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Sister lakes

Lake Baikal in northern Russia and Lake Superior share a bond. Both are the largest freshwater lakes in the world -- Baikal, the largest by volume, and Superior, by surface area.

Lake Baikal in northern Russia and Lake Superior share a bond. Both are the largest freshwater lakes in the world -- Baikal, the largest by volume, and Superior, by surface area.
For about a decade, groups of scientists and naturalists from Russia and the United States have been building a bridge between the two lakes. Exchange teams have traveled between the two countries, and relationships have grown between those who love the lakes.
This past summer, David Lonsdale, executive director of the Great Lakes Aquarium, traveled to Russia for five weeks and spent two of them on Lake Baikal aboard the research vessel Treskov. Along with Duluthian John Anderson, aquarium board president, the two Americans explored Superior's sister lake with Russian scientists and crew who shared their extensive knowledge of Baikal.
The trip will aid Lonsdale in his work preparing for the aquarium's Lake Baikal exhibit, which is scheduled to open at the Great Lakes Aquarium in the next few years. The permanent exhibit will feature Lake Baikal freshwater seals. The information exchange continued in November, when Vladimir Filikov, director of the museum at Lake Baikal, was in Duluth learning about the freshwater aquarium in preparation to opening a new aquarium at the Baikal museum. That facility will include an exhibit on Lake Superior.
During Lonsdale's travels, he marveled at the beauty of Baikal's crystal clear water, its dramatic shoreline, its fly population which rivaled Lake Superior's, and its thick ice pack in June.
From Lonsdale's pictures, many similarities surface between the two lakes, and his journal entries from the trip tell the story of one who sees for the first time the Pearl of Siberia.
The following journal entries were made by David Lonsdale while sailing on Lake Baikal last June.
June 7: In our trip so far, exposure to Baikal landscapes have tantalized me, and as I slowly learn and discover "bytes" of information, I am drawn to how little is understood about Lake Baikal, how much more research is needed to even begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. There needs to be more sustained efforts to understand, and the effort must be extended globally to all the world's lakes. In the meantime, I will continue to learn all I can about Baikal and continue to enjoy the visual delights and be fascinated by the special challenge of putting together a simple puzzle that compartmentalizes my knowledge on Baikal landscapes.
I favor the broad palette, from the coastal woodlands to the deep lake vent communities, from the beaches to the rocky shorelines, and from the cultures of the people to the charismatic mega fauna.
June 10: We have dinner and then note the weather has turned foul. Thunder is complemented by gruesome dark gray clouds and wind that descends over the adjoining mountains. The seas had picked up and we were rocking a little as we lie perched on the beach. Before leaving we are surrounded by ice. The sound of the ice was captivating. As the swells moved the ice about, there was a definite tinkling noise of broken glass in every direction. This was one of nature's most magnificent symphonies.
Our return is through 3 to 5-foot seas, and waves were crashing frequently against the portholes of the lower deck. At our destination the fog is thick, and we must fight through pack ice gathered at the mouth of the harbor. ... Earlier in the day we saw our first Baikal seal, perched on pack ice near the shore. It dives below the surface as soon as the cutter begins to approach.
June 13: We're at the northernmost point of our excursion. Last night never truly got dark. At 0300 hours it was possible to read a book, but with some difficulty, on the back deck of the Treskov.
June 14: Chivirkusky Bay
This is one of the areas where a microclimate has formed and supports snakes. The commonest is a grass snake (nontoxic -- also to be found are an adder and a relative of our rattlesnake.)
Daily thought -- Are there differences between the lake's east coast, which we are now exploring, and the west coast explored last week? People and literature tell me the differences are bold and easily seen. I'm not quite so sure. Perhaps I have found so much natural beauty around every corner we turned that my ability to discriminate has been overwhelmed.
June 16: The damned cadis flies are everywhere. They are becoming irritating and annoying. They are in our hair, crawling up pant legs or up a sleeve, in an ear or up a nose. Our talk with the spirits a few nights ago seems to have gone unheard -- a waste of good vodka.
We have been accompanied by fog for a good part of the trip, especially from the time we headed back toward home. Of course, fog is a feature of Lake Superior in June also. The foghorn blaring on Duluth's waterfront is a romantic adjunct to the presence of fog and is an important mariner's signal of potential danger.
Here on Baikal, there is no foghorn, and the fog cloaks our senses both visually and our perception of sound. In fact, fog is scary -- there are no landmarks, no knowledge of what is going on beyond our horizon, absolutely no way to reference our relationship to the environment. Our vessel has all the appropriate technological support to move safely through nature's shroud. However, I'm not sure that other vessels out on the lake are equally equipped or that those crews are as attentive to the instrumentation as our crew.
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June 18: This trip around Siberia's Pearl is a trip of a lifetime, no doubt about it. The scenery is exquisite, the natural history incredible and the exposure to the different cultures, both on the boat and in the villages around the lake, most educational. Some of the memorable moments, however, are those simple experiences like viewing the sunset over the Sarma Valley from the ridge of Hool Bay or eating Arctic grayling caviar on chewy molasses bread, or observing the yellowfin sculpin spawning aggregation around the Treskov, or seeing my first giant, spiny amphipod that immediately caused me to jump into thoughts about sci-fi stories and creatures from the deep lake.
There is a more substantial component to this experience, our colleagues. Grigor and I have formed a good strong professional relationship and friendship. Now, it's up to us to maintain this new relationship over the problems of languages and thousands of miles between us.
In fact, all these people I have shared the Baikal experience with I consider dear friends. Our relationship has been forged by the experience, and now nature's power must help maintain the environment of our respective great sister lakes, and this will certainly maintain all of us as colleagues and champions.
I made a final toast, thanking the group for their patience, thoroughness and willingness to share their knowledge of Lake Baikal with us.
Leslee LeRoux is the editorial coordinator for Murphy McGinnis newspapers.

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