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
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

English Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform