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…

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Road Trip: 1. The Southern Basin

The “Road Trip”component of the August expedition set off from Irkutsk, following the edge of the lake in an anti-clockwise direction. The Road Trip had several aims. The principal aim was to sample major streams and tributaries for stable isotope, pigment and chemical analyses.

Solzan River

Solzan River

Khara-Murin River

Khara-Murin River

Sampling equipment

Sampling equipment

Sampling strategies at each site included collecting up to 1L of river water, from as close to the central flow as possible, using a self-modified water sampler (with weight and float). This was to measure DOC, nutrients, TP, silicon concentrations (DSi) and its isotopic composition (δ30SiDSi). At each site we also collected a GPS location, measured pH, temperature and conductivity (in situ).

At certain base camps, large volumes of water were also filtered in order to obtain river diatoms, with the hope to be able to analyse their isotopic composition and compare this with the signature of diatoms from Lake Baikal itself.

Sampling the shore of Lake Baikal, Baikalsk

Sampling the shore of Lake Baikal, Baikalsk

As well as sampling the rivers, we also sampled a few locations in Lake Baikal itself, especially where rivers entered the lake, and close to pollution hotspots such as the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill.

Camp along the Snezhnaya River, close to Vydrino

Camp along the Snezhnaya River, close to Vydrino

We were not always lucky with the weather, unfortunately. Which slowed us down when it came to all our filtering and analyses. But given the time constraints that we had, we had to plough on…to the next site and camp!

Fixing the generator

Fixing the generator

So on we went, despite obstacles thrown in our way. Including breaking down on our way to the Selenga Delta. Luckily our Russian colleagues were a dab hand at mechanics and were able to temporarily fix the Tabletka until reaching the town Babushkin where Sasha and Pasha (despite it being a public holiday) were able to sweet talk some local engineers to manufacture a new part for the engine. Phew…on we went!

As we approached the Selenga Delta, the weather cleared giving us a great view of the vast landscape. We were able to check out a few satellite lakes as we went, to see their suitability for Renberg coring, which will allow us to place recent pollution impacts of the region into a longer-term perspective.

Finally arriving at our Selenga Delta Base Camp, we could admire the fantastic sunset and prepare plans for the next day…

Pasha carrying wood, at the Selenga Delta Base Camp

Pasha carrying wood, at the Selenga Delta Base Camp

To find out more about our Selenga Delta adventures, stay tuned!

Geolog expedition

It has now been just over a month since we returned from Lake Baikal! The expedition was an incredible fieldwork experience and a great success as we came back to the UK with all the water profile samples and sediment cores which we had planned to collect.

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Onboard the ‘Geolog’, George and Sarah were accompanied by Lena Vologina from the Institute of the Earth’s Crust (Russian Academy of Science), Alison Ball and Julia Lehman from the Urban Promise Academy (in Oakland, California), and three crew members (the captain, second captain and cook). With all their help and great company they made our expedition a fantastic experience and success. Thank you once again for everything!

From the left: George, Sarah, Elena, Julia, Alison and our cook and captain

From the left: George, Sarah, Lena, Julia, Alison and our cook and captain

The research vessel left Irkutsk and spent 5 days within the South basin travelling to our 8 water sampling sites, with sediment coring carried out at 6 of these. A total of 4L was collected from 9 water depths (1m, 3m, 5m, 10m, 20m, 30m, 50m, 100m, 180m) using a Van Dorn water sampler and filtering was carried out on the deck.

Water sample filtering

Water sample filtering

Lena with a sediment core

Lena with a sediment core

We re-visited the three water sampling and coring sites we worked at in March, when the ice-cover was c. 1m thick. This was incredible to be on the boat at the same sampling spot where 4 months previously we were standing on the ice, collecting samples through an ice-drilled hole. We then travelled northwards and spent 4 days within the Central basin, collecting samples from 4 sites (with 3 sites located within Maloe More).

Maloe More; Central Basin

Maloe More; Central Basin

Once our Central basin sampling was complete, we said our farewells to Julia and Alison as they departed the boat to travel back to Irkutsk on road. We then collected Anson and Ginnie from a ferry port within the Central basin, to continue our work in the North basin. We spent 4 days travelling up to the Upper Angara at the very top of the North Basin, and sampled the water profile at 4 sites (collecting sediment cores from 3 of these sites). Once our field sampling was complete, we made our way back down to Irkutsk, taking additional samples near the Selenga delta and in the Irkutsk Reservoir.

In total we came back to the UK with approximately 360 samples for water quality analyses, 180 Dissolved Organic Carbon (DOC) samples, 180 phytoplankton samples,180 Silicon samples and 20 sediment cores.

Now all the laboratory work is underway, and with the majority of water samples now analysed the sediment core analysis will soon begin…!

Sampling Lake Baikal’s Tributaries

As many of you know, we had two legs to our summer expedition trip in August 2013. Sarah and George were responsible for lake coring and lake water sampling, based onboard The Geolog. While Anson and Ginnie headed off into the outback, in their trusty “Tabletka”, sampling the lake’s many tributaries and catchments.

The Tabletka

The Tabletka

The Road Trip leg started off on Wednesday 31st July from Irkutsk, via the Russian Academy of Sciences, in order to fully stock up on camping supplies and provisions for our 11 day drive around Lake Baikal’s Southern and Eastern coast.

Provisions for the expedition

Provisions for the expedition

Our two companions Alexander Sizov and Pavel Firsov, along with our driver Igor, made up our team. Their knowledge of the terrain and countryside was invaluable as was their “great outdoors” experience. 

Sasha (Left) and Pasha (Right)

Sasha (Left) and Pasha (Right)

Sampling the Selenga River. Image thanks to Anson Mackay.

Sampling the Selenga River. Image thanks to Anson Mackay.

Leaving Irkutsk we headed in a south-easterly direction to Lake Baikal’s southern coast and the town of  Slyudyanka, where we would commence our water sampling. At each site, samples were collected to analyse the dissolved silicon isotopic composition of rivers (δ30SiDSi ), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), nutrients and total phosphorous (TP).

Every night, after setting up our tents we would begin our ritual task of filtering samples through the respective filter papers for each of the different analyses as well as labelling all bottles and acidifying. While Sasha and Pasha would organise our camp and begin cooking dinner for us all. Finally, before the end of the night we would consult our maps and itinerary and finalise our travel plans for the next day.

Setting up Base Camp in the Selenga Delta. Image thanks to Anson Mackay.

Setting up Base Camp in the Selenga Delta. Image thanks to Anson Mackay.

For more information of the different sites that we sampled and the terrain that we covered, keep posted. We covered a fair distance, reaching as South as the Mongolian border. We saw quite a variation in the landscape and vegetation so more updates soon…

Siberian Summer Holiday

It seems like only a few weeks ago since we were last in Russia working on Lake Baikal, collecting water and sediment samples whilst standing on the frozen lake. Since our return at the end of March we’ve been busying analysing the samples that we collected both at the University of Nottingham and University College London, as well as at the NERC Isotope Geoscience Laboratory at the British Geological Survey.

Following our departure, conditions in the region became gradually warmer as spring arrived, with clear (ice-free) water appearing in the South Basin in late April. However, it wasn’t until early June that the lake was completely free of ice in the North Basin. Now, with the university term and other teaching commitments finished, it’s time for us to return for our summer expedition when we fly out to Irkutsk in a weeks time. However unlike last time when temperature plunged as low as −30°C, for this trip we can expect temperatures to be c. +20°C or higher!

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Of the original expedition in March, four of us will be taking part in this summer trip: Anson, Ginnie, George and Sarah. Suzanne will unfortunately miss this trip as she’s currently moving to the University of Nottingham’s Malaysian campus in Kuala Lumpur (www.nottingham.edu.my) as part of a two year position. In Russia we’ll be working with our colleague Elena Vologina at the Institute of the Earth’s Crust, Russian Academy of Science (www.en.crust.irk.ru). We’ll also be joined by two American school teachers (Alison Ball and Julia Lehman) from the Urban Promise Academy in Oakland, California, who are currently working their way across China and Mongolia into Russia.

We will be working in and around Lake Baikal for a month to enable us to collect water and sediment samples from parts of the lake that were inaccessible due to the ice and snow earlier in the year. We’ll also return to the sites we visited in March to assess what has changed in the intervening months, as well as travelling around the lake’s catchment to collect samples from rivers that flow into the lake. This includes an extended trip down the Selenga Delta and river towards Mongolia when we’ll be collecting water samples at key sites as well as coring some wetland lakes and a Ramsar site to provide a further perspective on environmental change in the catchment. This is an important component of the project as the region contributes 60% of the annual river flow into Lake Baikal and is an area that has undergone significant agricultural, urban and industrial development in recent years.

Fieldwork map_summer_blog

Due to the amount of work to be done, we’ll be splitting into two groups. George, Sarah, Lena, Alison and Julia will be working on the boat “Geolog”, visiting and collecting samples marked in orange on the map above, whilst Ginnie and Anson will be travelling around the catchment (blue sites on map). The range of water and sediment samples that we’ll be collecting on this expedition will be similar to that collected early in the year. Together these samples will allow us to further assess how climate and environmental changes in the region are affecting the chemistry and ecosystem of the lake. Over the past week we’ve been packing up our equipment and everything we’ll need whilst we’re away. We’ll be taking twelve large suitcases/rucksacks from the UK, each of which will be packed up to the maximum weight limit allowed by the airlines. All we need now is to get our visas from the Russian embassy in London!