Lake Baikal threatened by Climate Change
Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest, deepest lake, is feeling the temperature of human-induced climate change. Situated in southern Siberia, Baikal occupies one of the fastest warming regions on the planet and, as a result, the lake itself has got warmer, seasonal ice is present for a shorter period of time and has got thinner, and its waters have become stratified for longer periods. These changes have already had an impact on the lake’s microscopic life, including phytoplankton and zooplankton.
Most of the energy in Lake Baikal’s food web ultimately comes from photosynthesis by tiny diatoms. As with most plants and animals found in Baikal, these diatoms are mainly endemic – that is, they are found nowhere else in the world.
The latest research data showed that a significant change in the diatoms occurred at the very start of the 1970s, at the same time as the lake began to warm and ice thinned. The endemic diatoms are being replaced by non-endemic diatoms that can tolerate the warming conditions in the Lake.
Why is this important? Climate change is already interfering with ecosystems in other large, ancient lakes, such as Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. What happens to plankton has a knock on effect up the food web, causing fish to struggle and also, ultimately, those humans who depend on the ecosystem for their livelihood.