Fulbright Scholar headed to Mongolia
By Sarah Nagem
This winter, Alana Wilson will pack her bags and head to a sparsely populated country where extra layers of clothing are often the only defense against below-zero temperatures.
And she’s thrilled about it.
Wilson, 22, who graduated from North Rowan High School in 2004, was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant, a prestigious award to study outside the United States.
She applied for the scholarship in hopes of studying glaciers in Mongolia, an Asian country that borders China and Russia.
“Because they’re so remote, no one’s really done on-the-ground research of these glaciers,” Wilson said.
A Morehead Scholar, Wilson graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill this spring with a bachelor’s degree in geology.
In February, Wilson will join a team of Mongolian and Japanese researchers who have begun studying glaciers in the Altai Mountains.
While global warming is melting many of the earth’s glaciers, these ice masses aren’t shrinking. Wilson wants to find out why.
The only real evidence scientists have to go by now is satellite pictures, Wilson said. The research team, which set up shop in Mongolia last summer, is doing ground studies.
Wilson explains her theory for the region’s glaciers this way: “The bigger the ice cube, the longer it takes to melt.”
Maybe, she says, a lag time exists between a rise in temperature and the melting period.
After a 10-month stint in the country, Wilson might come home with answers.
Home is in a rural part of Rowan near the Davie County line. Growing up, Wilson loved to be outdoors. That passion has stayed with her into adulthood.
Her father, Alfred Wilson, was a Boy Scout leader, and Alana often tagged along with him and his troop on trips. She was also part of the venture crew, a co-ed group associated with the Scouts.
That involvement sent Wilson to New Mexico five years ago for a backpacking trip. Over the years, she has gone canoeing, sailing and hiking.
“We raised them to appreciate God’s earth,” said Lyn Wilson of Alana, her sister and brother.
When Wilson goes to Mongolia, the experience won’t be completely new to her. She spent a semester there in 2006 as part of an exchange program.
She traveled around the country, staying with host families.
Her experience showed her a different way of life.
“I had been really curious about rural life in a different part of the world,” Wilson said.
It was certainly rural. Wilson stayed in one-room houses, where the only protection from the cold was a sleeping bag and wool blankets. Sometimes the temperature inside the houses was 5 to 10 degrees, she said.
“If we were lucky, it would be maybe 10 degrees Fahrenheit on our way to school,” Wilson said.
About a third of the Mongolian population is nomadic, she said, so the people follow their animals, which they depend on for food and clothing.
The meals in Mongolia took some getting used to. Cattle are abundant there, and most of the country does not have ideal farming conditions.
“Anything you have has a lot of meat,” Wilson said. “In really rural places, even vegetables are a luxury.”
But when Wilson returns in February, she wants to stay in the countryside, away from accommodations she’s used to here. If she wanted to spend time in a city, she said, she could just stay in the United States.
Wilson is in Idaho until July for a six-week geology field camp. The program is a degree requirement at UNC. She’s spending her days studying rock formations and glacial geology.
Wilson wants a career in climatology and hydrology.
“I definitely have a long-term interest in how global warming will affect water resources,” she said.