A highlight of our team’s Siberian summer was the circum-Baikal sampling expedition that we undertook between August 7 and August 19th. The planning for the cruise started while the lake was still frozen solid and continued until just hours before we actually boarded “Professor Treskov” (the research ship of the Baikal Limnological Museum), so it was an enormous relief to see how smoothly things went during the expedition. A combination of good weather, great crew and, of course, the backdrop of Lake Baikal made for an excellent cruise, both for the doing-science part and the having-fun part.
During the 12 days of our cruise we sampled more than 30 stations throughout the lake, visiting all three basins of Lake Baikal as well as the major bays of the lake: Chiverkuy, Barguzin and Maloe More. Members of our group collected samples of microbes, phytoplankton and zooplankton as part of our goal to examine patterns of biological diversity in the pelagic ecosystem of Lake Baikal and elucidate connections between different levels of biodiversity in the lake. In addition to tackling our main goals we spent three days in Chiverkuy Bay — a eutrophic embayment of Lake Baikal– examining the transition zone between typical Siberian “cosmopolitan” plankton that dominate the inner bay and the unique, endemic-dominated plankton of open Baikal. It was fascinating to see how a plankton community made up of cosmopolitan rotifers, cladocerans, cyclopoid copepods, blue-green algae and “eutrophic” diatoms sharply and suddenly transitions into the unique, cold-adapted plankton of open Baikal.
Aside from getting all of our planned work done, we were fortunate to make many stops at some of the most interesting places around the shores of Lake Baikal. We stopped at Sagan Zaba cliff, famous for its bronze-age drawings of people and animals, visited Ushkanii Islands which are one of the only places where the endemic Baikal seals congregate in large numbers, and took a dip in hot sulfurous springs on the shore of Chiverkuy Bay. We also randomly ran into Marianne and her field course students on Ogoi Island in Maloe More, which is famous for its Buddhist stupa. A personal highlight was finally getting to dive in Lake Baikal and seeing its amazing sponges, bizarre amphipods (including the giant horned Acanthogammarus victorii!) and clear, clear water.
Now, with the cruise over, the real work begins: isolating algae and zooplankton, preparing samples for transport to the US and then running molecular and taxonomic analyses on our samples. Many thanks for the success of our circum-Baikal expedition are due to the hard working crew of the Treskov and the help of the scientific representatives from the Baikal Limnological Museum that joined us on the cruise. And, of course, members of our NSF team that stayed behind at Bol’shie Koty to maintain ongoing experiments and keep the lab ticking played a huge role in the success of our cruise!