The underwater world of Lake Baikal

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Lake Baikal is known to be the deepest lake in the world. The other deepest lakes are the Tanganyika (Africa) (1435 m deep), the Caspian Sea (1025 m deep), Lake Issyk-Kul (702 m deep), and the Upper Lake (America) (393 m deep).

The vertical depth of the Sacred Sea water is more impressive and it is worth speaking about the history of it discovery. In the XVIIIth century P. Pallas tried to reach the bottom of the reservoir, but the rope that was 200 m long turned out short. In 1778 the employees of the Altai Kolyvano-Voskresensky Plants exploring the waterways from Nerchinsk to Barnaul made 28 measuments between the Selenga and the Angara. The deepest marker was 1238 m.

In 1837 the exile Decembrist, a former lieutenant of the Guards Carriage, M. Kuechelbeker took up measuring in the Barguzinsky Bay. Twenty two years later the lieutenant K. Kononov made measuring on the south of the lake for the purposes of the telegraph cable project. He had the rope of one thousand sazhen long (1830 m) and a lead of one pood weight (16, 38 kg). Not far from Listvyanka sailors made a measurement of 802 sazhens. The basis of the scientific research of the depth, the reservoir underwater topography was laid by the Polish rebels Benedict Dybovsky and Victor Godlevsky. In 1870 they were awarded the gold medal of the Russian Geographical Society. The sounder that they invented is used in its modernized version even now. It is especially reliable in winter, when working on ice.

In the 30s of the XXth century the expedition on the boat “B. Dybovsky” sounded the depth of 1741 m near the Olkhon. Alas! The repeated measuring did not confirm this depth. In 1962 the detailed bottom research was conducted by the Limnological Institute. With a lead they registered the depth of 1620 m. It was found in the cavity between Capes Khara -Khushun and Izhimey at the foot of the Olkhon underwater slope, ten kilometers from the eastern shore. The soundings defined it more precisely. Here it was 1637 m. The Americans found out the depth of 1710 m, but the result requires validation as those specialists used a device for marine saltwater. Still the deepest point of the lake is situated almost in the middle of the Sacred Sea: the distance to the Kultuk Bay in the south-east and the distance to the Severoangarskiy Bay in the south-west fron this place is almost equal, it is a little more than 300 km. Diving of scholars and practical workers into the depths of Lake Baikal are quite usual today.

The goals of these divings can be differentiated into three major fields: a) technical assistance (repair of underwater parts of ships, search of sunk vehicles, etc.); b) study of underwater flora and fauna and those natural processes that take place in the depths; c) study of the remnants of ancient peoples culture that had gone under water. The latter activity is a new one, and its prospects are beyond doubt. In connection with this it is appropriate to speak about one of the scientific expeditions in 1988 that was the first to perform the Baikal underwater archaeological research. Here we refer to the data collected by the head of the expedition, a Candidate of History, A. V. Tivanenko.

In a series of articles published in “Pravda Buryatii” (December 1989) he attempts to explain why on the shores of Lake Baikal there are so few settlements of people who developed the taiga expanses of Siberia thousands of years ago. It was suggested that these sites went under water; and the process of flooding low shore areas still goes on. This idea was supported by specialists, but they needed facts.

The Chivyrkuisky Bay was chosen the venue of the first Baikal underwater archaeological research. The reason for the choice was the fact that the last few years all the settlements of ancient people discovered by the Irkutsk archaeologist V. V. Svininov and other scientists have gone under water. This fact was explained by the general rising of the water level in the result of the construction of the Angara Hydroelectric Power Plants. Now the level of Lake Baikal bounced back, but the former settlements did not dry up, moreover, they are still stay at the depths of up to 2 m or more. In the flooded turf and the past sea-tossed terraces the members of the expedition used to find the fragments of pottery, stone tools, and bronze and iron objects. On the Baklany Island the ancient settlement went down to the depth of up to 4 – 6 m and extended for a distance of 100 m away from the shore.

Flying around the bay one can notice that in many places the bottom is well-seen, that indicates the presence of shallows there and the bay islands are connected with dry lands with the help of shallows. It can mean that long time ago these shallows used to be lowlands.

The research in the area of the Chivyrkuy Bay under the leadership of A.V. Tivanenko showed that the idea of the Baikal Atlantis (Baikaltis) is getting the first actual confirmation. But it is necessary to acknowledge that five or six tools are not enough to confirm the hypothesis at least until the moment when at the bottom of the lake ancient cultural layer will be discovered, rather than separate findings. Nevertheless, the discovery of ancient tools that probably belonged to the Paleolithic period presents a great scientific interest.

The helicopter flight over the land between the Barguzinsky and Chivyrkuisky Bays allowed observing a strange linear arrangement of trees, rocks and some ditches. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that once when the lake bottom raised rapidly, huge masses of water flooded out from the newly established land. The observation of the roll-away surf waves from gently sloping sandy beach showed the similar mechanism of linear grooves and ridges of stone formation. It is interesting and important to note that the underwater anomalies (may be normalies) have never been studied properly and their mysteries are still waiting to be explored. And in Lake Baikal there are a huge number of unexplained underwater phenomena. Some talk about huge creatures such as Nessie in the lake; someone observed obscure underwater swimmers; someone recallect strange croaking sounds and inhuman polyphony from the depths of it.

In the 70s of the 20th century the underwater exploration of the Baikal continued. “Paysis”, a deep operating vehicle, run by the specialists from the Institute of Oceanology of the USSR Science Academy, was lucky to visit the bottom of Lake Baikal. It was an international project. Two such apparatus – “Paysis-7” and “Paysis-11” – were purchased from the Canadian firm “Hydrodynamics Company” or “Hyno”. And the “Paysis-7” body was produced by the company “Sulzer” in Switzerland though usually such vehicles were made in Vancouver. The vehicle test turned out to be a problem, since there was no water reservoir with a suitable depth for the respective operations nearby. This problem was solved there, i.e., in Europe; after assembling the vehicle was taken for testing in Genoa.

In July 1977, two deepwater vehicles “Paysis-7” and “Paysis-11” started their descent into the waters of Lake Baikal. Their program included the following parts:

  • “Rift” – the search for traces of tectonic movements;

  • “Dokembry” – the study of the western side of the Baikal basin structure;

  • “Litodynamics” – the monitoring of the sediment layers;

  • “Biology” – the observation of biological objects behavior, species composition;

  • “Hydrophisics” – the measuring of water temperature, current velocity, sound distribution velocity, oxygen concentration and the degree of salinity.

The names of programs themselves suggest that the appropriate investigations have not only scientific but also economic value. And this was proved by the activity of the first “Paysises”.

The US astronaut Scott Carpenter, who after flying on the spaceship “Gemini”, lived and worked in the ocean underwater laboratory “Silab-2” at a depth of 66 meters during a month, described the economic and scientific significance of the research of underwater depths: “According to a conservative estimate, at the bottom of the lake there are immense wealth in the form of diamonds, gold, copper, manganese, petroleum, fresh water pearls, and even pirate treasures. The paradox is that these riches are only three hundred meters from a floating luxury liner dance floor, but if you consider the given level of technological development, to get that wealth is harder than to explore the opposite side of the moon that is 240,000 miles away from us. Great discoveries await us everywhere, but the most obvious of them are enclosed under water” [212, p. 4]. To strengthen and expand this viewpoint, the daughter of Professor M. M. Kozhov, the Professor of Irkutsk University Olga Kozhova immediately after her diving on “Paysis” said to her colleagues: “We shall have to reconsider some of the Baikal biology theses!” [164, p. 227]. Appropriate institutions that explore Lake Baikal are expected to increase further the depth of diving in various submersibles. It can lead to new discoveries in biology and geology of the lake, treasure finds, both natural and lost by men. For example, in the summer of 2008 deepwater vehicles “Mir-1” and “Mir-2” were run at a profound depth of the lake in the Republic of Buryatia. It will be possible to speak about the value of the expedition and its scientific contribution in the study of the Baikal after more than 150 descents this and next year.

As for the “hidden” treasures of Lake Baikal, there was a case when in January, 1869 not far from the village Kultuk near the Shaman Cape a mail cart was drowned, in which there were more than a dozen leather bags with silver coins. It is almost impossible to get to the treasure at the great depth that is why it has not been found yet, so there are very good prospects for the treasure seekers in the depths of the Sacred Sea.

In 1992 the deepwater autonomous vehicle “Paysis” reached the most significant depth of Lake Baikal. But the most interesting thing is that the famous explorer Nikolai Drozdov said he had run at a more considerable depth, and in his interview to the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” he said: “We had a unique shooting at Lake Baykal bottom. Twice I launched on the deepwater vehicle bathyscaphe at a depth of 1700 meters. It was very dark there, the temperature over the side was only four degrees above zero, and it was beastly cold, but very interesting. I saw unique crustances and mollusks there” [KP, 17.07.2002]. In this case, we see how some unique and talented individuals can emphasize their own importance. I guess there is nothing wrong with it when creative fiction works for the image of Lake Baikal.

A more modern story of underwater research of the Sacred Sea should be continued by the ongoing expedition of two “Mirs”. The two vehicles “Mir”, owned by the Russia Academy of Sciences Institute of Oceanology named after P.P. Shirshova have been working in Lake Baikal for the third year. The sponsor of the program is the group of companies “Metropol” that paid both the transfer of vehicles and staff from Kaliningrad, where “Mirs” are constantly located, to Lake Baikal, and the entire research program. The international expedition “Mirs on the Baikal” was organized to give an accurate description of the current state of the lake and solve other problems, among them prospecting for hydrocarbon deposits on the bottom of the lake.

There are only four vehicles of this type, and each their dive can be regarded a significant event: “Mirs” worked in the Atlantic, took part in the operations on the sunken submarines search, and set the symbolic flags of Russia at the bottom of the North Pole.

The dive at great depths is carefully thought over in terms of security. The “Mir” type vehicles cannot be drowned under any circumstances; in case of emergency the ballast can be thrown (it weighs one ton). In extremis, if the electricity of the entire vehicle is out of order, there is another scheme: when electromagnets holding capacity of the so-called shot are out of order, the shot pours overboard and the vehicle pops up. In any case air supply in the vehicle is sufficient for several days.

In the book some results of the “Mirs” work have already been given; it was the detection of bacteria colonies that “eat” oil, and unique species of inhabitants of Lake Baikal deep areas. But the main pride of the expedition was the discovery of the so-called gas hydrates – a special kind of ice with a high content of natural gas. Such structures have already been found in other reservoirs, but the Baikal became the first fresh water one in the list; later on scientists discovered hydrates very close to the surface near the mud volcano St. Petersburg; the hydrates were found only several hundred meters below the surface.

Gas hydrates are considered a promising alternative to oil. World supplies of gas hydrates contain more hydrocarbons than all mined oil and gas taken together. Besides, gas hydrate is a renewable resource. Scientists estimate that the volume of gas supply of hydrates in Lake Baikal is cequal to that of the Kovykta field in the Irkutsk Oblast. As a result of subsidencing of the volcano, scientists discovered gas hydrate hills the size more than ones of any sea or ocean.

The specific feature of hydrates is that when the temperature rises, they immediately begin to evaporate rapidly. The members of the expedition were the first scientists who managed to work out the technology of hydrates lifting to the surface without any loss. For the time being it is kept a secret, as they plan to license and make profit of it. The value of gas hydrates that are often referred to as the fuel of the next century, is explained very simply: one volume unit of this unusual ice contains 160 volume units of natural gas. For example, it can be burnt and used for water heating.

Now when we are completing the third edition of the book, “Mirs” are preparing for new dives in the 2010 season. Most likely there will be new discoveries made, our knowledge about natural features of the unique lake-sea expanded, its flora and fauna shown, and personal brands of Russian and foreign VIP-persons promoted. But more and more often I am beginning to think that all natural and scientific development and discoveries at the depths and on the shores of Lake Baikal increasingly emphasize its role for human beings and its influence on the moral and ecological world of people. These “depths” cannot be measured by any vehicle.

Today the study of the underwater world of Lake Baikal is possible by the mass kind of sports, like diving with an aqualung. 10 year old hildren can start practicing diving under the supervision of adults. Apparently, the time will soon come when the Baikal will be the place for a variety of competitions on specific types of diving. With the development of computer technologies virtual underwater journey through the depths becomes more affordable and demanded within the public. For instance, today in the Baikal Museum situated in settlement Listvyanka it is possible to experience a virtual dive to the bottom of Lake Baikal in a bathyscaphe.

In conclusion I find it necessary to speak about the need to form reverent attitude towards this natural wealth. In the condition of increasing water scarcity in the world, this approach may help establish the tradition of daily care for the water safety. By the way, in the world practice there are a lot of historical examples of it. One of them is associated with the English National Park Tick District; there is even a kind of springolatry. The ceremony of well decoration that has existed for centuries within the local population is one of the National Park sights. A flat, rectangular shape measuring approximately 0, 5 – 1, 5 meters is filled with a layer of soft chalk. The chalk is smoothed, and then flower petals, pine needles, pieces of bark, in a word, something natural is pressed into it. There is an ornament, sometimes a very complex one, or an entire picture, which is set in front of the well and then the well is sanctified. Such sacred attitude to water is a sign of people’s gratitude to it as a heeler. The event is dated differently. Some call it the year of 1359, when the residents of Tissington, a small village in the southern part of this park, started to believe that “the black death” (plague) had bypassed them only thanks to the extraordinary purity of the water they drank. Others say it was the year of 1615, when Tissington wells, despite the drought, didn’t run out. The similar reverent attitude to water sources must characterize the psychology of Lake Baikal area inhabitants. And only so we can make the wish “Be the holy waters of Lake Baikal” come true.

See also


  1. A.D. Karnyshev "The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal"© BSU Publishing House, 2011

Выходные данные материала:

Жанр материала: English | Автор(ы): Karnyshev A.D. | Источник(и): The Many Faces of Multilingual and Mysterious Baikal. Ulan-Ude. 2012 | Дата публикации оригинала (хрестоматии): 2011 | Дата последней редакции в Иркипедии: 30 марта 2015

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Тематический указатель: Irkipedia English