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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style