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Scientists link Lake Baikal shrinking with climate changes in Asia

October 14, 2015, 8:33 UTC+3 VLADIVOSTOK

The situation has worsened this year amid woodland fires covering big areas in Buryatia

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© ITAR-TASS/Vladimir Smirnov

VLADIVOSTOK, October 14. /TASS/. The shrinking of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest freshwater reserve in the world, is connected with climate changes in the Asian region, characterized by less rainfall and higher air temperatures, suggest scientists from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

"A sizable decline in the past few years in the sums of atmospheric precipitation in the Baikal region, Mongolia and Buryatia along with anthropogenic factors have led to a drastic decline in discharge from the Selenga River into Lake Baikal, which triggers the shrinking of this unique lake," a scientific conference in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok heard. This river provides the lake with up to 50% of water inlet.

The situation has worsened this year amid woodland fires covering big areas in Buryatia. The spread of fire raised the already abnormally high temperatures in the region, causing more evaporation. Economic activity in Mongolia also affects the water level of Lake Baikal.

Lake Baikal in south-east Siberia, the deepest lake in the world (1,700 m), contains 20% of all fresh running water on the planet. Located on an area comparable with that of the Netherlands, it is the biggest reservoir of fresh-water on the Earth. Water level in Baikal is regulated by the Irkutsk hydropower plant on the River Angara outflowing from Lake Baikal.

Experts say the lake’s shallowing may carry such threats as losses in productive efficiency of the hydropower plant, the lake’s ecosystem imbalance and threats to fish spawning areas, subsoil water level lowering in coastal areas fraught with peat bog fires.

Since 1962, Baikal’s water level dropped below the critical mark more than ten times. Thus, in 1982, water level sank to 455.27 meters. But the subject of Baikal’s possible shallowing was seriously raised only in 2001. A World Lakes Conference in Japan’s Otsu put Lake Baikal, along with Lake Okeechobee in the United States (with a depth of three meters), Lake Balaton in Hungary (with a depth of 12 meters) and the Aral Sea located at the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (up to 50 meters deep), on the list of the world’s largest fresh-water lakes facing the biggest threat of deterioration.

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