Gou Xiaohua: Dedicated Tree Scientist Studies Effects of Climate Change

June 11, 2018
Editor: Liu Yanmei
Gou Xiaohua: Dedicated Tree Scientist Studies Effects of Climate Change
Gou Xiaohua [Xinhua]

 

Gou Xiaohua, an expert in tree-rings studies at the School of Resources and Environment of Lanzhou University, northwest China's Gansu Province, has been engaged in scientific research for over 20 years.

Gao, 48, was born into an ordinary family in Yongchang County in Gansu. Her childhood was spent growing up in the countryside and she soon fell in love with nature.

Therefore she applied for a major in botany at the Biology Department at Lanzhou University. From 1988-1995, she completed her undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the department.

After teaching there for four years, she began a PhD in physical geography, thus opening up her scientific career.

"Tree-rings are the memory of the trees, and the record of the forest. They contain much historical information on climate, hydrology and the environment," Gou explained in her laboratory.

She and her team use the methods of width, carbon dating, and field observations to decode the "secret language" of climate change, she says.

They often carry heavy backpacks and go deep into the most remote mountains to obtain the best samples of tree-rings, to look for historical records and trace the changes in the environment.

Natural phenomena such as frost, drought, and insect pests can affect the growth of trees. Interference from human activities can also affect the "memory" of the plants.

However Gou believes that high-altitude, uninhabited places are where she finds the most ideal trees.

"By studying tree-rings, we can know the history of climate change over the past few hundred years, even thousands of years in the study area, and find the rules. On this basis, we can predict climate change in the future," added Gou.

Over the past 10 years, Gou has conquered many important western mountains such as Qilian, Helan and the Amne Machin Range.

Her field studies took much time and living conditions were difficult, but she never complained. Instead, she was glad that the land gave her many opportunities for scientific research.

They even encountered wolves in 2000. "We grasped the sampling tools as self-defense weapons and stood back-to-back in a circle. Everyone was afraid to say anything and we just walked very quickly," Gou recalled.

Years of unremitting insistence has led her and her team to great successes. She has made a significant and influential impact on the scientific community.

They quantitatively reconstructed the runoff changes in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in the past millennium; they launched an area for tree-ring reconstruction and the comparative study of wet and dry changes in the northwest and surrounding regions of China.

The most important research object for Gou is the Qilian Juniper living in the depths of the Qilian Mountains.

The Qilian juniper is a old tree species which can live 2000 years even more. With extremely tenacity, it can survive with only a small amount of water and soil.

"I hope I can be active, and persistent just like the Qilian juniper," said Gou.

Last year, Gou was appointed as dean of the School of Resources and Environment in Lanzhou University, and she is also the first female dean since its establishment.

Although the pressure has doubled, she also had a more definite development plan, "leading the teachers and students in the university to strive for world-class teaching and scientific research, at the same time better serve local economic and social development."

At the beginning of the year, the Qilianshan Research Institute was formally established at Lanzhou University. Gou served as dean, and conducted in-depth research on the ecological environment problems that have occurred in Qilian Mountain in recent years.

"This is a new platform for multidisciplinary and collaborative innovation. We must make good use of it to make influential research results," said Gou.

Busy scientific research means Gou spends less time with her family, but she did not regret it because she knew that each mountain she conquered could bring a new discovery and make an influential contribution.

(Source: Xinhua/Translated and edited by Women of China)

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