Skip to main content

Stunning scenes: From the Himalayas to the Taklamakan Desert

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Tien Shan mountains, China

tien shan mountains

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Almost half the world's population gets its water from glaciers and rainfall in Asia's highest mountains and deserts. Geologist Aaron Putnam of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, his father David Putnam, an archaeologist at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and their colleagues recently visited some of these areas on study expeditions, snapping these striking photos.Above: Looking north toward the high Tien Shan mountains of western China. At center is the highest peak in the Tien Shan: Tomur peak (or Jengish Chokusu in Khirgiz).

Mountains in Bhutan

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Snow on high peaks above Thampe Chhu, Bhutan.

Boulder sampling

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Tshewang Rigzin (Department of Hydromet Services, Royal Government of Bhutan) and guides sampling boulder on moraine.

Weather station

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Tshewang Rigzin (Department of Hydromet Services, Royal Government of Bhutan) and Aaron Putnam (Columbia) tinkering with a weather station.

Glacier, Bhutan

(Image credit: Tshewang Rigzin)

Prof. Summer Rupper (Brigham Young University) and colleagues descending Drukso Gangri after emplacing stakes that would monitor melt over the following year.

Glacier, Bhutan

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Drukso Gangri ('Dragon-Tooth Glacier'), Bhutan.

Himalayan plateau

Rinchen Zoe plateau, Bhutan Himalaya.

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Rinchen Zoe plateau, Bhutan Himalaya.

Himalayan Blue Sheep

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Himalayan Bharal ('Blue Sheep') on high cliffs near Tampe La.

Mountain camp

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Camp beneath the high mountain pass of Tampe La.

Yak herders

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Nomadic yak herders in the Nikka Chhu valley, Bhutan.

Himalayas

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Looking north toward the spine of the Himalaya, featuring the high peaks of Makalu (right) and Everest (left).

Taklamakan Desert

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Blowing sand in the Taklamakan.

Dry lake bed

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Ancient lake bed of Lop Nor.

Tree cutting

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Cookie cut from an ancient 'sub-fossil' poplar discovered deep in the Taklamakan Desert.

Desert poplars

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

David Putnam describing ancient poplars rooted in waterlain sediment surfaces in the Taklamakan Desert.

Desert sediments

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Aaron Putnam investigating sediments that indicate the presence of water in the Taklamakan Desert.

Ancient shells

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Shells associated with ancient, now-dry riverbeds in the Taklamakan Desert, south of the Tarim River.

Ancient sediments

(Image credit: David Putnam)

Ancient waterlain sediments littered with wood being exposed from beneath migrating sand dunes.

Mud cracks

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Ancient mud cracks on the surface of waterlain sediments in the Taklamakan Desert show that wet conditions prevailed in the past.

Desert dunes

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Sand dunes in the Taklamakan Desert.

Map of the world

(Image credit: Aaron Putnam)

Red dots indicate the locations of our field sites where Putnam and colleagues are investigating past climate and glaciers.

Tanya Lewis
Tanya Lewis
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.