The deep submergence research vehicles (DSRVs) Mir-1 and Mir-2 are being prepared for their dives to the bed of Lake Baikal. Their crews are readying the craft for serious scientific studies of the plant and animal life at the bottom of the lake, the level of hydrocarbons, and a precise measurement of the depth at the lakebed. This upcoming expedition is the first of its kind, for no earlier DSRV exploration reached the bottom and were able to conduct experiments there.
Baikal, a unique ecosystem in all of nature, lies in the southern reaches of eastern Siberia. In size, it is about equal in area to Belgium, Switzerland, or Holland. It holds 22 percent of the freshwater in the world, and 90 percent of the Russian supply. If one was to fill the Baikal basin by diverting to it all the rivers of the world, scientists calculate that such a move would take 300 days. The plant and animal life of the lake is no less unique. More than 2,600 species of animals and over 1,000 kinds of plants live here, the majority of them being unique to this ecosystem habitat. The purity of the lake is ensured by its microscopic life that filters the upper layer of the water down to a depth of 50 metres (@165 feet).
The DSRVs shall dive at several locations around the lake. Near the mud volcano on the lakebed, chemical measurements shall be taken, water samples shall be obtained, and benthic sedimentations with gas hydrates shall be measured.
According to Robert Nigmatulin, the Director of the Institute of Oceanography, “We assume that there are large deposits of gas hydrates on the bottom, that is, crystals composed of methane and water. According to some theories, a heavy concentration of gas is found in them. No one thinks that we can take them from the bottom. However, scientists shall try to see if we can obtain cheap natural gas from them in future. Besides this, we intend to study the undercurrents, which are of great interest. Baikal is not like a cup with still water. The water flows in one direction on the surface, and, yet another in the depths. We would like to find out how this occurs and how it affects the life in this habitat”.
The first descent is planned for late July, tentatively scheduled for 23 July. 60 dives are planned this year, and next year, 100 more are on the docket. Not only Russian specialists shall participate in the Baikal expedition, for foreign scientists are slated to take part as well. Experts from the Oceanographic Institute of Prince Albert II of Monaco, various UN bodies, and from leading institutes in the USA and Japan are part of the effort. All of the scientists are confident that many new discoveries await them.
18 July 2008
Voice of Russia World Service