First look underwater at Baikal

Waiting for computer models to run seems like a good time to blog.

Here is the lab bench where we have set up to work while at Lake Baikal. July 18th, 2012 Photo: SE Hampton

I have been blessed more than once with offices in very nice places with very nice views, but where I am now wins hands-down.  From the lab bench here at the biological station we can see the lake through the trees and at times the mountains on the eastern shore.  The sun is out today so it’s particularly stunning.

One of the things we want to attempt this trip is to spend time in the water to make direct observations on the benthic communities.  So yesterday afternoon, Steph and I went to the beach at the Chernaya cove to do some snorkeling in the near shore.   Chernaya cove is a walk on rough path and dirt road through the woods for about 2.6km south from the biological station at BK.  Teo came along to help, and keep an eye on things while we were in the water. 

SCUBA diving here would have been great, but we were limited in how much gear we could carry – so snorkeling will do. On the upside, the steep gradient of the bottom means that many of the critters we are interested in seeing are close to shore.  The downside is that the water is really cold, and our snorkeling gear is fit more for California where we live than the 8 degree water here at Baikal.  So after about a 10 minute period of ice cream headaches things seemed to equalize and feel better and we could cruise around pretty well.  The bottom along the western shore of Baikal is largely cobble and small boulder with occasional sand channels on small terraces along the steep gradient from the shore to deep water. Teo and Ted had been sampling in the boat a couple of days ago and found 100m deep water approximately 200m from the beach – so that is a steep gradient.

These columnar sponges are common in Lake Baikal and provide habitats for diverse invert fauna. July 19th, 2012. Photo: SL Katz

Our ambitions for the dive were modest; we wanted to find out if we could tolerate the cold water, and then see if we could actually get a good look at the animals in the water.    In particular we have heard much about the freshwater sponges.  There is actually a diverse community of sponges in the near shore, with some clear zonation going from the beach to deep water.  Starting about 40m from the beach we began to see low-profile encrusting sponges on the cobbles in 3 to 4 m of water.  Once we got out to 5 to 6 m of depth, we starting seeing the large green columnar sponges.  These sponges get quite big, form large “forests” and are are emblematic of Baikal.  These sponges are interesting in many ways, but for our interests they are habitat for numerous other benthic invertebrates.  We got some practice with the underwater camera taking some test shots.  They did not come out as well as I hoped, but I think we learned a fair bit about how to operate out there under these conditions, and we are going out again this afternoon to try again.

Steve Katz at the end of a very cold snorkeling dive in Lake Baikal. July 19th, 2012 Photo: SE Hampton

So after another 20 minutes and some sediment samples for Teo to look for interstitial algae, my fingers were no longer able to operate the camera so we decided to call it a day.  Onto the beach and sitting in the sun, to try and warm up like agamid lizards on rocks before the hike back to BK.  On the hike back we were once again struck by the diversity of wild flowers that are everywhere here at Baikal.  I took a few pictures of these, one of which is here, but the number of different flowers is amazing and probably deserves its own post in the near future.

One of the countless local wildflowers blooming right outside the lab – along with a small beetle masquerading as a bee. July 19th, 2012. Photo: SL Katz

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2 Responses to First look underwater at Baikal

  1. Pingback: Baikal’s floral diversity | Lake Baikal Dimensions of Biodiversity

  2. Pingback: Snorkeling in Lake Baikal | Lake Baikal Dimensions of Biodiversity

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