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If you love Baikal, become a 'people's scientist' to save it from stinking algae

By The Siberian Times reporter
04 August 2016

Call to locals and tourists to aid experts counter the green gunge 'polluting' world's deepest lake.

'According to the preliminary results of hydro-chemical analysis, petroleum products and detergents were not found.' Picture: Anonym 03 Buryatia

Campaigning Siberian journalist Margarita Morozova has called for people to send samples of the invading algae to scientists to allow a lake-wide analysis the problem. 

Her call to action coincides with a plea from a leading Moscow scientist who has studied the problem using satellite images. Dr Zorigto Namsaraev says it is already clear that Baikal cannot be called - as it often is - 'the purest lake in the world'.

He now wants to obtain probes of water to research the underlying reasons for the problems, which he believes is caused by pollution rather than a natural phenomenon in the 25 million year old lake. 

The Siberian Times last week highlighted the foul-smelling 'blot' which has disfigured Baikal's 'most beautiful beach' in the Republic of Buryatia. 

Strange blot on Baikal


Concern over world's oldest and deepest lake as nasty odour and green algae discourages sunbathers in Buryatia.


Concern over world's oldest and deepest lake as nasty odour and green algae discourages sunbathers in Buryatia.

'It was an accumulation of algae. It was stagnant water, it was hot weather. Once the storm has passed, all was smashed away, and there are no blots anymore.' Pictures: Anonym 03 Buryatia

Bathers expressed horror at the putrid pong. Yet state officials are at odds with both scientists such as Dr Zorigto Namsaraev and environmental groups who argue there is a manmade crisis. 

For example, the official representative watchdog Rospotrebnadzor in Buryatia, Tatiana Tsirenova, commented on the beach blot:

'It was an accumulation of algae. It was stagnant water, it was hot weather. Once the storm has passed, all was smashed away, and there are no blots anymore. 

'According to the preliminary results of hydro-chemical analysis, petroleum products and detergents were not found. This suggests that it is likely a natural factor.' 

Baikal in 2014


Baikal in 2016

In 2014 algae accumulations were mostly in the bays of Baikal. But in 2016 a large amount of algae can be seen in the open water, in southern Baikal, but also partially in central and northern areas of the lake. Pictures: Zorigto Namsaraev

The clear disagreement explains the need for 'people's scientists' to provide samples from a huge lake that has a bigger surface area than the country of Belgium, and contains 20% of the world's unfrozen freshwater.  

Last year journalist Morozova, 29, drew attention to the carnage around Baikal from rampant forest fires. She urged people to highlight the tragic destruction of pristine forests by posting pictures of smoke and fires with the hashtag #SaveBaikalForests. 

Now she has turned her attention to the algae and called for residents and visitors to Baikal - a major Russian tourist attraction - to obtain the samples that Dr Namsaraev needs.

The aim is mass participation to enable laboratory experiments that could save the lake. 

Great Lakes in 2016

'The content of chlorophyll on most of the water area [of Great Lakes] is about 10 mg per m2, which is approximately two times lower than in Baikal. Picture: Zorigto Namsaraev

'Compatriots, citizens, tourists, I have a  huge request,' she said. 'Would you please collect the algae samples and send them to Moscow to study. The wider is the geography of collected samples - the better.'

Think like journalists, she urges people. 

'If there is a picture, there's a story, if no pictures - the world will not know about this event. It would be nice to get a few lines with the picture. So, if you're on Baikal and find nasty algae deposits - grab a bottle and a cell-phone. 

'Collect stuff in the bottle, take pictures, make video, saying what you see, where you are, about the smell, colour, your impressions, memories.'

Be a real journalist, she urges them, and interview locals about the algae, recording their answers. 'Feel like a real people's reporter.'

Margarita Morozova

Last year journalist Morozova, 29, drew attention to the carnage around Baikal from rampant forest fires. Picture: Margarita Morozova

Whether participants feel like scientists or reporters matters little: the aim is to create activists dedicated to finding out what is harming Baikal - the 'jewel of Siberia' - so that relevant measures can be taken to put things right. 

Dr Namsaraev, senior researcher at the S.N. Vinogradski Institute of Microbiology, in Moscow, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also wants his fellow scientists in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude to get involved. 

He has used NASA space images of Baikal to ascertain the  chlorophyll content in the aquatic environment, with worrying results. Chlorophyll is the main pigment of plants and algae, and it indirectly indicates how much algae is in the water.

Dr Namsaraev concludes that in 2014 algae accumulations were mostly in the bays of Baikal. But in 2016 a large amount of algae can be seen in the open water, in southern Baikal, but also partially in central and northern areas of the lake. 

Dr Zorigto Namsaraev

Dr Namsaraev, senior researcher at the S.N. Vinogradski Institute of Microbiology, in Moscow, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also wants his fellow scientists in Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude to get involved. Picture: Infopol

In other words, the problem is rapidly growing in a lake famed for its pure water. According to his findings, the chlorophyll content in Baikal increased and now is 20 - 18 milligrams per square metre. 

He asked on Facebook: 'What does all this mean? Firstly, it is difficult to talk about (Baikal) as 'the purest lake in the world'... For comparison, a picture of the Great Lakes in the United States on 22 July 2016. 

'The content of chlorophyll on most of the water area is about 10 mg per m2, which is approximately two times lower than in Baikal. Of course, a direct comparison of the Great Lakes and Lake Baikal to is not quite correct, but in the case of the Great Lakes I'm impressed with the dynamics. 

Algae in Senogda Bay


Algae in Senogda Bay

The expedition of the project 'Russian Shores' inspects the concentration of algae in Senogda Bay, near Severobaikalsk. Pictures: Russian Shores

'In the Seventies and Eighties of the last century, it was believed that the Great Lakes were completely dirtied, but then they managed to reduce runoff into lakes and clean them. It took a lot of work that continues today. 

'Secondly, we need to understand the underlying reasons for the outbreak of algae in Lake Baikal. Most likely, it is a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and temperature.'

He stressed that research is needed - hence the call for samples from the lake. 

'But what exactly causes this? Fertilizers in agriculture in the Selenga River basin? Washing powder in Ulan-Ude, Barguzin and Sevrobaykalsk? Elements coming into the lake with ash from forest fires? We need to study this and not just look at the satellite imagery.' 

Comments (6)

If it hasn't happened before (at this level) then it is obviously pollutants being introduced into the lake and finally reaching a saturation point where it is favourable to algae growth. Pretty simple so don't waste any more time. Investigate all the streams entering the lake including water tables and give the people living in those areas instructions on what not to use or flush anymore. Explain to them about nitrates in detergent and fertilizer, etc. People won't follow if you don't lead properly and part of that is to include them in the clean-up and that includes information and inclusion. The sooner you start the sooner it will be over. This lake served most of our ancestors from 100's of thousands of years ago - including Europeans, Native Americans, Mongolians and most other Chinese peoples, Polynesians, Micronesians, etc etc. It also saved many from the cold of the last glacial age. This lake is a monument - don't let it die. Start a crowd sourcing site.
Erik Bosma, Mission, BC, Canada
30/08/2016 09:35
2
0
Look for the nitrogen. It's almost invariably the limiting factor in algal growth.
When you find the source, it's usually one the government doesn't want to hear about.
Make them listen, and get the sources taken care of.
Then you'll have a clean lake again.
That's how we did it with the great lakes in the US.
When we get sloppy, as in Florida right now, we too have huge algal blooms.
Warm temperatures are a contributor, but the root is nitrogen runoff.
Anabaena Cylindrica, US of A
09/08/2016 02:33
7
1
It's the climate change. Last year a massive influx of green algae invaded all the beaches of the Mexican Caribbean, no one knew really how they grew so many so fast but it lasted almost the whole year.
Andres Suarez, Cancun, Mexico
06/08/2016 12:32
10
0
I think it is an excellent idea to seek the involvement of Citizen Scientists, as well as all Scientists and Investigators, to collect samples, pictures, and local information. Thank you to everyone participating. I agree that this is an important approach that will help to identify the sources creating the algae and to encourage those with the influence to implement solutions to please do so.
Pamela Tetarenko, League City, USA
06/08/2016 07:24
12
0
Have the games being played by the government, university researchers, lobbyists and pay-for-play media helped or hindered algae bloom remediation from ever becoming a reality?

The reality is that they are only funding for research and development, and only at or through institutions of higher education (we could call it the ‘prop up the universities’ act).

US taxpayers have spent over $2.5 billion on algae research over the last 70 years. Where are the algae bloom remediation???
Concerned taxpayer, USA
05/08/2016 19:47
1
0
In france there are some beaches covered with green algaes. It's because there are many pig farms in the countryside near the beaches. And a bit of pig manure go to river water. Perhaps that in Baikal lake there are some
nitrats due to breeding ???
Guilloux Christophe, Caen/Normandy
05/08/2016 01:55
3
0
1

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