Posted by: Loren Coleman on July 29th, 2008
Today, July 29, 2008, Russian scientists will attempt to reach the bottom of the world’s deepest freshwater abyss in a bid to find unknown life forms as well as claim a new record.
In the realm of cryptozoology, the so-called “Lake Baikal Monster” is described by some as being a sturgeon-like cryptid, while others have likened it to a giant pinniped or large marine mammal.
“We want to study, observe Lake Baikal” in order to “preserve it,” said expedition leader Artur Chilingarov, a pro-Kremlin member of parliament who led a team of scientists that planted a Russian flag at the bottom of the North Pole in August last year.
Chilingarov, who boasts of enjoying the “full support” of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, spent July 28th inspecting the mission’s ship, anchored at Tourka and carrying the Mir-1 and Mir-2 submarine pods which, weather permitting, will head for the 1,637-metre (5,402 feet) bed of the lake, near Siberia’s southern borders with Mongolia and China.
On Sunday, July 27th, and on Monday morning, July 28th, what locals affectionately call “the sea” actually looked more like a raging ocean, such were the high winds.
Three men in each pod will try to “reach the lowest point” of the giant lake, a UN world heritage site which contains around a fifth of the world’s freshwater reserves.
There are suggestions that it might be even deeper than previously thought. Intense water pressure means that previous expeditions have never gone below a quarter of its presumed depth. Chilingarov’s deputy Anatoly Sagalevich said the lake has “perhaps not been properly studied” given past measurements had to rely on pure mathematics alone.
But Sagalevich says tests have gone well, even if the weather made Sunday’s preparations “quite complicated.” The main obstacle they have to overcome is that the water’s density at depth is “much more feeble” than seawater, he said, impacting on pressure.
“We will drop at a rate of 30 metres per minute,” Sagalevich said. “Practically vertical. It will take in total between one hour and an hour and a quarter to complete the mission.
“The most important aspect will be visual observation,” he said, highlighting three special windows located at the front of the craft and a series of video and stills cameras attached to the pods.
They may not match the find of the crew in the fictional movie “The Abyss,” but Sagalevich expects the mission to uncover previously unidentified species.
Aside from some of the world’s most unusual freshwater flora and fauna, samples taken in previous dives also suggest deposits of gases, notably methane, and even oil, which may be explored in follow-up experiments in the coming months.
“It will be a success if we can find something new for scientific research,” Sagalevich said.
However, he dismissed environment campaigners’ fears that the operation is intended to sniff out fresh energy reserves. “We have enough gas and oil,” he said, pointing to the vast Siberian deposits all around.
In May 2006, Russian environmentalists heaved a collective sigh of relief when then president Putin ordered a change in the route of a new oil pipeline to reduce the danger of it polluting one of the great ecological wonders of the world.
Of course, the political dimension of Tuesday’s dive should not be overlooked either. For not only is Putin personally backing the bid to pierce one of Earth’s final frontiers, but the flag of his ruling United Russia party will also fly proudly from the roof of the ship’s quarters.