Chapter

Lake Baikal in Crisis

Authors:
  • Daursky Biosphere Reserve
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Abstract

Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest freshwater lake on the planet with unique flora and fauna. Of the 2595 species and subspecies of animals present, 56% are endemic. Lake Baikal is of exceptional value for the study of evolution. In 1996 Lake Baikal was inscribed on the World Natural Heritage List and then protected by special national legislation. During 2010–20 scientists have documented an alarming number of problems occurring mostly in the near-shore zone of Lake Baikal, which include harmful algal blooms triggered by nutrient pollution, mass mortality of endemic sponges caused by pathogens, pollution from PCB's and microplastics, and fluctuating lake levels. The ecosystem crisis in the near-shore zone is exacerbated by the effects of climate change. The current crisis is partly caused by a multitude of human-induced threats, such as pipeline and railroad construction, excessive tourism development and massive land-grabs in coastal areas, insufficient sewage treatment, lake level regulation in the interest of hydropower industry, poor management of fisheries, forest fires and logging, and legacy pollution threats from Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. Although Lake Baikal is not included on the List of World Heritage in Danger, decisions regarding the protection of the property were made during 22 out of 23 World Heritage Committee sessions held since 1996. Typically, this much attention is only paid to properties included on the List of World Heritage in Danger and we argue that such inscription may facilitate timely development of a legally-binding plan for safeguarding the Lake . Outline: 1. Abstract 2. Keywords 3. Part 1. Lake Baikal World Heritage values and protection status o Unique values of the Lake Baikal o Legal protection of the World Heritage o Disruptions to the Lake ecosystem 4. Part 2. Threats to Lake integrity o Threats of oil and gas pipeline construction o The “Main Infrastructure” projects get exemption from the EIA procedures o Coastal development and tourism press o Development of special economic zones o Baikalsk pulp and paper mill (BPPM) and the development of industrial parks o The impact of the Irkutsk Hydro on Lake Baikal o Dam construction on tributaries o Mining o Lake pollution and standards for allowable impacts on the unique ecosystem of Lake Baikal o Lake Baikal fisheries o Forest management and forest fires o Climate adaptation and World Heritage Property Management 5. Conclusion: Will Lake Baikal be inscribed on the list of World Heritage in Danger? 6. References =========================================== Unfortunately in September 2021 the Researchgate management had to follow instructions from Elsevier and remove public copy of this chapter (SEE https://www.researchgate.net/blog/post/a-note-on-recent-content-takedowns ). However most of this training module factual material is based on our reporting to UNESCO also presented in a report dedicated to 25th anniversary of Natural World Heritage in Russia (SEE https://www.researchgate.net/publication/346965137 ). Below we attach only small (but very informative) sub-chapter " Disruptions to the Lake ecosystem" unique to this edition. It is a concise overview of scientific evidence on Lake Baikal ecosystem crisis. Dear Elsevier, please, note, that it does not exceed 5% of original text and thus we have full legal rights to share this text, even according to your self-serving standards, which impede exchange of ideas.

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Technical Report
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This Report is an updated review of conservation status of Lake Baikal, first published in 2020 in a collection of papers dedicated to the 25th anniversary of World Natural Heritage in Russia . It was updated through monitoring conducted by many conservation activists and scientists. The manuscript reflects the situation with Lake Baikal conservation as of May 1, 2022
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The features of anomalous Siberian wildfires in 2019 and trends of their changes during 2000–2019 are analyzed on the basis of satellite monitoring data. The average values of wildfire areas; total volumes of CO, CO2, and aerosol PM2.5 emissions; and their density (per area unit) in the Siberian Federal District of Russia and its regions are estimated for a 20-year period, as well as the fire counts, fire radiative power, and spatial distribution of wildfires on the territory of Northern Eurasia in 2019. In July 2019, the wildfire area in Irkutsk oblast exceeded the average value for the period of 2001–2019 by more than four times, whereas the related total volumes of emissions of CO, CO2, and PM2.5 aerosol in June 2019 were five times higher than their average values for this period. The regional features of weather-climate regime of summer 2019 were revealed using onland observations and reanalysis, in particular, atmospheric blocking, which is related to the formation of severe wildfires and floods in adjacent territories of Siberia.
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Water levels of lakes fluctuate naturally in response to climatic and hydrological forcing. Human over-exploitation of water resources leads to increased annual and interannual fluctuations of water levels, at times far beyond natural amplitudes and/or at altered time schedules. Climate change models predict increased occurrence of extreme events (flooding, extended droughts), which will further magnify the seasonal and multiannual amplitude of water level fluctuations in lakes. A relatively wide literature base already exists for shallow lakes, demonstrating that excessive water level fluctuations impair ecosystem functioning, ultimately leading to shifts between clear-water and turbid states. Evidence is gradually building in the published literature demonstrating that deep (stratified) freshwater lakes also respond adversely to excessive water level fluctuations. Analysis of existing data suggests that at moderate disturbance levels littoral habitats are affected, and hence their biota is also impacted. At further disturbance levels, ecosystem destabilization symptoms are observed, including weakening of keystone species, proliferation of nuisance and invasive species, loss of biodiversity, and increased internal nutrient loading. Ultimately, eutrophication symptoms are manifested, especially large and more frequent cyanobacterial blooms, without increased external nutrient loading. Examples from a range of subtropic and temperate freshwater lakes and reservoirs demonstrate that both top-down and bottom-up processes promote those symptoms. The response of aquatic ecosystems, particularly deep lakes, to water level fluctuations is an under-studied field of crucial importance to the management of water resources, where limnolo-gists have a leading role to play in the near future.
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High-resolution data collected over the past 60 years by a single family of Siberian scientists on Lake Baikal reveal significant warming of surface waters and long-term changes in the basal food web of the world's largest, most ancient lake. Attaining depths over 1.6 km, Lake Baikal is the deepest and most voluminous of the world's great lakes. Increases in average water temperature (1.21 °C since 1946), chlorophyll a (300% since 1979), and an influential group of zooplankton grazers (335% increase in cladocerans since 1946) may have important implications for nutrient cycling and food web dynamics. Results from multivariate autoregressive (MAR) modeling suggest that cladocerans increased strongly in response to temperature but not to algal biomass, and cladocerans depressed some algal resources without observable fertilization effects. Changes in Lake Baikal are particularly significant as an integrated signal of long-term regional warming, because this lake is expected to be among those most resistant to climate change due to its tremendous volume. These findings highlight the importance of accessible, long-term monitoring data for understanding ecosystem response to large-scale stressors such as climate change.
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The aim of the study is to investigate POP levels in environmental media (air, snow, soil and sediment), certain food items in the Olkhon district (Irkutsk Region, Russia) and Lake Baikal seal (nerpa) fat and meat in order to define the main pathways of elevated human exposure to POPs in the area. POP levels in soil and air samples and in almost all of the food items from the Olkhon district were comparable to levels in background areas of the Lake Baikal region. Only certain chicken eggs, large fish and blubber of nerpa pups exceeded maximum permissible levels of ΣDDTs and ΣHCHs. The combination of elevated levels of POPs in the Baikal nerpa with the use of Baikal nerpa fat (traditional nutritional habits, feed additives, aswell as medicine for humans and domestic animals) results in two pathways for POPs to enter the human body: from seals it enters the human body directly, and indirectly fromseals to poultry and livestock and then to the human body. Several scenarios of human exposure to POPs including the incidental ingestion of soil, inhalation of air, and ingestion of food were considered. The largest part of POPs enters the human organism through chicken eggs followed by fish and cow's milk in the scenario without the consumption of nerpa meat and blubber. The high consumption rate of fish as well as the consumption of the fat of nerpa pups or melted fat of nerpa increases the daily intake of POPs 1.3–11 times. The indexes of non-cancer risk and total cancer risk were assessed for residents of the Olkhon district and compared with indexes of risk for the average population of Irkutsk Region. Limiting the use of nerpa fat and meat as food and feed supplement reduces the potential human health risk.
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Wildfire frequency, relative area burned, and fire return intervals (FRI) have been studied in larchdominated forests along the transect from the southern (45° N) to the northern (73° N) distribution limits of larch stands based on analysis of satellite imagery (NOAA/AVHRR, Terra/MODIS; 1996–2015) and collection of tree cross cuts with fire scars. A significant increasing trend in fire extent (R² = 0.50, p < 0.05) has been revealed. Histograms of fire extent and frequency are bimodal in the southern and middle taiga (with peaks in spring–summer and late summer–autumn periods) but become unimodal toward the north (>55° N). The length of FRI increases from 80 years at 62° N to ~200 years at the Arctic Circle and reaches ~300 years near the northern limit of larch stands, showing a significant inverse correlation with the length of fire season (r =–0.69). In turn, the length of fire season, area burned and FRI are closely correlated with latitudinal variation in solar irradiance (r = 0.97, 0.81, and –0.95, respectively).
Article
Cyanobacteria were screened from the surface of diseased sponges, stone and bedrock in Lake Baikal for the presence of saxitoxin using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. In sequel, eight paralytic shellfish toxin (PST) variants were identified using a MALDI mass spectrometry. Microscopic examination found that Tolypothrix distorta dominated in the biofouling samples. PCR and sequencing detected sxtA gene involved in saxitoxin biosynthesis, thereby providing evidence of the PST producing potential of Baikal cyanobacterial communities inhabiting different substrates.
Article
Endemic freshwater demosponges in the littoral zone of Lake Baikal, Russia, dominate the benthic biomass, covering 44% of the benthos. We measured in situ sponge abundance and grazing and calculated sponge-mediated fluxes of picoplankton (plankton <2 μm) for two common species, Baikalospongia intermedia and Baikalospongia bacillifera. By means of dual-beam flow cytometry, we found retention efficiencies ranging from 58 to 99% for four types of picoplankton: heterotrophic bacteria, Synechococcus-type cyanobacteria, autotrophic picoplankton with one chloroplast, and autotrophic picoplankton with two chloroplasts. By using a general model for organism-mediated fluxes, we conservatively estimate that through active suspension feeding, sponges are a sink for 1.97 g C d-1 m-2, mostly from procaryotic cell types. Furthermore, grazing by these extensive sponge communities can create a layer of picoplankton-depleted water overlying the benthic community in this unique lake.
Article
Organochlorine compounds (OCs) such as DDTs (DDT and its metabolites), PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), CHLs (chlordane compounds), and HCHs (hexachlorocyclohexanes) were determined in the blubber of Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica) and their fish diet collected from Lake Baikal in 1992. Residue levels of DDTs and PCBs were in the ranges of 4.9-160 mu g/g and 3.5-64 mu g/g on a lipid weight basis, respectively. The concentrations of CHLs and HCHs were approximately 1 or 3 orders of magnitude lower than those of DDTs and PCBs. Comparison of OC residue levels with those reported for other pinnipeds suggests that Baikal seal is highly contaminated species vulnerable to OC toxicity. A positive age-dependent accumulation of DDTs, PCBs, and CHLs was found in males, while a steady state observed in females suggested the transfer of these chemicals from mother to pup through gestation and lactation. On the basis of contaminant burdens in adult seals, it was estimated that an adult female Baikal seal transfers about 20% of its total DDTs and 14% of its total PCBs to the pup during a reproductive process. Based on the data from isomer-specific analysis of PCBs, it can be suggested that Baikal seals have a higher or comparable capacity to metabolize toxic contaminants than marine mammals, but it is apparently lower than terrestrial mammals, which seems to be a causative factor for the higher accumulation of OC residues in this species.
Article
During the summers of 1993-2001, we carried out expeditions in order to collect sponges and to review their taxonomy and distribution in Lake Baikal. A total of 1,539 specimens were collected in our expeditions. Most specimens were classified into 2 families 7 genera, and 14 species, though some remained unclassified because of taxonomic confusion. Most sponges belonged to the family of Lubomirskiidae which were distributed widely in Lake Baikal. A few sponges with gemmules, which were confined to the "Little sea" near Olkhon Island and to an estuary in the North Basin, belonged to the Spongillidae. In qualitative survey of vertical distribution, B. intermedia showed the highest frequency among all species and found more often in shallow zones. L. baicalensis was second with regard to frequency and also found more often in shallow zones. Though S. papyracea had been believed to inhabit only deeper zones, it occurred in shallow zones as well. In this survey, the biomass of sponges at 10 m depth showed maximum value and showed the second largest at 20m depth.
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