Professors Marianne Moore and Thomas Hodge Teach a Joint Course on the Culture and Environment of Lake Baikal

August 20, 2013

Professor of Biological Science Marianne Moore has spent a busy summer in Siberia, conducting research on Lake Baikal with students from a Wellesley course as well as researchers from other institutions as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) biodiversity project. In August, the Wellesley and NSF teams are overlapping, working and living at the same biostation in the village of Bol’shie Koty.

The Spring semester Wellesley course Lake Baikal: The Soul of Siberia is a 200-level course offered jointly by Environmental Studies and Russian Area Studies. Students prepared for their August fieldwork in Siberia with coursework at Wellesley in the spring, studying the ecology of Lake Baikal and Siberia, the Russian environmental movement, and the singular cultural values of a lake that is not only the most biotically rich in the world but is also the “soul of Siberia,” according to Professor of Russian Thomas Hodge. Hodge and Moore co-taught the course in Wellesley and in Russia. Course participants have been posting photos and commentary on their blog, Wellesley Baikal 2013, which describes the progress of the expedition and the students' research.

Moore's investigations there focus on how different dimensions of biodiversity determine ecosystem responses to change and attempting to predict how Baikal's ecosystem will respond to accelerating environmental change, especially increasing temperatures.

Moore’s lab group, including Wellesley College Postdoctoral Fellow Ted Ozersky, Katie Wright '12, and a Russian student, arrived at the lake July 1, with most of them remaining there through mid-September. Moore worked on the biodiversity project through July and switched to teaching in August when the Wellesley students arrived.

Among other work, on August 8, a subsection of Moore's U.S.-Russian team departed on a six-day sampling expedition into the central (deepest) and northern basin of Lake Baikal, plus several shallow bays.

The interdisciplinary research team collaborates frequently with other investigators, and the remote outpost of the biostation has frequent visitors.

As Moore says in her blog Baikal Dimensions, “As American scientists working in Russia, we are (whether we like it or not) science ambassadors. Since our arrival in July, the Biostation has become a temporary stopping point for a variety of people: two groups of physicists, a group of high school students from Germany and China, and a group of young boys accompanied by the eminent biologist Oleg Timoshkin.”

A Moscow TV correspondent visited the Wellesley Baikal class and Moore’s NSF research team at the Baikal Biostation on Aug 13. The television station is planning a piece about scientific research and scientific educational activities at the lake.

On August 19, a team of researchers from the University of Nottingham and University College of London paid a visit, after three weeks collecting sediment cores and water samples in and around Baikal to investigate the effects of pollution and environmental change on the lake.

On August 22, Moore is set to deliver an invited talk at Russia's Limnological Institute titled “Plankton of Lake Baikal: Small Organisms Answer Big Biological Questions.” The audience will consist of 300 graduate and undergraduate biology students from all over Russia. They are gathering for the annual SymBioSE conference sponsored by Irkutsk State University and Russia's Limnological Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences).

Meanwhile, Wellesley students carried on their work until their departure on August 20. One team examined effects of boat docks on species diversity in the lake. Another team conducted experiments to determine whether the effect of a parasite on the major grazer (small crustacean copepod) in the lake is more severe at high temperatures. This is an important question, according to Moore, because if the lake continues to warm, this parasite could cause a substantial decline in the grazer population with consequences for the entire lake ecosystem. Despite the hard work, occasional seasickness, and weighty questions in the balance, a sense of adventure and fun permeated the trip, as evidenced by the student blog's postings of charades, singing, and funny photos.

They wrote upon departing: "Our group celebrated our time in Bol'shie Koty and on the Lake at our farewell dinner. Music was played, photos were shared; we thanked our hosts, our captains, our cooks, our speakers, and our professors for all of the work they put in to bringing us here and teaching us about this mesmerizing place."