Climate Change and Herding:

Incontrovertible Warning Signs and Local Responses

19 Days  ◦  2 Instructors

This course will focus on research into climate change in mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones of central Mongolia. It will allow participants to meet Mongolian herders and range scientists to learn first hand about how climate change is impacting traditional lifestyles and ecosystems in Mongolia. Participants will also visit sites of historic, cultural, and ecological significance such as Kharkhorin, the capital of the Mongol Empire, Khustai Nuruu, a conservation center for the native Przewalski’s horse.


Course Overview

In this course participants will engage in explorations and research into climate change in mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones of central Mongolia, with a focus on herders’ observations and responses to climate stress. Through this module, students will have the opportunity to conduct interviews with herders and local environmental management professionals in three distinct rural sites, to compare meteorological measurements with herders’ local knowledge of a changing climate, and to explore potential adaptation to climate change in relation to social, economic, and political forces in rural Mongolia.

Participants will also visit sites of historic, cultural, and ecological significance such as Kharkhorin–the capital of the Mongol Empire, Erdene Zuu monastery, Khustai Nuruu–a conservation center for the native Przewalski’s horse.

This course focuses on documenting Mongolian herders’ observations of climate change and exploring the interconnections among climate change and other environmental and sociopolitical challenges that nomadic herders are facing. The course emphasizes the value of local knowledge for understanding and addressing climate change impacts. We will also draw from research in natural and social science disciplines such as climatology, geography, rangeland ecology, and anthropology to understand challenges in nomadic pastoralism.

This course visits steppe, mountain, and desert eco-zones within central Mongolia, traveling both off the beaten track to engage directly with herders in the countryside, and visiting sites of cultural, historical, and ecological significance. At an environmental monitoring station in rural Arkhangai Aimag, in the Altai Mountain range, we will learn how meteorological data is collected and examine changing patterns in the data. We will also interview herders about their observations of changing precipitation and temperatures and hear how these changes are impacting the local environment.

Herders throughout Mongolia are knowledgeable about climate change, both from the news and from clear transformations in weather patterns and rangeland ecology that they have witnessed over the past two or more decades. We will learn how herders are
being impacted by these changes and what they see as the best solutions—such as grassroots environmental management, educational programs, improved government services, or policy changes—that would support the herding livelihood amid changing conditions. We will meet with one group of herders that is planting and protecting diverse native plant species to restore degraded pastures.

Additional site visits will be to steppe and desert sites in Ovorkhangai and Dundgovi Aimags, where we will also interview herders and local environmental management professionals about the changes that they have observed and the challenges that they are experiencing. Along the way, we will visit historic sites such as Kharkhorin, the old capital of the Mongol Empire, and historical Buddhist monasteries. In Dundgovi, we will see the effects of coal mining and talk to herders about how mining compounds the
effects of climate change by stressing pasture and water resources. Coursework throughout our travels will involve a comparison of climate change and herders’ responses at the three sites in the respective mountain, steppe, and desert eco-zones that we visit. We will also contextualize the challenges brought on by climate change in relation to social, economic, and political forces, and discuss climate justice.

We will learn how herders themselves are adapting and organizing to build resilience against increasing stresses like drought, pasture degradation, and abnormal winter precipitation, but we will also consider the need for institutional support for safeguarding herding livelihoods and facilitating adaptation. Finally, participants will reflect on the interview methodology and the value of local ecological knowledge for understanding the effects of climate change.

Participants do not need to speak Mongolian; program leaders and staff will provide translation during interviews with herders and local experts. Lodging will be a combination of staying in ger camps and camping. Participants will have opportunities to engage in some aspects of herding culture, such as riding horses and/or camels and milking goats.

Anticipated Course Activities

Day 1-4

June 15-18


Program and Course Orientation in Ulaanbaatar

Participants will meet fellow students and faculty in the ACMS Field School, gain an introduction to Mongolian language, culture, history, and contemporary issues, and begin to engage in course preparations such as an overview of field interview techniques and crucial issues impacting mountain, steppe and desert eco-zones in Mongolia.

Photo: Zaisan, Mongolia by Michael O'Donnabhain CC BY SA NC 3.0

Day 5-9

June 19-22


Staying at ger camp by Ogii Nuur in Arkhangai province

Through lectures and interviews with herders, we will learn how Ogii lake and the surrounding rangeland has been affected by climate change, and how herders are coping with changes.

Day 13-14

June 27-28


Stay at ger camp near Kharkhorin Historical Site and Erdene Zuu Monastery

Participants will learn about Mongolian history while visiting two important historical sites and museums. We will also learn about steppe ecology and interview herders in the area about climate change and their strategies for adapting.

Day 15-17

June 29-July 1


Stay at ger camp near Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes

We will visit Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes and learn about desert ecology and the issue of desertification, interviewing affected herders about their observations and how they have responded to new challenges.

Day 18

July 2


Stay at ger camp in Hustai Nuruu Park

Here, participants will see Przewalski’s horses (takhi in Mongolian) in their natural habitat and learn about the species’ reintroduction and conservation. We will also have final course discussions on observations and lessons learned before departing to return to Ulaanbaatar.

Day 19

July 3


ACMS Mongolia Field School wrap up conference in Ulaanbaatar

Join together with the participants of the other field school courses along with students, faculty and interested persons in Ulaanbaatar to discuss observations and findings from the field research work and site visits.



Dr. Annika Ericksen

Gustavus Adolphus College
Annika Ericksen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, MN. She first visited Mongolia as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2004-2006. She earned a PhD in Anthropology with an interdisciplinary minor in Global Change from the University of Arizona in 2014. Her dissertation on dzud disasters and post-socialist politics of responsibility in Mongolia was supported by an ACMS research fellowship and a Fulbright-Hays DDRA. She currently teaches anthropology as part of an undergraduate liberal arts program, and she is working on a book about Mongolian herders’ experiences of dzud.

Dr. Batbuyan

Center for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies
B. Batbuyan, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies and a former Director of the Institute of Geography (Mongolian Academy of Sciences). Trilingual in Mongolian, English, and Russian, he has over twenty years of experience collaborating with international physical and social scientists. He has also been influential in training a new generation of Mongolian geographers by engaging them in fieldwork on a variety of projects. His research has focused on socio-environmental governance of pasturelands in the context of environmental change. As a broadly trained social and environmental geographer, he is fluent with new technologies for monitoring environmental change and with ethnographic research methods for learning from and working with herders throughout Mongolia.

Anticipated Course Activities


"Attending the renewable energy field school was the best decision I made in 2019! I was already attending a fulltime graduate program in Canada, but the field school added rich value to my learning. As the world is becoming more globalized, looking at how Mongolia is responding to the challenges of supplying cleaner energy was a valuable experience. Our instructors came with a vast amount of knowledge and a passion to teach.’’

Liz B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
Batkhuu SQ600

"As a sociology major student, this program was very helpful to explore urban issues and migration processes in contemporary Mongolia. Through this program, I sharpened my academic capabilities while refining soft skills essential for my future studies.’’

Batkhuu B.

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019

"The ACMS field school is a unique experience that has changed my life and teaching. In most programs, international participants are isolated from the country in which we are studying except for controlled visits to local people and sites. Not so with ACMS! Half of the participants in each field school are from Mongolia, ensuring that local and international participants have a chance to understand each other’s perspectives.’’

Janis M

Participant of Mongolia Field School 2019
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