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A description of Baikal's water & questions concerning its pollution by S.A.Gurulev

Baikal water  Depth

When one first takes a look at this lake-sea, whether from the cliff shore near the source of the Angara, or from the flat banks at the mouth of the Selenga overgrown with small bushes and reeds, the human imagination is overwhelmed by the unembraceability of this watery mass, and automatically thoughts spring up about the great bulk of water plunging down into the depths. These very thoughts are clearly felt in the first Russian documents on Baikal.

In 1675, the Russian ambassador to China, Nikolai Milesku-Spafarii, crossed over Baikal in a wooden boat. The ambassador described his journey in a brief diary account. Passing by the Irkutsk stockade, not yet a town, he acquainted himself with works on the geography of the region. In his description Spafarii included information on the rivers Lena and Vitim, where, in fact, he never went. And he made a place in his diary for a special chapter - "A description of the Baikal sea all around...". This description was not compiled by Spafarii, all the more since he never journeyed around the lake by land or sea.

In the "Description..." it is said that "...its [Baikal's - S.G] size in length, breadth and depth is very great indeed...". An explanation follows: "Its depth is great, as many a time a hundred and more fathoms have been measured and the bottom not reached...". This explanation indicates that the first to try to measure the depth of Baikal were Russian explorers. Even then, in the XVII century, it became clear that the deepest part of the lake was near the island of Olkhon. In the "Description..." it is recorded: "...from the island of Olkhon to the Svyatoi Nos peninsular, where people cross over, the depth is very great, it can take a day and a half to cross with difficulty, and in those places many vessels perish". In the same place the idea of a connection between the depth of the lake and the height of the surrounding mountains is put forward: "Its depth is enormous... which is governed by the fact that all around Baikal there are extremely high mountains..."

It was only in 1797 that the depth of the lake in South Baikal, in a line from the source of the Angara towards the mouth of the Selenga, was measured by workers of the Kolyvano-Voskresensky factories in the Altai, Smetanin and Kopylov. They determined that the greatest depth was 1238 metres. Later, in 1821, a bathymetric profile of South Baikal was compiled and published according to the findings of investigators.

In 1876 a bathymetric map of South Baikal was published that had been compiled by the Polish exiles and outstanding researchers of Baikal, Benedict Dybovsky and Victor Godlevsky. Here the deepest part of Baikal was 1373 metres.

From 1876 till 1902 a hydrographic expedition under the direction of F.K.Drizhenko carried out work at Baikal and a navigational chart of the lake was compiled. Measurements of the depths were taken mainly near the shores and only rarely over the whole lake. It was established that the greatest depths were in Central Baikal, these being 1450 and 1552 metres.

In the 1920s and 30s investigations into the depth of the lake were carried out by the Limnological Station (now the Limnological Institute) under the direction of Gleb Y.Vereshagin. In South Baikal a depth of 1419 was found, and, in the Central region, large areas with depths of over 1500 metres. A maximum depth of 1741 metres was established near Olkhon, off Cape Ukhan.

In the '50s and '60s bathymetric work was undertaken not with ropes and lines, as had been the case up till then, but using echometers that register the passage of sound waves through water. In these years Central Baikal was measured most thoroughly. In these investigations a depth of 1741 was not found. The results here were limited to a maximum depth of 1620 metres, which is officially accepted to this day.

There were also annoying mistakes made in this period. At one time in the newspapers there appeared a sensational statement made by a scientist of the Limnological station, Vassily V. Lamakin about the discovery in Central Baikal of a depth of 1900 metres. However, it was soon discovered that this was a mistake. In one of the soundings on a vessel in almost stormy weather the echo sounder gave a series of false readings. The scientist made his apologies, but then only in a scientific journal.

In 1992 a bathymetric map of the whole of Baikal was published, having been compiled by the Head Office of Navigation and Oceanography of the USSR Ministry of Defence. Echo soundings for a definite grid gave the following results: the maximum sounded depth of the Southern Basin is 1461 m. (to the south-west of the mouth of the Selenga), of the Central Basin 1642 m. (off Cape Izhimei), and of the Northern Basin - 904 m. (off Cape Zavorotny).

The lake's depth has been measured at each submersion of "Pisces". According to the reports of observers going down in this craft, the deepest part in Central Baikal, off the island of Olkhon, is a little more than 1620 m. and reaches 1637 m. Will a depth of over 1642 metres ever be established, I wonder?

Baikal is the deepest lake on the planet (1642 m.) In second place is Lake Tanganyika (Africa) at 1470m., following which is the Caspian Sea at 945 m., and Lake Nyasa (Africa) with a depth of 706 metres.

The greatest depths are in the central part of Baikal, equidistant from its south and north ends. In respect to this it is impossible not to recollect the empirical rule on determining places of greatest depth in lakes, set down by the American naturalist and writer Henry D.Thoreau, and the rule so-called by him of two diameters. It says: the greatest depth of a lake lies at the intersection of its length with its greatest width. That is just what it is in the case of Baikal: it is widest at the latitude of Olkhon, and it is no accident that its greatest depths lie off this island.
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