Crown jewel of Russia’s natural inheritance, Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest lake – an environmental battleground and a godsend in hard times.
The snows of Siberia come to Lake Baikal in early October. By November the lake itself begins to freeze. With the average winter temperature around minus 20˚C (0˚F), the ice gets thick enough – well over a metre – to support truck convoys laden with supplies for the more remote towns along Baikal’s shore. In 1904, during the Russo – Japanese War, sections of railway track were even laid across the ice to transport more than 2,000 flatcars and 65 locomotives to the battlefront.
By mid-April the ice, begins to thaw and break apart, hacked to pieces by furious squalls that roar down river valleys on winds reaching 160 kilometres an hour. Then in May, after a scout plane confirms that it is clear enough of ice, several hundred ships – tugboats, timber barges, research vessels, and fishing boats – resume their labours on the world’s great lake. So huge and volatile is Baikal that sailors here talk in spring of ‘going to sea’.
Still remarkably clean, Baikal nevertheless feels the effects of air and water pollution from various sources, including industries around Irkutsk and from the Selenga River, which provides half the water flowing into Baikal. Most controversy centres on the effluent from a cellulose plant at Baikalsk.
In 1957, when the public first heard about plans for this factory, people began to protest. Local scientists, writers, fishermen and ordinary citizens banded together, to fight the plant, igniting an environmental movement. After years of protest, the lake’s defenders were rewarded in April 1987, when the Soviet government issued a comprehensive decree protecting Lake Baikal. Among other things, it abolished logging anywhere close to the lakeshore and decreed that the cellulose plant be ‘reprofiled’ for activities harmless to the environment by 1993. Meanwhile the dumping of industrial waste into Baikal continues, and bilious smoke still rises from the plant 24 hours a day. The Baikalsk Cellulose-Paper Plant pollutes only a tiny portion of the lake, but that does mollify many Russians. Baikalsk has become a national symbol of the dangers facing our environment. Less publicized but just as threatening are coal-fired power plants which may do as much harm by causing acid rain.
Recently the Baikal International Centre for Ecological Research has been founded. Each field season brings more scientists from abroad to study what many consider the world’s most interesting lake. Baikal is indeed a living museum of aquatic plants and animals that have evolved during its life span. It is also incredibly rich in life at all depths. Unlike lakes in hot climates, Baikal mixes thoroughly; as its cold waters sink, they carry oxygen even to the deepest parts of the lake.
Samples taken from the southern end of the lake tell that the cellulose plant pollutes some 200 square kilometres. Scientists are especially alarmed by the presence of chlorinated compounds – they may one day accumulate to toxic levels in the food chain. Because of this plant some even speak of Lake Baikal in the past tense, as if its ecosystem is already dead. Other scientists disagree with that dire conclusion. But there’s no doubt that the plant pollutes the area. Its emissions make Baikalsk one of the most polluted cities in Russia, and forests of larch and pine nearby show unmistakable signs of degradation.
In 1995 the plant discharged 26,000 tons of minerals, 200 tons of suspended substances and 2,500 tons of organic by-products into Lake Baikal.
People say, “We must save Baikal for our children”. Lake Baikal is a symbol, of all the things that give Siberian life its distinct sweetness – the natural beauty, the purity of open air, the hardy generosity of people and the poetry in their collective soul. This is what Russians mean when they talk about the Motherland. And nothing is more precious to them than that.
8.3. Here are some words from the passage. Match them with their meanings in the context of the passage.
1. to transport
a) extremely large
b) extremely small
c) extremely terrible
4. to centre
d) to carry from one place to another
e) to be opposite to
f) to make dirty
7. to dump
g) to throw down carelessly
h) to focus
9. to pollute
i) somebody or something that is getting information
j) someone who protects
11. to face
k) unable to cause damage
l) unwanted material
m) a period of time
8.4. Complete the definitions. Use a dictionary if necessary.
1. A sailor is a person who …….. . 4. A fisherman is a person …….. .
2. A scientist is a person who …….. . 5. A citizen is …….. .
3. A writer is a person …….. . 6. A defender is …….. .
8.5. Fill in the chart with the family words and translate them into Russian. If necessary, use a dictionary.
8.6. Look at these sentences from the passage. Decide who or what the word in italics refers to. The sentences in the text are underlined.
1. …it abolished logging anywhere close to the lakeshore…
2. It is also incredibly rich in life at all depths.
3. …they carry oxygen even to the deepest parts of the lake.
4. …they may one day accumulate to toxic levels in the food chain.
5. Its emissions make Baikalsk one of the most polluted cities in Russia…
6. We must save Baikal for our children.
7. This is what Russians mean when they talk about the Motherland.
8.7. Match the words in A with their synonyms in B.
8.8. Use a dictionary to find or check the answers to these questions. (They are all based on the text “The World’s Great Lake” by Don Belt).
1. How do you pronounce : issue, aquatic, dead, precious, thoroughly?
2. What does degradation mean?
3. What part of speech is bilious?
4. What part of speech is enough?
5. What letters are silent (=not pronounced) in the words: doubt, hour, half, sign?
6. What prepositions are used after the verb talk?
7. What is the opposite of generosity?
8. What is the opposite of furious?
9. What is the difference between emission, effluent and dumping?
10. What does must mean: permission, obligation or advice?
11. What syllable is stressed in effort?
12. Homework is a compound noun. Find ten compound nouns in the passage.
13. Presence is a noun, but what is the verb with the same meaning?
8.9. Find all the words from the text connected with each of these topics:
e.g. railway track
industries around Irkutsk
the world’s oldest and deepest lake
8.10. Read the factfile and answer the questions below:
1. Which fact do you find the most surprising?
2. Which fact arouses the mostoptimism?
Lake Baikal is the most ancient lake on the earth, it’s great age is more than 25 million years. So, it is the oldest body of fresh water.
It is the deepest lake, measuring 1,635 metres from top to bottom, more than a mile.
It holds one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water and 80 per cent of the former Soviet Union’s – more water than all of North America’s Great Lakes combined.
Baikal extends for 635 kilometres from north-east to south-west, covering the area of 30,500 square kilometres.
Baikal sits in the planet’s deepest land depression. Its depression formed of hard, fixed rocks holds 23,000cu km of chemically very pure and extraordinary clear water.
Its cold waters move vertically, carrying oxygen to the bottom, where 1,500 endemic species were spotted. Lake Tahoe has two endemic species, Lake Superior – four endemic species.
Fifty-two species of fish inhabit these waters.
Baikal owes its longevity to the tectonically active rift it occupies, which may cause it to widen by as much as 2,5 centimetres each year.
The Buryat – ethnic Mongols – settled its shores long before the 13th century conquests of Genghis Khan. Russian fur traders arrived in the 1640s.
8.11. Read the text On the Coast of Baikal and answer the questions after it.