In the early 1990s, the president of one of the Japanese banks came to Baikal and asked for a sample of Baikal water.

In the early 1990s, the president of one of the Japanese banks came to Baikal and asked for a sample of Baikal water.

For example, in 1990 the Selenginsky pulp and paper mill was the first in the world to introduce drainless technology, and since then it has not had industrial discharges. If it went on like this, Baikalsk would have long been a drainless production that does not pollute the air. Then only the problem of landscapes would remain, but it was possible to wait with its solution – there are enough other anthropogenically mutilated landscapes on Lake Baikal.

It immediately became clear: we need a domestic law on the protection of Lake Baikal. It is necessary to include Baikal in the List of World Natural Heritage. Today both tasks have been formally solved, although in reality these legal acts do not work – there is no political will.

Customs gives the go-ahead

It was necessary to obtain comprehensive information about the state of Lake Baikal as soon as possible. Both our new methods and world science helped. With the support of V.A.Koptyug in 1988, at the First Vereshchagin Scientific Conference, it was announced the intention of the Siberian Branch to create the Baikal International Center for Environmental Research – an organization in which scientists from all countries, together with Russian scientists, could freely study all sides of Lake Baikal. The center was created later, I think, in 1990, but began to work even before it was created. A real boom has begun. Over the past years, about 2000 foreign scientists, engineers and students have visited Lake Baikal, and not at symposia, but in difficult expeditions. They brought in unique, often heavy equipment. At first, romance “worked” – it turns out that many of their lives dreamed of visiting Baikal. Then the economy kicked in — for six dollars you could have a banquet for six with candles in a Moscow restaurant; expeditions were fabulously cheap.

Participants of the international Vereshchagin conference in the village. Listvyanka, October 1989. Photo by V. Korotkoruchko

At that time, there were three customs officers in Irkutsk – now 3000. I remember that two containers from America with heavy geophysical equipment arrived at eight o’clock in the evening. The customs official with the seal was already at home. Another customs officer gave the phone number and address of the first one, he entered the position, went with us to the station and put a seal – he released the cargo. At night he was loaded onto a ship, and in the morning went on a voyage. There were a lot of both funny and serious.

My meager experience of foreign trade and knowledge of little about many things was very useful … On the way I had to write memorandums with plans for expeditions and mutual obligations, unite physicists with biologists, Japanese with Belgians, Americans with Germans, and all foreigners – with Russians from many of our scientific centers. “New biologists” from the landing force deciphered the chronology of the formation of the complex of Baikal endemics. The Irkutsk school of paleoclimate specialists was formed … In 1988, 15 references with the keyword Baikal were registered in the Web of Science, and since the end of the 1990s, 120–150 references have been registered annually.

It cannot be said that Russian science on Lake Baikal was “bad” before, not at all. But she was little known in the world, and in Russia itself. Now the situation has changed radically – the world knows us, and our scientists learn first-hand about what is happening in the world. We have learned a lot, but we have taught many ourselves. The most important thing is that there was literally an explosion in the acquisition of accurate knowledge about the lake.

World science has recognized that its purity is close to pristine – apart from small contaminated areas. One can always express doubts about Russian science: does it reflect the opinions of certain groups of political influence? Probably, only a madman can think of a conspiracy of hundreds of scientists in two dozen countries of the world. Based on the opinion of world science, UNESCO, at the request of Russia, included Baikal in the List of World Natural Heritage Sites. Of course, this list does not include objects that have undergone irreversible anthropogenic changes.

First meetings with UNESCO representatives at Lake Baikal, June 1990. Photo by V. Korotkoruchko

In addition to purely scientific, there were also many “pseudoscientific” projects – the National Geographic expedition, the teams of Jacques Cousteau, Japanese television and others.

Now the process of pilgrimage has stabilized and entered the mainstream of normal scientific cooperation. There are fewer sensations and banal curiosity, and more – serious work aimed at solving fundamental scientific issues, for example, the problem of evolution, the problem of paleoclimates, the above-mentioned problem of gas hydrates, the problem of “barrier zones”, the problem of the biogeochemical cycle of silicon. We have expensive modern devices. Our scientists rightfully make, if not a leading, then always an equal contribution to joint work with foreigners. Many of our people from the Baikal “springboard” went abroad, but (there is a silver lining!) Their rates were vacated, and as nowhere else we have a lot of young people – more than 50%. The most important thing is that young people from abroad come to study here. It has not yet been possible to create living conditions for them, there are only the most Spartan ones, and there are few foreign youth. Let us be alive – there will be more. We will never finally become a part of world science if foreign youth do not study in Russia.

Now on the Lake, which has received a world certificate of purity, tourism is booming, winter games are held, some Dutch people ride on skates, on bicycles (!) From end to end of the lake on the ice. It is pleasant to assume that we also contributed to this process.

International cooperation on Lake Baikal was very interesting not only scientifically, but also in human terms. I will tell you the most amazing story – how and why the British soldiers washed their boots in Lake Baikal.

Like the English army soap boots in Baikal

Winston Churchill believed that much of history is determined by chance, but his goal has always been to ride randomness. We often had to saddle randomness. The most curious incident happened with the British soldiers.

One fine day, a letter comes to the institute from a certain captain of the English army, an officer of the Green Howards regiment, who asks for help in organizing a trip to Lake Baikal with his soldiers. It turns out that they have a tradition – every year to go to some hard-to-reach place to help people, and at the same time to practice. Both the Queen of England and the Russian authorities are aware of this idea. Help from us is needed in one thing: to choose an object on Lake Baikal, but best of all in the mountains. What can you offer the British? The institute does not work in the mountains, and the jester knows what is there in these mountains. He offered a really necessary and heroic work: under the guidance of our biologists, to take into account the Baikal seal. The content of the work was as follows: in the spring, cross the disintegrating ice across Lake Baikal on motorcycles 25–30 times, break 5–10 squares at each cut, count all the seal holes on them, in which there is the white wool of a faded newborn seal. Knowing the number of puppies, recalculate it for the entire area of ​​Lake Baikal, and find the total number from the age-sex structure. We did the last count several years ago, there are no motorcycles, there are few enthusiastic biologists – the help of the British will obviously come in handy. In addition, there are definitely no military facilities on the ice of Lake Baikal. I wrote to the British, I’m waiting. I liked the idea. The captain and one more officer arrived – they clarified everything.

The expedition is on the way – and our bosses are not asking for anything. And suddenly the British are asked to support their visas. Strange, it seems easier for the queen to negotiate with our embassy. I called our embassy in London, the British embassy in Moscow. Nobody knows anything. It is advised to ask our General Staff. I’m calling. They ask to write a letter. I am writing – if you can, allow it, if not, forbid it. No answer. Once again I call and write – if you do not forbid me in writing or verbally, I invite the British. No answer. I give visa support. Visas are given, for some reason the British arrive from Germany on our huge plane with a used Mercedes for the head of our Oblkompriroda, with plastic garbage bags for our greens, with sleds, motorcycles, tents, sleeping bags, dry rations and army radios. Customs does not know about any conversations between the Queen and Yeltsin – radios and geo-positioning systems cannot be imported without special permission. And the British do not go on the ice without them – safety.

Photo by V. Urbazaev

Here I got it for abuse of power. It was felt that VA Koptyug wanted to beat him, but he asked softly: “Misha, please, don’t do that again.” And he could have fired … In the end, everything worked out – the expedition took place. There were a lot of seals – 100 thousand heads. Someone said that the regular British army visited Russia for the first time after the Sevastopol defense of 1853-1856 – he probably forgot about the intervention during the civil war in our north.

The British, while living in Listvyanka, behaved like normal soldiers – they drank, fought with the locals, and once – among themselves. The four soldiers were women, I remember that they did not allow anyone to help them carry heavy loads. And shortly before that, Mr. Zhirinovsky announced that the Russian army would soon be washing boots in the Indian Ocean. The Irkutsk press picked up: while we are going to India, the British army is already washing boots in our Baikal … Now it’s funny, but then we had to go through a lot.

Why become an academic

When I went to Irkutsk, V. A. Koptyug decided that I should become a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, so that the officials reckon with me. At first, “shoulder straps” helped – not to answer the phone, and even more so on the “turntable” (from the Moscow office of the chief) was bad form. Then a lot of new “academies” appeared, and the corresponding members ceased to be quoted.

Many years later – last year – I was chosen as an academician. For what – see above. For spray guns.

I am often asked: what does the new title give? Many, especially young scientists, sincerely believe that “shoulder straps” are unnecessary and even ridiculous. I do not think so. After all, this tradition dates back to the Stone Age. After killing a tiger, the leader hung his tooth around his neck, and everyone obeyed him – there was no need to kill a new one before each campaign. It’s the same with general’s stripes – it’s convenient. Indeed, new officials sometimes talk to the academician by phone, and issues can be resolved. Why use the new “shoulder straps”?

Do I feel like an academician? To be honest, I do not feel like an academician, but a soldier called up to Baikal. I do not have my own laboratory at the institute now. Without a doubt, a scientist should be engaged in living science, but a conflict of interests is inevitable. How can you deny support to yourself, your beloved?

But life is more complicated than schemes. Reluctantly, I had to manage the laboratory of paleolimnology for several years. Now, according to the program of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he is engaged in the molecular biology of silicon – but this is still not a laboratory, but a project. I try to do this not to the detriment of the whole.

The ship “Vereshchagin” is the flagship of the research fleet of the Limnological Institute of the SB RAS. Photo by R. Akhmerov

And time goes by. The saddest thing in the life of an old academician is that a truly old person, without noticing it, loses the ability to critically evaluate his own thoughts. And by inertia he is listened to, and sometimes crooks just use it.

How can you prove to yourself that you are still workable? Very simple. In business, old people are not kicked out – as long as he earns money, he is useful. Nobody pays money in vain.

I don’t know if it will work out or not, but I think my main task for the near future is to prove the practical usefulness of the institute in market conditions. Make money.

The whole leitmotif of the protection of Lake Baikal has been negative for many years – you cannot do one thing, you cannot do the other. In my opinion, it is necessary to change the tone – to find ways to develop the productive forces of the Baikal region with strict observance of the Law on the protection of Lake Baikal and the principles of world heritage I take an example from Academician Fersman – back in the First World War, he, together with his colleagues, created an academic commission for the development of the productive forces of Russia, which successfully worked in Soviet times.

What needs to be developed in our country to double the GDP? And in Buryatia, maybe even triple it – after all, this is a depressed region.

The possibilities of science are enormous. There is already a partially implemented project – the production of bottled deep Baikal drinking water. The fact that Baikal is the well of the planet, an invaluable supply of fresh water of global significance has long been a commonplace.

In the early 1990s, the president of one of the Japanese banks came to Baikal and asked for a sample of Baikal water. What for? It turned out that he conceived the idea of ​​producing bottled Baikal water. I wondered: where can I get a sample? At the source of the Angara, from the surface? How not to embarrass yourself – after all, there is a village, you can easily run into E. coli. They gave him deep water, it turned out to be excellent. So the idea arose – to produce precisely deep water.

Drilling complex in the area of ​​the underwater Akademichesky Ridge (February 1996)

The idea was patented, a pilot batch was released – the pipe was lowered to a depth of 400 m from the ice. We have developed a technology for final cleaning, sterilization, a whole range of methods of analysis and quality control. The organizer was A. N. Suturin, a geochemist, one of our leading scientists.

Our limnologists have established long ago that the water of the “core” of Lake Baikal – from depths from 300 m from the surface to 50–100 m from the bottom – is the cleanest. This was confirmed by foreign scientists who measured the “age” of deep waters and answered the question of when this or that mass of water was on the surface. It turned out that the age of the bottom water is 8–10 years, and the age of the core reaches 16 years. This is explained by the unique mechanism of water exchange: a part of the surface water in Baikal flows directly to the bottom, bypassing the core. As a result, the organisms living in Lake Baikal – mainly microbes – have the ability to purify the core water for the longest time. Therefore, she is the cleanest.

Then the question arose: who will buy and drink our bottled water? It was clear that only not the Russians – why, if the water flows from the tap? But life has refuted all “scientific” predictions. In 2003, Russians drank 2 billion liters of bottled water. They also drank 50 million bottles of Baikal water. This, of course, is very small. But still, this is a turnover of about $ 20 million. Only taxes were paid $ 8 million. e. Eight annual budgets of the Institute. Nothing prevents the production of 2 billion bottles per year on Lake Baikal – a turnover of at least $ 800 million per year. $ 400 per year for each inhabitant of the Baikal region is not bad as a contribution to GDP. And it will be – sooner or later. Of course, it would be better as soon as possible. If all people drank one and a half liters a day only the water that is stored in the Baikal bowl, everyone would have enough for 6000 years. The resource is inexhaustible. There is no harm to the lake.

Photo by V. Korotkoruchko

There is a time to throw stones, and there is a time to collect them. Our first duty today is to remove unreasonable restrictions on the activities of people on Lake Baikal. Let me give you a very recent example: at the suggestion of ichthyologists from Ulan-Ude and Moscow ex-juniors, the government adopted a resolution on the inadmissibility of changing the level of Lake Baikal in the interests of the operation of the Angarsk cascade of hydroelectric power plants outside the limits of 456–457 m above sea level. The goal of the developers of the ban was quite mercantile – to force the Irkutsk power engineers to pay for “environmental damage” if they violate the ban. The fact that it is impossible to comply with the ban technically does not bother anyone.