UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis has analyzed data collected from Lake Baikal in Siberia and found relations between atmospheric pressures and seasonality of the lake, which affect its overall ecosystem.

[media-credit name=”PHOTO COURTESY OF Lyubov Izmest’eva ” align=”alignleft” width=”250″][/media-credit]

By studying the connection between the jet stream and seasonal variations at Lake Baikal in Siberia, researchers at UCSB hope to preserve its biodiversity and use its ecosystem as a model for similar lakes.

For over 60 years, Russian scientist Mikhail Kozhov and his descendants Olga M. Kozhova and Lyubov Izmest’eva have recorded the lake’s water temperatures, clarity and species as deep as 2,400 feet, creating a large collection of data. Stephanie Hampton, deputy director of the NCEAS at UCSB, and her team of scientists have analyzed the data to see how the changes over the years relate to and affect the lake. Steve Katz, from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, led this part of the research.

“At NCEAS, we are a real unusual research center in that we don’t collect any new data ourselves; we don’t have labs or send people out in the field,” Hampton said. “People have been collecting data for hundreds of years and we sit down and analyze the data which leads to new scientific breakthroughs.”

NCEAS has discovered how the jet stream, affected by pressure systems over the oceans, is ultimately related to the seasonal changes of the lake.

The jet streams are atmospheric winds that form in between adjacent air masses of different temperatures and guide storms around the world.

The directions the air currents follow are influenced by pressure systems in the atmosphere, so when they are pushed north across the Pacific Ocean, they come back around the globe and revisit Lake Baikal.

“By the time [the jet stream] gets back around the world to Russia, if it’s further south it may have a lot more energy and create storms over Baikal,” Hampton said. “We were able to predict whether it’d be an early or late winter depending on whether pressure systems over the Pacific made the jet stream move further north or south, affecting where and how the jet stream would arrive in Siberia three months later.”

The changes they saw in the lake were seen in the timing of the seasons, measured by the heating and cooling of the lake’s water temperatures.

“We are measuring when the lake temperature starts to increase or decrease,” Hampton said. “When it starts to increase is the beginning of spring and summer and when it starts decreasing is beginning of winter.”

Atmospheric scientists also relate the jet stream to the length of day, and NCEAS researchers found that length of day correlates to the variability of changes in the lake’s temperature.

“There’s also another interesting climate index that a lot of people don’t know about — the length of day,” Hampton said. “It actually varies by milliseconds every month and it relates really strongly to how much energy is in those atmospheric winds. If there’s a lot of energy it slows the earth down or if there’s less energy the earth goes a little faster.”

By analyzing the data collected by Kozhov and his family and relating it to new knowledge about how water temperatures change with seasons, researchers have found that lake surface waters have been increasing about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit every decade and deeper waters by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit every decade. These changes could be harmful to life in the lake that cannot evolve or adapt quickly enough to handle temperature increases.

On top of it being the largest and oldest freshwater lake on the Earth, Hampton says it is also one of the most biologically diverse. It houses the only freshwater seals and contains large areas of unique sponge forests, along with many other species. Scientists continue to study the lake intensely because of its diverse ecosystem that can be related to so many other lakes.