Lake Baikal is situated in East Siberia. It
is the most ancient (25 myr.), the deepest (1637 m.) and the greatest
(23 thousands of cubic kilometers) freshwater body on earth. Geographic information
on the lake and its environment can be found in a recently published Atlas
1993), and we shall not repeat these data. The volume of water stored in Lake
Baikal is 20% of the fresh water contained
in all rivers and lakes of our planet (The Water Encyclopedia, 1990). If water of Lake Baikal was spread. All over the
surface of continents, a layer which is 20 cm thick would be obtained.
Lake Baikal receives 60 cubic kilometers per year
from its riverine tributaries. Approximately the same volume flows out of the
lake through Angara River. The time
during which waters of Lake Baikal are substituted by waters of tributaries is 330 years (Afanasyev, 1960).
problem of pollution of Lake Baikal and the possible changes of its ecological
system under anthropogenic impacts, one has to remember about its enormous volume.
Table 1.1 indicates the amounts of pollutants
which would have to be discharged into Lake Baikal in order that their
concentrations could reach different levels.
Table 1.1. Amounts of pollutants which would have to be discharged into Lake Baikal in
order that their concentrations could reach different levels.
milligram per litre (mg/1)
microgram per litre (µg/1)
nanogram per litre (ng/1)
picogram per litre (pg/1)
Some papers on Lake Baikal present data on
its pollution which seem to be unrealistic for the simple reason that sources
of the large amounts of pollutants which are needed to raise their
concentrations to the published values are unknown. For example, the
concentration of sulphate anion in Lake Baikal is ca. 5.5 mg/1.
Some papers claim that this concentration increased during the
recent years to 6.5 mg/1 due to anthropogenic impact. Such an increase could happen after discharge of
23,000,000 tons of sulphate (see Table 1.1.). To bring this amount, it would be necessary to load 8000
rail-road trains. It is highly unbelievable that an operation of such scale
would remain unnoticed, not to speak that it is hard to imagine that any institution could finance it. A much simpler
explanation of this "observation" on the increased concentration of sulphate is an error of
analytical determination. The turbidimetric method of determination of
sulphate which is routinely used for its monitoring in Lake Baikal gives a statistic error of ± 30 %. This example makes it
evident that the chemical analysis methods employed on Lake Baikal should have a very high accuracy.
The problem of the
purity of the water of Lake Baikal and of the state of different elements
of its ecological systems attract a high attention of the Russian and
international environmentalists. The fact that the ecosystem of Lake
Baikal is unique and has a globalimportance has been legally confirmed when the lake and
its environment were included in 1996 into the List of World Heritage of UNESCO. A Law of the
Russian Federation on the Protection of
Lake Baikal was accepted in 1999.
Everybody understands that Lake Baikal has to be protected.
However, actions which have to be done in order to achieve this goal are very
expensive. Decision makers have to be sure
that these expenses are not in vain. Unfortunately, some scientists and mass
media, wishing Baikal all the best, tended to exaggerate the extent of
its pollution. The examples of such
exaggeration are calculations made by G. I. Galazy (1988). This author cites
evidence according to which purified waste water of the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper
Plant diluted 10,000 times changes
the behavior offish in special experiments. Knowing the volume of waste waters discharged into the lake by this plant during the
time of its existence (ca.2 km3), he claims that already two-thirds of the waters of Lake Baikal (2
x 10000 = 20000 km3) are already changed compared to the native state. Evidently, this
"calculation" is nothing else than a polemic figure. Neither the chemical nature, nor the
concentrations of the compounds which reportedly change the behavior offish are
known. Any compounds changing the behavior offish should disappear from the ecological system at a certain rate due
to evaporation, sedimentation, chemical decomposition, as well by consumption and metabolism by aquatic
organisms. "Calculations" of this kind cannot be a basis for sound economical
or political decisions. In order to come to decisions, it is necessary to
understand the nature of pollutants, to know their concentrations at different
depths and locations, to study their faith.
Even a more complicated task is evaluation of
the state of natural populations of phyto - and zooplankton, fish
and seals, because their abundances are subject to strong natural oscillations
in time and in space. For example, it is known that the concentration of one of
the leading planktonic
diatom algae of Lake Baikal Aulacosira baicalensis changes in different years from analytical zero to more than 400,000
cells per litre (Fig. 1.1.).
Information on Lake Baikal, if it is
used as a basis for practical decisions, has to be obtained by accurate
and precise methods, and by highly qualified specialists. Beginning from 1987,
Lake Baikal has become, due to an initiative of the Limnological Institute, an
object of large-scale international scientific co-operation.
Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences together
with The Royal Belgium Institute of Natural Sciences, The Royal Society of London,
The University of South Carolina, The Japanese Association for Baikal
International Research Programs, The Swiss Federal Institute for
Technology have founded in 1990 the Baikal International Center for
Ecological Research (BICER). More than 200 international expeditions
on Lake Baikal took place under the auspices of BICER since that time. Highly-qualified
Russian and international experts took part in these expeditions. Sophisticated
modern scientific instruments were used to analyze the samples
obtained. The results were published in peer-reviewed international
scientific journals. This gives a certain guarantee of quality. The present
review considers these new data, compared to historical evidence, in order to obtain a
reliable estimate of the present state of the ecological system of Lake Baikal according
to international standards
In order to make perception of this evidence
easier, we compare some of the characteristics of the ecological system of
Lake Baikal with those of two other thoroughly investigated large
lakes, in particular, of the Great Lakes of North America, and of Bodensee (Lake
Constance). The choice of these two ecosystems was to some extent occasional.
One of the
arguments was that they have been thoroughly studied for many decades, and .are
natural properties of a
special value for the countries where they belong.
Fig 1.1. Dynamics of the maximum
abundance of the planktonic diatom alga Aulacoseira baicalensis in Southern
Baikal. Before 1981 - maximum abundances found with
samples taken every 10 days at the pelagic station near Bolshie
Koty. After 1981 - maximum abundances with samples
taken during spring expeditions of the Limnological Institute.
The system of the Great Lakes of North America has almost
the same volume as Lake Baikal ( 30,000 km3).
It includes Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, Michigan and Ontario. The area of
these lakes is much greater than that of Lake Baikal, but they are much younger
and shallower. Anthropogenic impact upon different Great Lakes broadly varies.
For example, many great industries of USA and its Chicago megapolis are
situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. The catchment basin of this lake is one of the greatest centers of
agriculture of the nation. On the contrary, only a small number of plants is
found on the shores of Lake Superior, and there is practically no intense agriculture; the density
of human population in the catchment is similar to that found around
Lake Baikal (1-10 per sq. km, Atlas of the World, 1981, p. 57). Therefore, Lake Superior is the least polluted of the five
The other reference fresh-water ecosystem -
Bodensee - is situated in Central Europe at the junction of the
borders of Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The greatest river of Germany -
Rhein -flows of this lake. The volume of Bodensee is 50 km3
(Rossknecht, 1996), water residence time in it is 6 years. The lake attracts
attention as a valuable natural property, and is also one of the greatest
German sources of potable water.