. They can be found in the climate change department of the Mongolian environmental ministry, heading the ecology program at National University of Mongolia, and working for freshwater initiatives, to name a few.
Goulden has been conducting climate research in Mongolia for 20 years. Most summers he visits the northern region around Lake Hovsgol and stays with herder families in their “gets,” or yurt tents. He has generated numerous papers including a book of edited papers on the lake, surveys and data, but he considers his scientist training program among the most important outcomes of his life’s work.
Goulden launched the program — called the Global Environmental Facility — at the request of the World Bank, which initially provided $850,000 in funding. Additional funding came from the Dutch government and The Trust for Mutual Understanding that supports exchanges between the United States and Russia and its former satellites. The program paid for the trainees’ English language instruction and their graduate school educations, as well as travel costs to bring international scientists to Mongolia.
The program interviewed around 85 Mongolians and selected 20 to participate, of which 18 completed the training. They spent the next few years studying the climate and watershed management around Lake Hovsgol. More than 50 papers originated from their work during the four-year program.
Today, ongoing research at the 100-mile-long lake — studying such things as permafrost, acquatic insects and soil changes — is connected to many of these former researchers.
Goulden says the project also aided separate research projects, such as his survey of Mongolian herders about their experience with climate change. “I could never have done these interviews without the GEF project, because I got to know the herders and they got to know us,” he says.
And although the project ended in 2006, cross pollination between international scientist and their Mongolian protégées has continued to lead to more research — and, significantly, to more funding for Mongolian scientists.
“A number of people in the government have told me this is the most successful capacity building program in the country,” he says.