When I was an undergrad at the University of Kansas, my Limnology professor John O’Brien told us about Lake Baikal in a long fascinating lecture – I was literally on the edge of my seat at the end of that lecture! He made it clear that Lake Baikal was the grand dame of the world’s lakes – a lake of superlatives, and a lake with many mysteries.
Some Superlatives – Oldest (25 million years), deepest (1.7 km), highest volume (>20% of the world’s fresh water), most biologically diverse, highest rates of endemism (e.g., ~50% of the animals are found nowhere else). And – really – freshwater seals too?! (Maybe that’s not technically a superlative, but there is something superlative about nerpa!) More info in this paper! (PDF)
Some Mysteries – How does it remain oxygenated all the way to the bottom? How did the seals get there? What is going on with these massive under-ice algal blooms that dominate the annual primary productivity? What are those weird circles that show up on satellite photos of the ice?
So I jumped at the opportunity to do anything associated with Lake Baikal when Marianne Moore called me in 2004! I was finishing my postdoc work on Lake Washington with Daniel Schindler, and preparing to move to my new faculty job at University of Idaho. Marianne had discovered Lyubov Izmest’eva’s wonderful long-term research program on Lake Baikal, and she called me with some questions about time series analysis, since some of the analyses seemed like they could be similar to what I had done on Lake Washington. (Read about how Marianne discovered the Russian team’s work, in the NYT article – this always makes me smile!)
Together we wrote a proposal with our colleague Eugene Silow, to collaboratively analyze the Lake Baikal data set at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). I spent my 2004 Christmas break in my pajamas writing the NCEAS proposal with them, passing it back and forth over email – not completely ignoring my dog and my husband, but they might remember it differently! Luckily the NCEAS Science Advisory Board saw the merits in our small group’s project, and we convened for the first time in 2005.
Marianne has known our Russian friends longer, through her marvelous Wellesley College Baikal expeditions. She and her colleagues from the Russian Department take groups of students to the lake on summer expeditions that explore both the science and the culture of Lake Baikal – truly a transformative undergraduate experience!
By 2008, we had published several papers on our Lake Baikal work, and Elena Litchman contacted us by email, letting us know that she had always been interested in working on Lake Baikal. Elena’s family is originally from Ulan Ude, on the Eastern shore of Lake Baikal, and she is a professor at Michigan State University. Marianne and I had always been impressed by Elena’s fantastic work on phytoplankton, and after meeting her in person at a conference on climate change and lakes, we were eager to collaborate!
As we contemplated submitting a NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity proposal, Lev Yampolsky and Ed Theriot were natural partners! They already had experience on Lake Baikal, working with invertebrates and phytoplankton respectively, and brought great new ideas and much enthusiasm to the project. Their research was perfectly aligned with the project, and Ed in particular has demonstrated remarkable breadth in his publications. 😉
With all the players lined up, here a longer story of NSF grant proposal writing, rejection and ultimately NSF funding ensues!…