Lake Baikal: 60 Years of Monitoring Human Influence on the World's Largest Lake

Principal Investigator(s): 

Eugene Zilov, Marianne Moore, Stephanie Hampton

Sharman Rock on Lake Baikal

Three generations of a single family of Siberian researchers have been monitoring water quality and microscopic life in Lake Baikal, the world's oldest and largest lake, over the past 60 years. More than 25 million years old, Lake Baikal is almost a mile deep (> 1600 meters) and spans 4 degrees of latitude; the volume could fill all of the Great Lakes in the United States. Approximately every two weeks, Dr. Lyubov Izmest'eva's research team at Irkutsk State University ventures onto this vast lake in a research boat - or across the ice in winter - to collect water samples and analyze them back in their laboratory, just as Dr. Izmest'eva's mother and grandfather did before her. As a result of this family's hard work and dedication, we are now able to use this incredible legacy of data to understand how the world's largest freshwater lake has responded to major environmental disturbances such as pollution and climate change in the past half century. Such an understanding is important not only because Lake Baikal itself is such a special place - harboring higher biological diversity than any other lake, including the world's only freshwater seal - but also because analyzing this detailed data set helps us to predict how other lakes may respond to similar disturbances that threaten freshwater systems worldwide.
In July 2006, Stephanie Hampton (UCSB), Marianne Moore (Wellesley College) and Brian Dennis (University of Idaho) traveled to Siberia to meet with the Russian team on Lake Baikal. We carried out our NCEAS working group activities there for the first time - the Siberian researchers have traveled to Santa Barbara twice before (July 2005 and January 2006) to meet at NCEAS. This time the Americans endured the long trip to Siberia and finally experienced the grandeur of this amazing place. An advantage of us traveling to Lake Baikal was that we were able to meet with many Russian scientists we would not have otherwise met, and speak with them through translators, enriching our understanding of the ecosystem and the scientific culture of Russia.