9th Baikal Ice Marathon, 2013.

Fancy running across the oldest, deepest and most awesome lake in the world that holds over 20% of global surface freshwaters? Check. Fancy running across a World Heritage Site? Check. Fancy running across a terrain that switches between slippery ice and deep snow, whilst looking out for huge cracks in the ice along the route? Check. Fancy running in one of the most remote regions of the planet, far from any coastline, which has over 2000 earthquake tremors every year? Check. Fancy running 42 km in temperatures so cold that your sweat and mucous in your nose freezes? Check. If all these appeal to you, and want an adventure of a lifetime, then you should consider running the Baikal Ice Marathon (BIM).

BIM started 9 years ago and is one of the world’s most challenging races. As readers of this blog will know, Lake Baikal is a unique freshwater ecosystem, and this race was first organized back in 2004 to highlight the natural beauty of the lake and to promote preservation of its pure water.

BIM is never advertised and numbers of participants are relatively small; on 3rd March 2013 141 runners from 18 countries participated. It has been one of my greatest privileges therefore to have run the race this year, just one day before the start of our research project investigating human and climatic impacts on the lake.

On Saturday 2nd March competitors arrived at the tiny fishing village of Listvyanka on the northern shore of Baikal. We were put up in various hotels and hostels, each providing huge pasta meals for us maximise our carbohydrate reserves.

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15 people stayed my hotel from Spain, China, Japan, Russia, Czech Republic, the USA and the UK, and it was really interesting hearing about how everyone else heard about BIM and their excitment about doing the race. Sunday was an early start. I was up 4 hours before the race was due to start, part nerves, but also I was keen to get outside to try my super spiked iceBugs, especially made for running on ice.

Later In the morning we were bussed down to the edge of frozen Baikal to the start line. Anxiety was running quite high by this time. The course director, Alexei Nikiforov, told us that running conditions were actually quite treacherous [video]. Unusually, the first 12 km or so was dominated by clear, glassy ice, which without spikes, would make running very difficult indeed. And I haven’t even mentioned yet the bitingly cold temperatures of -20 °C.

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At the start of the race everyone has to give a salutation to the Baikal god Burkhan. In previous years this was done with a shot of vodka; for good or for bad this year we were given milk, which in retrospect was probably a good thing!

Now, I’m not a terribly fast runner, and I was unsure about how to run in spikes on glass ice, so I kept to the back of the field and found my own pace. Also, I had torn a calf muscle earlier in January, so training had been minimal, and I decided to make have several sequential goals. The first was just to participate in the race, and I have George Swann to thank for reinforcing that participating was a good idea. Second, I wanted to get to the half-way stage, where I knew several runners had only to complete the half-marathon. Third, if I did decide to carry on running, I would need to do so in under 6 hours – after that time runners are unceremoniously picked up along the way as the race officially closes.

At the start of the race you could see the Khamer Daban mountain range on the opposite shore of the lake. And this didn’t change for the full 42km. I was told that this one view throughout would make this race psychologically very difficult. We were also told that the cold would catch in our lungs, the sweat would freeze on our hair, and that running on snow and ice would be extremely difficult. Apart from the sweat freezing, which was true, I loved the view in front of me, I loved running in the cold, and running on the ice meant that I had to concentrate throughout.  All these made this marathon one of the best experiences I have ever had.

I had planned on live tweeting the race, but as soon as I got a 3G signal I was charged £20! Instead I made some videos of some of the more unusual observations. For example, not everywhere was the ice glass-black. In some regions it formed pancake ice  [video].

Perhaps the biggest shock came at about mile 20, when a loud, deep, booming sound resonated throughout the lake [video], and I’m sure I felt the ice shake beneath my feet. I captured my astonishment just after this happened, and put it down to a new ice crack opening up near by (video). This was enough to make me slightly concerned for my safety. However, I was to learn at the end of the race that this was in fact an earthquake that shook the Rift Valley, and opened up one of the large cracks in the ice, causing large amounts of water to gush up onto the surface. As well as being quite exhilarating, it meant that a new crossing route had to be found for many of the competitors returning from the finish line, which delayed their journey by over 3 hours.

At the half way sections of the race, those running the half-marathon came to their destination, with a welcome of hot sweet teas, food snacks, and the only loo on the course! This point actually marked a change in the condition of the course, which now had a snow covered surface [video].

So like the hare and tortoise, my slow steady pace paid off. I finished the course in 4h 31mins, way beyond my expectations, and to be honest I wasn’t pushing myself that much, deciding to enjoy the experience, take videos etc! I also ended up being the fastest Brit (out of 21), which was rather surprising to say the least.

Finally, would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I encourage anyone else to do it? Definitely. Maybe one or two of the Nottingham team can be persuaded for next year.

Costing the Earth, Radio 4 today at 15.30

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Just a friendly reminder, that there is a Radio 4 episode of Costing the Earth on today at 15.30. This will outline the aims, objectives and wider context of our ongoing project. Don’t forget to tune in!

Hear all about the expedition we conducted in March as well as catching some amazing sound bites of life on the world’s deepest lake. As well as hearing from our expedition team, have the opportunity to listen to what our colleagues are up to and the type of diverse research that is conducted on the lake each year.

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BBC Radio 4 – Our March expedition

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Want to find out more about Siberia’s Lake Baikal, one of the most important and interesting lakes in the world?

Well Dr. Anson Mackay has created a compilation of audio recordings for ‘The Deepest Lake on Earth: Exploring the environmental secrets’.

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???????????????????????????????Find out more about our expedition last month by listening to Costing the Earth on BBC Radio 4 next week…

Happy Listening!

 

Annual Moorings and Sediment Traps

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Fresh from our return to the UK we have been very busy cataloguing all of our samples and downloading all of our data from our probes, ready for data interpretation. While we are busy in the lab, analysing the many samples we collected, we would like to keep you all up to date with the other work that our colleagues were also up to on Lake Baikal.

Our EAWAG colleagues have been deploying moorings close to the Neutrino Base Camp for the past 10 years, working in close collaboration with Dr. Elena Vologina at the Institute of the Earth’s Crust, Russian Academy of Science. These moorings have numerous data loggers that continuously record the temperature and depth of the lake water at multiple depths down the water column. These data are of great interest to physicists who have been looking in detail at internal waves within the water column and the complex mixing of different water masses in the lake.

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Along the same moorings, Dr. Mike Sturm and Dr. Elena Vologina have been deploying sediment traps. These are both open (collecting sedimenting particles throughout the year) and sequencing (12 traps each opening on rotation, for 1 month).

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These are of great interest in order to understand any resuspension of sediments (in bottom waters) as well as aquatic productivity changes throughout the year and indeed between multiple years. This year, we have been lucky enough to share some of the trap material! 

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Sarah will be able to identify the different diatom species that are present, giving detailed ecological interpretations of water column conditions (e.g. nutrient availability, light etc). If we have enough material we may even be able to analyse the δ30Si composition of diatoms collected from the different months of the year and understand silicon utilisation changes by this algae, as the year progresses. This is essential in order to understand modern day dynamics of silicon utilisation and therefore permit down core reconstructions of productivity changes. More to come on our success later this year…

However, for now, the three moorings are back in place for the following sampling year. So a successful trip for our colleagues and here’s to many more such years of data and sampling on Lake Baikal.

Farewell Lake Baikal…

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Yesterday Ginnie and I spent our last morning on Lake Baikal. We successfully completed all the laboratory work, spending hours in the lab kunk filtering in total a combined amount of 90 L over the last few days. The morning was spent finishing off all the packing, and thoroughly tidying both the lab kunk and our cabin for the next occupants. Once the van had been strategically loaded with all our equipment and samples we took part in our last Pososhok with our Russian and Swiss colleagues. This is a traditional Russian farewell which entails a shot of vodka (or two) with a serving of cheese and salami with bread. We had the opportunity to give a toast to our colleagues who had accompanied us on our two week stay. Without their hospitality and assistance our fieldwork would not have been as successful. Thank you one and all!

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DSC02797As we were ready to leave, we watched the lab kunk being towed away by a tank to be relocated to the Neutrino site, 4.5 km away. This was our first water sampling & coring site, and where we set-up our nutrient enrichment experiment.

The journey across the lake ice back to the mainland was just as spectacular as the initial journey out there, and along the way our driver stopped to help a stranded van DSC02801on the ice. On the way to Irkutsk hotel we stopped to taste Omul (which is a distant relative of Salmon), which is endemic to Lake Baikal.

As soon as we arrived at the Irkutsk hotel, we were delighted with the prospect of indulging in some basic luxuries (i.e. warm showers…and no longer having to make the treacherous walk to the dreaded long-drop!!). We scrubbed up out of our fieldwork clothes and went bowling for the evening. All in all, it was a jam-packed day of packing and travelling, and we were looking forward to a well deserved night’s rest in a comfy bed. Needless to say though, we were sad to say goodbye to the incredible views of Lake Baikal.

Ice Skating on Lake Baikal

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Walking the 1 km home over the ice, after dinner, to our kunks we bumped into Rashid. He was just loading his ice skates into the back of one of the vans and wanted to know if anyone wanted to join him for a sunset ice skate on the lake. This was naturally a tough call to make as we had at least another 10 L of lake water back in the lab kunk that needed filtering that night.

DSC02781However, when he mentioned it would only be for 30 minutes or so, until the sun had set, we could not refuse! In we jumped and drove up the coastline for 10 minutes until we reached a patch of ice where the wind had blown away all of the snow. Clear ice was all that could be seen. We parked up, argued over the pair of ice skates that would fit our feet best and hit the ice. It was breathtaking! It was fascinating to see all of the ice fractures under our feet in the sunset and feel the undulations of it as we glided over. Even the ice cracking sounds, that we are now quite accustomed to, did not impede our enjoyment.

Thanks Rashid. An amazing 30 minutes, never to be forgotten.

Experiment – Day 7

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The time has come to collect our mesocoms which have been left suspended under the ice, in a water depth of 3 m in Lake Baikal. After a bout of continuous heavy snowfall on Saturday we decided to make our way to Neutrino to clear some of the snow cover, and ensure the diatoms would have enough light inorder to make the experiment a success. This turned out to be fortuitous as the snow cover was very deep, and therefore took us some time to clear the area.

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Our Russian colleagues even suggested that we break up the ice as this would make it easier in 3 days time to collect the bags again. After an hour of hard work, we had a clear ice hole to check that all our bags were still suspended from the ice and with a few tweaks (hanging the rope over a wooden frame) we were all set to leave them again, knowing that we would (hopefully) have an easier job to remove them on Wednesday.

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Wednesday soon came around. Luckily the weather today was much warmer than the day before, which had reached c. -30oC overnight. This was good news as we would be collecting the bags and we did not want them to freeze before we were able to transport them back to the lab kunk at Base Camp.

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After succesfully retrieving all 15 sample bags, we headed back to camp to begin our filtering procedures. This entailed a very long evening, operating the filtration units. Through our observations, the nutrient enriched mesocosm water samples took considerably longer to filter. This is as expected, and should imply the experiments have worked. We’ll know more once we start analysing our samples back in the UK. Anyway, back to filtering….