This research brings together a number of different disciplines, including aquatic ecology and stable isotope geochemistry. It’s findings have a broad range in importance both for the scientific community as well as the local populations of Lake Baikal.
One of the main research themes of this project is to provide a comprehensive understanding of the silicon cycle at Lake Baikal. At this site, diatoms (siliceous, unicellular algae), which utilise silicon to form their frustules, form the basis of the food web. Their productivity is therefore vital in maintaining a healthy lake trophic structure, with rich biodiversity. To date, few studies have extensively looked at silicon cycling (δ30Si) in lakes and particularly at Lake Baikal. This project aims to understand modern day compositions of silicon (δ30Si) in lake waters, lake ice and diatoms (before, during and after main algal growing seasons), as well as budgeting silicon from the main lake tributaries and outflows. Such modern day calibrations of the silicon cycle are interesting to the scientific community as they have not been carried out as extensively before in continental regions. Furthermore, they are vital to be able to reconstruct productivity changes from lake sediment cores. On the bais of previous research at Lake Baikal, we know that such productivity changes in recent decades are strongly linked to anthropogenic (e.g. pollution and nutrient enrichment) and natural climate variability.
Another main focus of this research is to assess the response of phytoplankton (both non-siliceous and siliceous algae) to nutrient pollution (both anthropogenically and naturally induced nutrient changes) through using algal biomarkers. Algal pigments (chlorophylls and carotenoids) are important to study as they provide knowledge of the entire phototrophic community within the lake, and not just a specific algal group. This research will contribute towards the scientific knowledge of algal biomarkers in Lake Baikal, and within deep complex freshwater systems.
Results from this research will provide valuable information that will aid scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders as to the impact of recent catchment and climate changes on Lake Baikal, as well as an indication of the lake’s vulnerability to future climate change.
There is a need for a detailed understanding as to the impact of anthropogenic influences on the lake, and this understanding will help to ensure that future development and policy plans for the catchment are capable of sustaining Lake Baikal’s unique ecosystem.