Eng| Rus| Bur
 Sites catalog 

 / Home / Books catalog / Lake Baikal / Exploration and research

Sections of the site



1. The history of Lake Baikal explorations
2. Explorers


The first written information about Lake Baikal was recorded in the oldest Chinese chronicles in the early years AD.
The vast territories of Siberia have been attractive for Russian people since times immemorial. The reason why the exploration parties moved eastwards was information and rumours about the riches of Siberia: furs (sable, beaver, ermine, otter, fox), gold, silver, precious stones and others. Siberian furs were especially estimated in the 17th century and sold well at the inner and foreign markets.
The pioneer of discovering the gem of East Siberia, Lake Baikal, was the Cossack captain Kurbat Ivanov. In 1642 he headed an expedition party of 74 Cossacks who left an ostrog (fortified town) in the Upper Lena but they could not reach the sea. His second campaign started on June 21, 1643. According to recorded documents Kurbat Ivanovs party went up the Lena river and its tributary, the Ilikta, over the Primorsky mountain range and along the Sarma river and on July 2 reached Lake Baikal via Kosaya steppe opposite the island of Olkhon. K. Ivanov estimated the lake from economic and strategic points of view.
The second trip was the campaign for finding out about Lake Baikal and silver ores taken by Vasily Kolesnikov in 1644-1646 and 1648. The information on the Baikal obtained by Ivanov and Kolesnikov, their plans and maps enriched the science of geography with new interesting data.
In 1647 a party headed by I. Pokhabov crossed the southern part of the lake on ice to Mongolia.
In 1648-1650 the campaign by I. Galkin was taken. Ust-Barguzinsky and Barguzinsky ostrogs were founded.
The head of old-believers Avvakum Petrov, the archpriest, passed the Baikal making his way to exile. Avvakum was the first to describe the Baikal in memoirs (Avvakum the  Archpriests Life): There are high mountains near it there are many birds, geese, swans which swim on the lake as if they were snow. And there is much fish in it: sturgeons and taimens are very fat. One cant fry them, or there will be fat only. The book is valuable because it has the first literary description of the lakes nature.
A number of detailed and true geographic data on Lake Baikal can be found in the descriptions by Russian embassy missions which were going to China. The Baikal nature is described vividly by the Russian ambassador Nikolai Spafari who travelled to China in 1675: The Sea of Baikal is not known to either old or modern land writers because it is impossible to go round it, its length and width and depth are very great. And it can be called a lake because the water is fresh in it N. Spafari gave the first scientific description of the lake and The Drawing of Siberia.
In 1692-1694 I.E. Ides travelling across Siberia with an embassy mission to China, was making notes on the ethnography and geography of Siberia.
Lake Baikal was first depicted on a map in 1667 by the order of the Tobolsk voevode (the province governor) P. Godunov in The Drawing of Siberian Land. The most accurate depiction was given in the manuscript Drawing Book of Siberia (1699-1701) compiled by the Russian cartographer, geographer and historian S.U. Remezov after the local peoples accounts.
The information accumulated by pioneers, ambassadors and other travellers became the foundation of the subsequent knowledge on Siberia.

*   *   *

Scientific exploration of the lake started when the Russian Academy of Sciences was founded. Petersburg Academy organizes and sends a number of expeditions to Siberia for finding out the true facts about the nature and population. The first expedition to Siberia was undertaken by D.G. Messerschmidt in 1723-1724 by personal order of Peter the Great. It gave new information on the Baikal. D.G. Messerschmidt made a map of Lake Baikal, gave a scientific description of the lake and information on hot springs.
In 1732-1734 the Second Kamchatka expedition headed by V.I. Bering worked in Siberia. It collected and had much material on Lake Baikal published.
In 1735 participants of the Great northern expedition, academicians G.F. Miller and I.G. Gmelin, spent 6 months in the Baikal land, in the valleys of the rivers of Ingoda, Shilka, Argun, they described the attended places and made a map of the Baikal land. Gmelin collected a very rich collection of flora which has not lost its scientific value, he also described the Baikal seal. Miller made the foundation of scientific historiography and ethnography.
In 1735-1736 S.P. Krasheninnikov made meteorological research, gave the description of medicinal springs, everyday life and culture.
1730-1740 were the years of zoological and botanical research. 1,152 species of plants were described. G.V. Steller had studied animals in their natural habitat 130 years before the book by A.E. Brehm The Life of Animals was published. He described the Baikal seal (nerpa).
In 1772 academicians P.S. Pallas and I.G. Georgi came to the lake and made an attempt to explain its origin. Pallas was the first to describe the golomyanka fish, species living in the Baikal only, the Baikal sponge, 13 species of fish and 3 species of crustacea. Georgi also gave a detailed characteristic of the lake flora and fauna, made a detailed description of the Baikal seal and hunting it, gave a list of fishes and was the first to describe the omul, and formed a hypothesis on the neotectonic origin of the lake. A participant of P.S. Pallas and I.G. Georgis expedition, the navigator A. Pushkarev was the first to explore the whole Lake Baikal around and made the topographical survey of it. He was also the first to make a topographical map of the lake on a scale of 10 versts in an inch. He also made a description of the shores with a special mention of the places where different fish can be found.
A considerable contribution into studying the lake nature and organizing some industries in the Baikal land was made by E.G. Laksman. Having found deposits of sodium sulphate and invented a more rational way of glass fusing, he and his companion opened the first glass factory in East Siberia in Taltsy near Irkutsk. The hot springs of Goryachinsk health resort were also first discovered by E.G. Laksman. He was the first to carry out the water chemical analysis and defined the purpose of the springs. He made a detailed list of the stones of the granite massive near Kultuk and the geologists who followed him had a lacminarium, a list of the minerals described by him.
In 1795 the land-surveyors P. Skobeltsyn, I. Svistunov, D. Baskakov and V. Shchetilov made a topographical survey at Lake Baikal.
In 1837 the Decembrist in exile, a former navy lieutenant M. Küchelbecker measured the depths of Lake Baikal in the Barguzin gulf, in 1859 lieutenant K. Kononov measured the lake in connection with the necessity to lay a telegraph cable on the bottom of the lake.
In 1845 the Russian geographic society was organized which started great research work. On November 17, 1851 the first scientific society in Siberia was founded, the Siberian branch of the Russian imperial geographic society. Detailed exploration of Siberia and Lake Baikal was started.
The geographic society expeditions:
- 1852, N.G. Meglitsky (geological exploration);
- 1855-1857, the geographic society expedition (orographic, botanical, zoological and ethnographic research headed by G.I. Radde. Astronomical research by L.E. Schwarz).
- 1869, D.I. Stakheyev (physical and geographic description of the Baikal. Information on the lake navigation is collected).
- 1869-1871, A.L. Chekanovsky (geological and geographic research). A.L. Chekanovsky proposed a theory of the lake origin close to the truth. In his opinion the Baikal is a result of a gradual motion of the earths crust.
- 1877-1882, I.D. Chersky (stratigraphic research of the West Baikal land. He made a geological map and a geological description of the Baikal surroundings).
- 1871-1872, V. Ksenzhepolsky organized the first regular meteorological observation at Lake Baikal, since 1888 the regular hydrometeorological observation had been renewed by the engineer Sherstobitov.
- 1896-1898, V.P. Goryayev. I.A. Pyatidesyatnikov made hydrobiological research at Lake Baikal.
The whole epoch in studying Lake Baikal and its coast was the research by the scientists-naturalists B.I. Dybovsky, A.L. Chekanovsky, I.D. Chersky, V. A. Godlevsky, participants of the 1863 Polish revolt, exiled to Siberia, to the coasts of the Baikal. B.I. Dybovsky and V.A. Godlevsky were the first to give a scientific explanation of the water level fluctuations in Lake Baikal. In 1869 B.I. Dybovsky made the first mark of the high water level. I.D. Chersky continued the work in 1877-1880. Studying the structure of the lake coastline he made 14 marks on the coastal rocks having described their location in detail. B.I. Dybovsky was sure in the Baikal fauna inexhaustibility and thought the episodic research was insufficient, so he proposed to organize a regular biological station at the coast of Lake Baikal. It was B.I. Dybovsky who had the honour to be the originator of the scientific Baikal studies. In 1868-1871 B.I. Dybovsky and V.A. Godlevsky were making permanent observation of the Baikal.
In late 19th century in connection with the Transsiberian railway construction  the geological and geographic research became systematic. In 1889-1891 the geologist and geographer academician V.A. Obruchev made detailed geological research of Lake Baikal which made it possible to work out the teaching on the neotectonic motions of the earths crust. As a result of the geological research he gave the first serious and profound explanation of the Baikal cavity origin as well as a grounded theory of the Baikal fauna and flora origin.
By the late 19th century the main dimensions of Lake Baikal had been defined rather accurately. Karl Ritter in his fundamental work Asian Physical Geography (1879) wrote that the Baikal is 86 geographic miles (600 versts) long, its most width is about 80 versts, the coastline is 1,865 versts long, its total area is 700 square geographic miles.
The 20th century scientific research:
- 1896-1902. A great hydrographic expedition headed by F.K. Drizhenko studied the coastal depths. The result of the work was Lake Baikal sailing directions, an atlas with detailed and accurate maps of all the Baikal shores was made.
- 1896-1905. Climatic research of the lake peculiarities was made by A.V. Voznesensky. A system of meteorological observation was organized at the lake.
- 1901-1902. Zoological expedition headed by A.A. Korotnev gave detailed information on the lake fauna. Academician L.S. Berg gave a summary on the Baikal fish riches.
- 1916. The Russian Academy of sciences expedition headed by V.Ch. Dorogostaisky. The Baikal academy of sciences commission was founded.
- 1917. The Academy of sciences zoological institute expedition (I.I. Mesyatsev, L.A. Zenkevich, L.L. Rossolimo).
- 1918. The biological station in Bolshiye Koty is founded.
- 1925. The USSR Academy of sciences permanent expedition is founded in Maritui. Since 1928 it has been the USSR Academy of sciences Baikal limnological station headed by G.Yu. Vereshchagin.
- 1928-1933. The articles by G.Yu. Vereshchagin with preliminary hypotheses on the sea origin and the history of the Baikal fauna.
- 1929. Limnological station is transferred to Listvyanka, in 1961 it was reorganized into Limnological institute.
- 1930-1980. Complex hydrobiological research by the Baikal limnological station and Institute of biology and geography (V.Ch. Dorogostaisky, G.Yu. Vershchagin, M.M. Kozhov, N.S. Gayevskaya, A.Ya. Bazikalova, M.Yu. Beckman, G.F. Mazepova, Ye.V. Borutsky, N.A. Porfirieva). A broad variety of work was done according to the unified programme. At the same time other lakes were studied: the Caspian Sea, the Aral, the lakes of India, Indo-China and the Balkan Peninsula. G.Yu. Vereshchagin proved that such a complex approach is especially necessary for the Baikal. In 1927 at the 4th International limnological congress in Rome the research was highly appreciated. G.Yu. Vereshchagin was awarded a medal and a certificate. All in all he had 286 scientific works published including the Baikal popular science essay.
- 1932. The deep water measurements of the lake were made under G.Yu. Vereshchagin guidance. The Academichesky mountain range was discovered.
V.V. Lamakin was considered to be the greatest Baikal authority, the successor of I.D. Chersky and A.L. Chekanovsky. He considered the greatest problem of the Baikal studies to be the origin of the lake. According to the scientists assumption the cavity of the lake was formed as a result of the horizontal north-westward motion of the Siberian platform. V.V. Lamakin made the relief and Quaternary sediments maps of the whole Baikal zone, a great number of photographs with scientific value was taken.
In the 30ies professor M.M. Kozhov summarized the research of the fauna made at the Baikal limnological station (Lake Baikal Biology).
- 1931-1936. Stratigraphic and petrographic research (V.A. Obruchev, A.S. Kulchitsky, Ye.V. Pavlovsky, A.I. Tsvetov, M.M. Lavrov).
- 1934-1938. Geological and mineralogical research (V.P. Maslov, M.M. Lavrov).
- 1940-1960. The research of seismics and neotectonics (A.A. Treskov, V.P. Solonenko, N.A. Florensov).
- 1948-1960. Paleolimnological research (G.G. Martinson).
- 1957-1962. The detailed bathimetric research (B.F. Lut, A.A. Rogozin). A new bathimetric map is made. The maximum depth of the lake is defined, 1,620 m.
A great contribution into studying the Baikal cavity type vegetation and their structure was made by academician G.I. Galazi (the Limnological institute director in 1961-1987).
- 1970-1980. Limnological research in the Baikal-Amur railway zone.
- 1976. The first coloured picture of Lake Baikal was taken from the space.
- 1977. The first sinking of the Pisces deep water inhabited device.
In connection with intensive development of the Baikal basin natural resources the problem of their protection of exhaustion and pollution arose. With a view to reduce the negative consequences the scientists worked out the Sibir (Siberia) programme which presupposes:
- conversion of the Baikalsk cellulose and paper factory;
- working out anti-pollution air protection measures, conversion of all the boiler-houses and thermal stations of the Irkutsk-Cheremkhovo industrial junction into gas fuel, centralized purification of all the industrial wastes of Ulan Ude.
Nowadays The Global Changes of the Natural Habitat and the Central Asia Climate Based on the Lake Sediments Studying project initiated by the Russian academy of sciences corresponding members M.A. Grachev and M.I. Kuzmin is being introduced into practice. Crumbly sediments formed within the period of 25 mln years preserved the information on the natural and climatic conditions in which they were accumulated. The scientists of Russia, Japan and the USA take part in the project realization.


D.G. Messerschmidt (1685-1735). The first scientist at Lake Baikal (1729). On the order of Peter the Great he studied Siberia. He was the first to make a scientific description of the lake. He wrote The Review of Siberia report in many volumes.
I.G. Georgi (1729-1802). Petersburg Academy of sciences academician. He went around almost the whole lake on the boats of common fishermen and gave the most detailed description of its coast.
P.S. Pallas (?). Petersburg Academy of sciences academician. His descriptions are extremely accurate and can be models for measuring the changes in nature and in mens economic activity. On the map Irkutsk Region made by P.S. Pallas the rivers of Lake Baikal are drawn which are close to the present-day ones in their shape, and the mountains reflect their present-day location correctly.
I.D. Chersky (1845-1892). The most outstanding explorer of East Siberia. He made a profound research of Lake Baikal shores geological structure and made the first geological map of the lake coast.
V.I. Dybovsky (1833-1930). A well known zoologist. He described Lake Baikal natural conditions and fauna, explored the bottom relief, currents and the water temperature. The USSR Academy of sciences foreign member (1928).
V.A. Obruchev (1863-1956). A geologist and geographer, the USSR Academy of sciences academician. An explorer of Siberia, Central and Middle Asia. He gave the first scientific explanation of the Baikal cavity origin and in 1889-1891 made a detailed geological research.
G.Yu. Vereshchagin (1889-1944). A well known Baikal expert, D.Sc. (geography), professor. He was the organizer and permanent head of the Baikal expedition and the Baikal limnological station (1930-1944). The author of the theory of the sea origin of the Baikal fauna and flora.
I.M. Kozhov (1891-1968). Professor, he devoted his whole life to studying Lake Baikal. His work Lake Baikal Biology is a review of the whole history of Lake Baikal research up to the 60ies.
G.I. Galazi (b. 1922). The Russian Academy of sciences academician (1992). Limnological institute director from 1961 till 1987. The author of more than 250 scientific works and popular scientific articles. The author of the popular book The Baikal in Questions and Answers.    







Copyright 2006, The Republic of Buryatia National library
Information portal - Baikal-Lake