We’ve had some interesting discussion of the following picture of a tree in the desert which was the closing slide in a presentation by Shao et al here entitled “A Dendroclimatic Study of Qilian Juniper in the northeast Qinghai-Xizang (Tibet) Plateau”.
Here is the picture in question.
Caption: Closing slide from Shao et al presentation.
Reader twq, who says that he has been to the Dulan region many times, said that “In dulan region, there is no desert definitely”.
My colleagues have consulted Prof. Shao, and She said the tree in the Desert that Steve cited is no existant at all and it is just a picture. I guess that someone draw the tree in the desert, and not real
A CA reader emailed Dr Shao requesting information on the provenance of the picture, once its association with Qilianshan juniper was questioned. Dr Shao replied to the CA reader:
The last picture on my talk is not a Qilian Juniper. A friend of my put that picture for me and I don’t know where it was taken exactly.
I emailed Dr Shao requesting further details. Dr Shao replied that her friend couldn’t remember where the picture came from. In my experience with geological reports, geologists are careful to identify the locations of each photograph and this is part of scientific documentation. To the extent that dendroclimatologists use photographs from undocumented locations, this is a practice that, in my opinion, should be discouraged.
There has also been some discussion of whether the picture used by Dr Shao had been doctored in some way. A CA reader, who is familiar with image processing, examined the picture in detail and concluded:
At first I quickly passed it off as a pasteover job (see below for some of the things I saw.) Now I think it likely it’s just a low quality photo, saved for the web by “save at low resolution” software that managed to make the tree look very different due to its different level of detail.
So I think that we can safely conclude that twq’s surmise that someone had “drawn” the picture is incorrect and that it is a real picture, just not a picture of Dulan junipers.
Let’s consider the related question: is it likely to be a tree from western China taken somewhere between Xining and Dunhuang? I think that this is very probable, notwithstanding Dr Shao’s inability to identify the location of the photograph. First, as demonstrated by the satellite photograph of the area posted up by Willis here, much of the area around Dulan is desert (Dulan and nearby Xiangride are both described as oases). While the Dulan junipers sampled for the dendro studies came from rocky areas, the flats beneath these rocky areas definitely appear to be desert. Travellers have described the trip from Qinghai Lake to Delingha as traveling over desert.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, there are other “tree in the desert” pictures from the area between Xining and Dunhuang (especially around Dunhuang.)
Here is a picture of an oasis near Dunhuang described here as follows:
Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. Some say it looks like the mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman, or a slice of lush, sweet and crystal cantaloupe.
Here’s another picture of a “tree in the desert” from near Dunhuang, this one not doing as well as the picture in the Shao et al presentation, but it looks like the same kind of tree.
Here’s a picture from Unesco from the Gobi Desert, which is adjacent to this area.
Here’s a picture of the Qaidam Basin near Dulan.
On balance, given the use of the “tree in the desert” iconography by other travelers in the area, it seems highly likely that Dr Shao adopted this iconography as well. It is inconceivable to me that Dr Shao would include a picture from, say, Namibia, in her presentation.
The best approach to the problem is probably to look once more at the satellite photo that Willis located and discussed here . I’m going to discuss this image a little more in connection with location maps in the dendro articles. For now, all parties can surely agree that there is a great deal of extremely dry ground in the Dulan area, which is consistent with any travel account. The sampling areas for Dulan junipers are all in very brown-looking south-facing mountains to the west of Qinghai Lake, which is prominent in the satellite photo.