Royal Society Publishing

Diatom succession trends in recent sediments from Lake Baikal and their relation to atmospheric pollution and to climate change

A. W. Mackay , R. J. Flower , A. E. Kuzmina , L. Z. Granina , N. L. Rose , P. G. Appleby , J. F. Boyle , R. W. Battarbee


Recent environmental change in Lake Baikal has been attributed to anthropogenic influences on the ecosystem, especially through pollution and cultural eutrophication. These hypotheses are tested in this paper principally by diatom analyses in 20 short sediment cores. Most of the cores were collected with a new type of box corer specifically designed for use on Lake Baikal. Most cores contain a good sediment record but turbidites occur in some sediment profiles which may be best recognized using a combination of techniques, such as radiometric dating and percentage dry weight analyses. The most recent sediments, especially those in the southern basin and in the very north of Baikal, contain a record of anthropogenic contamination in the form of lead and spheroidal carbonaceous particles, which confirms that the southern basin of Baikal is most affected by atmospheric sources of pollution. However, there is no sedimentary diatom evidence indicating offshore water quality deterioration in Baikal owing to air pollution or eutrophication. Small increases in diatoms which indicate nutrient enrichment (e.g. Stephanodiscus minutulus, Synedra acus v. radians and Synedra acus v. acus) may reflect local eutrophication of the shallow waters close to the Selenga Delta and certain coastal sites in the southern basin near to the Baikalsk paper and pulp mill.

By using numerical techniques, Lake Baikal can be split into at least four regions on the basis of its surface sediment flora: the south, middle and north basins, and the shallow waters surrounding the Selenga Delta region. Diatom analyses reveal that the endemic flora of Lake Baikal has been constantly changing over at least the last 2000 years and that these fluctuations are probably responses to natural climatic variability. Recent sediments of Baikal may be affected by taphanomic processes (e.g. dissolution) and turbidite deposition, and these must be taken into account when interpreting the sedimentary diatom record.

The diatom flora of the lake is currently dominated by several species, such as Aulacoseira baicalensis, A. islandica, Cyclotella minuta and Stephanodiscus binderanus v. baicalensis. All these species, except for C. minuta, have become more common in the lake in approximately the last 130 years, and we hypothesize that these changes may be attributed to a number of different processes linked to an ameliorating climate after the end of the Little Ice Age. The results presented here have important implications for this recently designated World Heritage Site, with regard to future pollution controls and catchment management policies.

Royal Society Login

Log in through your institution