Winding down another Baikal field season

the cutter Kozhov

The cutter Kozhov, which took us on our sampling cruise. Photo: Kara Woo.

Today is our last day in Bol’shie Koty and we’re wrapping up the last of our sample preparation and packing. We’ve crammed an amazing amount of science into the last week, starting with a three day research cruise along the coast of the southern basin of the lake. As we’ve mentioned before, we’re examining the nearshore food web under varying temperature and nutrient conditions, so we sampled fourteen sites in total between Bol’shoe Goloustnoe to the north and Listvyanka to the south. Continue reading

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An abundance of Lake Baikal rotifers


The rotifer Filinia from Lake Baikal, near Bolshie Koty, 18 August 2015. Photo: Stephanie Hampton

Ted, Kara and Michael rowed a bit offshore to collect some water and in the process of prepping to filter it, we saw that we had gathered a huge diversity of rotifers – beautiful microscopic animals that eat algae and bacteria in the lake! Frequently our water samples, even nearshore, have been a monoculture of one type of zooplankton, Epischura, but this time just about every rotifer I’ve ever dreamed I’d see in a single sample is in the water, looking healthy and happy! (Rotifer nerds – read or skip to the end – you know I’ll list them)

Having deployed Ted’s nutrient-algae experiment much more quickly than we had expected (!!), we realized that we now had some moments in between other field work to think about experimenting with rotifers. How could we be at Baikal and not use every waking moment for science? It’s a treasure trove for biologists! The water just offshore right now is full of diverse zooplankton,  a great opportunity to look at a whole suite of plankton interactions under varying temperature. So, we were able to turn what might have been a 8-hour workday into a 15-hour workday today, burning images of rotifers on our retinas through microscopes! Yes, I’m excited about this!

We have been thinking about how temperature can alter predator-prey interactions, as various organisms respond differentially to temperature change. Continue reading

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Keeping an eye on Siberian fires

Many of our friends and colleagues have asked us about the Siberian wildfires occurring around Lake Baikal this summer. The short answer is that we feel safe at Bolshie Koty and smoke here is episodic. This NASA Earth Observatory image is from several days ago – there are more recent NASA images of the smoke on the lake but I like the ones that NASA has annotated like this!


An annotated image of fires around Lake Baikal from NASA Earth Observatory – the image was acquired 8 August 2015.

Continue reading

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Commence round 2 of the 2015 Baikal field season

Following on the heels of Marianne’s group, the second portion of this year’s field crew has made it to Bol’shie Koty. We had a long but uneventful journey to Irkutsk, where we ran some errands and then hopped on the hydrofoil to BK. We felt right at home once we recognized familiar faces among the hydrofoil crew.

Today we set out on a reconnaissance mission and sampling test run. Our broad goal for this season is to examine Baikal’s food web under varying temperature and nutrient conditions. First we hiked north of Bol’shie Koty to scout out potential beaches from which to sample. Then we headed back into town, donned our waders, and collected a few nearshore amphipods and scraped rocks for algae. Our USB microscopes proved tricky to use in the field due to strong glare and scampering critters, but we did manage to capture a few images.

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Tomorrow the final member of our team will join us in Bol’shie Koty and the real whirlwind of sampling and experiments will begin!

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Hunting for Red Epischura

It’s a peaceful day with the sun shining brightly in Siberia. The vast expanse of Lake Baikal stretches out across the horizon, framed by mountain peaks. Suddenly a breeze picks up, and it’s time to go out in the rowboat and grab the experiment before the weather changes. On a lake fondly referred to by some as “the adolescent” for it’s rapidly changing behavior, more characteristic of an ocean than a lake, timing is everything.


Deploying the experiment – Photo credit Bart De Stasio


On the Sacred Sea – Photo credit Kristin Huizenga

The team here on Lake Baikal, including Bart De Stasio from Lawrence University, is conducting a bag experiment in the near shore waters of Lake Baikal in an effort to discover the feeding preferences of the local copepod, Epischura. This native to Lake Baikal is incredibly important in the food web. It is often credited with cleaning the lake and is a staple in the transfer of energy from the primary producers of the lake up to the Nerpa, the fresh water seal of Lake Baikal. Through the experiment, we hope to discover which species and the size range of plankton on which Epischura prefer to feed.


Picking Epischura – Photo credit Bart De Stasio


Epischura – Photo credit Bart De Stasio


Sunset on the Sacred Sea – Photo credit Kristin Huizenga

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Baikal research at the ASLO meeting in Granada Spain

Several of us recently returned from the international meeting of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, held in Granada Spain this year. One highlight of the meeting for me was our session on “Recent Ecological Change in Ancient Lakes,” which included ancient lakes researchers who are normally scattered all over the world. It was an inspiring session, and looks very likely to lead to a review paper on this topic – stay tuned!


Researchers of ancient lakes gathering at ASLO in Granada Spain, 2015. Photo: Unknown Passerby (thank you!)

But I’ll admit that for me the most inspiring part of the meeting was Continue reading

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Algal blooms in Baikal

A new paper from Timoshkin et al. in Hydrobiological Journal describes a previously unrecorded phenomenon in Baikal: massive mats of filamentous green algae (Spirogyra and Stigeoclonium) have been appearing in autumn along the shores of the lake.

In the article, “Mass development of filamentous algae of genera Spirogyra and Stigeoclonium (Chlorophyta) in the coastal zone of southern Baikal”, Timoshkin et al. analyze data from the western shore of the lake’s south basin from 2003 and 2008-2013. In the years 2011-2013, late autumn blooms of Spirogyra and Stigeoclonium dominated study sites, replacing the more common Ulothrix zonata. The species of Spirogyra present at these sites, Spirogyra fluviatilis, had not been recorded in the lake before. Such massive blooms of Spirogyra can degrade water quality, say the authors.

Microscopic image of Spirogyra. Photo by Bob Blaylock.

Microscopic image of Spirogyra. Photo by Bob Blaylock.

The dearth of research on benthic algae in the last 15 years prevents us from determining exactly when these blooms began appearing, but they seem to be a relatively new occurrence. Stigeoclonium blooms were also found in other parts of the lake in 2013: the western shore of Maloe More and the tip of the north basin.

Timoshkin et al. suggest that these blooms may be the result of increased nutrient inputs into the lake. They point out that tourism in the area has increased in recent years, and some settlements near Baikal’s shore lack centralized sewage treatment facilities. However, scientists have not yet demonstrated changes in nutrient levels in these areas, so it is difficult to say with certainty whether the blooms are a result of human impacts or natural cycles.

Тимошкин, О. А., Бондаренко, Н. А., Волкова, Е. А., Томберг, И. В., Вишняков, В. С., & Мальник, В. В. (2014). Массовое развитие зеленых нитчатых водорослей родов Spirogyra и Stigeoclonium (Chlorophyta) в прибрежной зоне южного Байкала. Гидробиологический Журнал, 50(5), 15-26.

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