Russians boldly go to the bottom of the world's deepest lake

Russian scientists travelling in twin mini-submarines yesterday reached the bottom of Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. The daring underwater mission lasted five hours and attempted to set a new world record for a manned dive in freshwater.

Two teams of three scientists piloted a pair of mini-submarines to the bed of Baikal 1,580m (5,183ft) below the surface of the lake – but fell well short of the 1,680m maximum depth that the crew had hoped to reach to break the record.

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and holds the largest body of unfrozen freshwater, so it was disappointing that the scientists had failed to reach its deepest point.

The expedition was led by Artur Chilingarov, a pro-Kremlin member of parliament and Arctic explorer who led the submarine team that controversially planted a Russian flag on the sea bed below the North Pole last August.

Mr Chilingarov said just before the mission that the aim of the record-breaking attempt to reach the bottom of Lake Baikal was to preserve the unusual habitat of the lake, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996 because of its unique and rare wildlife.

The 18-tonne mini-submarines, Mir-1 and Mir-2, which already hold the world record for a manned dive in seawater, had to shed weight to make them less buoyant in freshwater. The mission went well even though Mr Chilingarov had anticipated difficulties. "There are technological problems, fickle weather conditions. Freshwater dictates special conditions," he had said before the expedition.

Afterwards, Mr Chilingarov, who oversaw the operation from a mission control point on the Metropolia Platform on the lake, admitted: "There was no record. But we'll continue exploration."

Natalia Komarova, who was the first woman to take part in a Mir mini-sub dive, explained that the results of the mission, which will involve about 160 dives over the next two years, will have an important impact on enviromental legislation to protect this part of east Siberia as it undergoes intensive economic development. "We need to understand how to protect Baikal and use it without harming its unique ecosystem," Ms Komarova told reporters who witnessed yesterday's dive.

At more than 25 million years old, Lake Baikal is the oldest lake in the world. It was formed in a rift valley by the inflow of more than 350 rivers, but it is drained by just one river – the Angara.

Lake Baikal holds more water than the Great Lakes of North America combined – a volume estimated at 23,600 cubic kilometres. An unmanned submersible named Pisces reached a depth of 1,410m in 1977, during a mission when Soviet scientists examined the lake's bed with searchlights. However, the latest manned mission represents another prestige boost for a resurgent Russia after the post-communist collapse of its economy.

Lake Baikal, known as the blue eye of Siberia, is considered one of the natural wonders of the world, holding about 20 per cent of the world's unfrozen freshwater, which is kept crystal clear by tiny, filter-feeding shrimps known as epishura. In winter, when the lake's surface is frozen, it is possible to see 40 feet down into the lake.

Baikal supports more than 2,500 species of animals and plants, and 80 per cent of its animal life is endemic – including the mysterious Baikal freshwater seal which has lived on the land-locked lake for many thousands of years despite being hundreds of miles from the nearest coast.

There have been several threats to the lake over the years, starting with a paper and pulp mill built on its banks in 1996 which belched out noxious gases that killed nearby trees and released toxic chemicals into the water.

More recently, there was a plan to build an oil pipeline close to the lake but this was switched to a more distant route after a high-profile intervention by President Putin, who had promised to preserve the lake's pristine habitat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss