Pollution from tourism at Lake Baikal

Russian ecologists report that tourism is posing a serious problem to the health of Lake Baikal, as waste from tourist camps and water transport vehicles is being dumped into the lake. Ecologists warn that increased levels of pollution from tourism has lead to the growth of alien aquatic plant species, such as Elodea Canadensis, and high accumulation of these plants could lead to water-logging. To find out more, read ‘Lake Baikal, world’s deepest body of freshwater, turning into swamp’   

Baikal team together for the Rick Battarbee Lecture Series 2014 and project meeting

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The team got together on Thursday 8th May for the Rick Battarbee Lecture Series at UCL where Professor Sheri Fritz (from the University of Nebraska, USA) presented a talk on diatoms and climate: ‘From Microscopic to Macroscopic: Climate Variation Through Time as Viewed Through the Lens of the Diatoms.’ Sheri Fritz discussed the work carried out on diatom-inferred salinity and climate reconstructions from continental lakes and the role of ionic concentrations within saline lakes on diatom distributions. Palaeoclimatic records from lakes in the Northern Great Plains were presented, along with research into medieval mega droughts and the formation of Nebraska diatomites during Marine Isotope Stage 3. This was an excellent talk, and the extensive diatom research was inspirational.

The following day, the baikal team (Prof Anson Mackay, Dr George Swann, Dr Suzanne McGowan, Prof Neil Rose, Dr Virginia Panizzo, Jen Adams and Sarah Roberts) gathered for the first project meeting in 2014 at UCL. The meeting began with Jen Adams, Sarah Roberts and Ginnie Panizzo discussing their research findings so far, presenting data from contemporary limnological studies and sedimentary records. Jen presented results from High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) aided algal pigment analyses and Loss-on-ignition analyses (a measure of organic content) from two catchment lakes; Black Lake and Selenga Delta Lake 1. Sarah presented work on lake-water profile and catchment nutrient concentrations (total phosphorus, silicate and nitrate concentrations), Dissolved Organic Carbon (analysed at Loughborough University), Mercury concentrations (in lake-waters and sediments analysed by Dr. Handong Yang at UCL), HPLC algal pigments and carbon isotopes (analysed at the British Geological Survey). Ginnie presented the Silicon isotope results from all the lake water profiles and catchment sites.

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The project meeting was a great opportunity to explore data interpretations amongst the group and discuss potential publications and forthcoming opportunities to present the project work at conferences- thanks all for an excellent meeting and looking forward to the next one!

Back to the Selenga Delta

We recently returned from our winter 2014 expedition to the Lake Baikal region. This time there was no sampling of Lake Baikal itself, but rather, we spent a week collecting sediment cores from a few of the small lakes of the Selenga Delta and surrounding region.

The Selenga River is the major source of freshwater into Lake Baikal, contributing more than half of its annual inflow. The Selenga River enters Lake Baikal through a delta system in the southern basin of the Lake. As part of our larger Lake Baikal project, we seek to understand how lakes in the Selenga Delta have responded to various forms of pollution within the Selenga River Watershed during the recent past, and how the impacts of such pressures are transferred to Lake Baikal itself.

Landsat 5 image of the Selenga River Delta acquired on August 23, 2010. This image clearly shows the tributaries of the delta, meandering channels on the alluvial plain and sediment-laden waters on the delta front. Landsat GeoCover image by the United States Geological Survey.

Landsat 5 image of the Selenga River Delta acquired on August 23, 2010. This image clearly shows the tributaries of the delta, meandering channels on the alluvial plain and sediment-laden waters on the delta front. Landsat GeoCover image by the United States Geological Survey.

We sampled these small lakes during the period of ice cover. To access the sediments at the bottom of the lakes we drilled a hole in the ice, which was about 80 cm think in all lakes, with a large enough diameter to fit our corer through. Sampling through the ice allows us to have a steady platform to core from, and access to remote lakes can often be easier at this time of year.

Sasha drilling one of our sampling holes in one of  our Selenga Lakes

Sasha drilling a sampling hole in one of our Selenga lakes

However, coring shallow lakes in the winter can also bring about potential issues. When most of the lake depth is frozen, leaving only 20 or so cm of water between the ice and sediment, it can be tricky to drill a hole just deep enough to penetrate through the entire ice cover and reach water without disturbing the sediment below. We learned this the hard way and ended up having to drill 9 holes to collect three cores at our first site. Fortunately we were using a gas-powered auger and not a manual auger.

Freshly drilled holes through the ice of one of our Selenga lakes

Freshly drilled holes through the ice at Selenga lake 4

As if such a challenge weren’t enough, we also ran into issues with the corer itself. Sampling in early March in southern Siberia can be bitterly cold and windy. Personally, we were all prepared for the cold weather. However we didn’t consider what the cold weather would do to our corer. In hindsight, we should have realized that sticking a metal device into cold water and then bringing it out into below freezing air temperatures would result in a frozen corer, which it did, leading to an improper seal between the corer and core tube. Solution? Well, on the flip-side we were lucky it was March and so cold, because this meant the ice cover on our lakes was thick enough that we could drive our vehicle right to our sampling points. A few minutes of drying the corer in the car with the heater on full blast and we were ready to collect our next sediment core!

Thanks to the cold Siberian weather, the ice on our lakes was thick enough to drive our vehicle out to our sampling points

Thanks to the cold Siberian weather, the ice on our lake was thick enough to drive our vehicle out to our sampling points

So, as most field expeditions go, our first day was full of unexpected bumps, but nothing too huge that a little improvisation and persistence couldn’t resolve. Sampling in these conditions was old hat by days 2 and 3, making our sediment core collection at our second Selenga site and Black Lake go much smoother. By the time our week in the Selenga Delta was up we had collected several sediment cores from three lakes, to be analyzed for pollution and various biological indicators and allowing for the reconstruction of food-web dynamics in the Delta lakes.

Selenga Lake 3 in the distance

Selenga lake 3 in the distance

Black Lake

Black Lake

Analysis has already begun on our newly collected sediment cores, and I’ll be updating you on our progress as results unfold!

Jen with one of our Black Lake cores

Jen with one of our Black Lake cores

Cheers for now.

Team get together at the QRA50

Happy New Year one and all. We have been very busy over the winter, analysing all of our samples that we collected from Lake Baikal in August last year. Sorry we have been a bit quiet recently.

To kick the year off all members of our research team gathered at the Quaternary Research Association‘s 50 anniversary meeting at the Royal Geographical Society last week. It was a great chance to catch up and show eachother our preliminary results, as well as see a number of familiar faces and talk new research perspectives.

Here is a picture of the Nottingham and UCL research group, gathered around one of our posters.

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We are putting our heads down over the winter/spring months in preparation for Goldschmidt this coming summer in California but we hope to be in contact soon with some more pics from the summer fieldwork as well as some preliminary analyses. So watch this space…

Road Trip: 2. The Selenga Delta

The three days we spent in the Selenga Delta were pretty jam-packed, covering a large distance, sampling all of the sites shown below.

Selenga Delta Sites

Selenga Delta Sites (White diamond, sample sites; Red triangle, base camp; Blue arrow head, lake core). Image from Google Earth.

Landsat 5 image of the Selenga River Delta acquired on August 23, 2010. This image clearly shows the tributaries of the delta, meandering channels on the alluvial plain and sediment-laden waters on the delta front. Landsat GeoCover image by the United States Geological Survey.

Landsat 5 image of the Selenga River Delta acquired on August 23, 2010. This image clearly shows the tributaries of the delta, meandering channels on the alluvial plain and sediment-laden waters on the delta front. Landsat GeoCover image by the United States Geological Survey.

The reality of sampling the Selenga Delta became apparent rather quickly. Our high aspirations to sample some of the more remote, inner locations in the delta were soon trumped given the time limitations we had and the absence of a small boat complete with engine. The currents in even some of the smallest channels was quite fast and with such high grasses and Phragmites bordering all channels, it was quite hard to orientate oneself.

Ginnie, rowing upstream in a headwind. Selenga Delta.

Ginnie, rowing upstream in a headwind. Selenga Delta.

For starters, just trying to locate any lakes from maps or satellite imagery, given the ephemeral nature of a Delta, was hard enough. Not to mention dragging all our coring equipment and boat across head high Phragmites fields!

A tired Ginnie after arriving one of the Delta Lakes, after dragging the boat a fair way to reach it.

A tired Ginnie after arriving one of the Delta Lakes, after dragging the boat a fair way to reach it.

Nevertheless, we were very pleased with the different sites that we were able to sample and given the different locations we looked at, feel confident we captured a lot of the delta’s main characteristics. Here are some pics of the different sites we visited. As you can see, the vegetation shows some quite dramatic changes:

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Needless to say, apart from the hard work…some very fun moments were had. Despite all the mosquitoes that plagued us at night! To find out about more of our adventures, heading upstream of the Selenga River, stay tuned…