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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Analysing our first water samples

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Part of the research that we are conducting is to analyse the silicon concentration and isotopc composition of lake waters. As we are interested in productivity, it is very important to understand silicon cycling through the year (e.g. winter versus summer conditions). This allows us to constrain down core interpretations. To find out more on why silicon is so important and what organisms use it in Lake Baikal, click here.

P1050563Having collected and filtered all water samples in the field, we are now ready to analyse the silicon concentration of the samples. This is conducted at the Brtish Geological Survey, UK. Concentration of trace metals are also given at the same time which is of great interest when looking at pollution stressors on the lake.

The next step is to measure the isotopc composition of the lake waters (δ30SDSi). In order to do this there are a number of purification steps that must be conducted, with samples being passed through a pre-cleaned resin to remove all cations (e.g. Na+, Ca2+) from the waters. This process takes rather a long time as the liquid must pass through the resin at a slow rate to ensure that there is full Si recovery of the sample.

The acid cleaning stage of the resin.

The acid cleaning stage of the resin.

However, this can only be done once the resin has been acid cleaned. Results from the ICP-MS are used at this stage in order to load onto the resin an exact volume of sample to ensure that the concentrations of all samples are high enough to precisely measure their isotopc composition.

Cationic resin preparation of samples and standards for MC-ICP_MS analyses

Cationic resin cleaning step of samples and standards for MC-ICP_MS analyses

Once samples are fully prepared they are measured once more on the ICP-MS to ensure that there is fully silicon recovery and to know the final concentration of the samples. This is important so that we know the volume of sample we need to analyse on the Multi-Collector Intercoupled Mass Spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS) and match concentrations of Si in bracketing standards.

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A lot of the action happens under the bonnet of the Multi Collector! Samples are injected into a plasma which ionises it, as the sample passes through the magnet the different masses of silicon (28, 29, 30)are separated and collected in three detectors. Based on the ratio between 30/28 we are able to understand the degree of biological uptake by diatoms that has taken place.

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….