Lake Baikal is the largest (23 thousand km3) freshwater lake on the planet, with the volume equal to the total runoff of all Russian rivers for a seven-year period and the total runoff of all Eurasian rivers for a three-year period. In 2013, the state of Lake Baikal ecosystem did not undergo any significant changes, and the quality of its waters has remained stable for decades and far exceeds the requirements for drinking water.

In 2013, during the lake filling period the water level indicators were within the mean annual values ​​due to controlled discharge. The water levels did not exceed the levels defined by the Resolution of the Government of the Russian Federation № 234 of March 26, 2001 “On the maximum water levels of Lake Baikal during the implementation of economic and other activities”.

In 2013, there was a 7% reduction in the total runoff of the five largest rivers within the Lake Baikal basin. The runoff of the rivers Barguzin and Turka decreased by 10%, and that of the rivers Upper Angara and Tyya decreased by 45% and 18%, respectively. On the other hand, the runoff of the Selenga river increased by 9%. In recent years, the fluctuations in the runoff have not exceeded the average long-term fluctuations.

The average annual air temperature in 2013 was close to the average long-term values, despite significant temperature anomalies observed in some months. Only in the southern part of Irkutsk region the average annual air temperature was higher by 1-1.5 °C.

In Mongolia, climate change became more noticeable, manifested in the form of more frequent droughts and zuds (severe winters), progressing desertification and water scarcity.

The 46% decrease in wastewater discharge by Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill in 2013, as compared with 2012, due to closure of the main production facilities, helped to improve the water quality of Lake Baikal at the control site 100 meters away from the underwater discharge point.

Compared with 2012, the input of contaminants into the lake by the 5 most studied rivers (Selenga, Barguzin, Turka, Upper Angara, and Tyyl) increased in 2013. The input of suspended solids, dissolved minerals and petrochemicals increased by 24%, 12%, and 31%, respectively. At the same time, the input of volatile phenols, surfactants and copper reduced significantly – by 55%, 80% and 31%, respectively. The input of easily oxidizable and oxidation-resistant substances, phenolics and asphaltenes remained almost at the same level.

Exceedances of the maximum permissible concentrations were recorded for 13 out of 17 hydrochemical indicators measured in 2012-2013. In general, hydrological and climatic conditions were the main factors affecting the quality of surface waters within Lake Baikal basin in 2013. The exceptions were the rivers Modonkul (Zakamensky district of the Republic of Buryatia) and Kyakhtinka (Kyakhtinsky district of the Republic of Buryatia) due to intensive anthropogenic impact.

The Selenga River remained the major supplier of controlled substances into the lake. In 2013, the river brought 87.6% of suspended solids, and 78.0% each of dissolved minerals, oxidation-resistant and easily oxidizable organic substances. The major anthropogenic impact on the river water composition comes from the industrial hubs of the cities Ulaanbaatar, Erdenet and Darkhan, as well as the numerous gold mining enterprises in Mongolia. In Russia, the main impact comes from the Ulan-Ude industrial hub.

In 2012-2013, no significant changes were observed in the subsurface hydrosphere of Lake Baikal basin.

The amounts of air emissions in 2013 remained similar to those in the previous years. In both Mongolia and Russia, the main sources of air pollution were enterprises of the energy sector and vehicles. Another significant source of pollution was Selenginsk Pulp and Paper Mill located in close proximity to the lake.

The intensification of research on hydrocarbon systems of Lake Baikal involving submersibles «Mir» has helped to clarify the spatial distribution of hydrocarbon-oxidizing microorganisms and their ability to process petroleum hydrocarbons entering the lake from natural oil seepages, as well as to explore the distribution and mechanisms of formation of gas hydrate deposits at the bottom of Lake Baikal. This international expedition was the result of cooperation of the international community for conservation of the unique lake.

The intensity of dangerous endogenous geological processes in 2013 was low, and compared with 2008, when the ten-year maximum total seismic energy was recorded, the geological activity was 500 times less in 2013.

The existing network of the sites monitoring dangerous endogenous and exogenous geological processes is insufficient. The results of performed observations provide only fragmentary data on the regime of hazardous processes in separate areas. To implement reliable monitoring and forecasting of hazardous endogenous and exogenous geological processes, the number of monitoring stations must be increased by an order of magnitude throughout the basin.

In Mongolia, due to a combination of rising temperatures, reduced atmospheric precipitation, growing livestock population and other factors, the processes of degradation of steppe and forest ecosystems have intensified and the areas affected by desertification have expanded. One of the factors of degradation of pasture lands in Mongolia is the increased number of goats, associated with the growth in production of high-quality wool (cashmere), which is in demand around the world.

The bulk of the forest resources of the basin are located within its Russian part (about 90%) and, based on the assessment of the current situation, timber harvest is expected to increase. This is facilitated by the following factors: growing demand for and prices of forest products, including larch timber, in the foreign markets, and increasing illegal logging.

The forested land area in Mongolia is insignificant. Deforestation is an ongoing problem that has several reasons: legal and illegal logging, forest fires, and insect infestation. These problems are typical for the Russian part of the basin too, but to a lesser extent. However, in both Mongolian and Russian parts of the basin, preserving forests and reforestation are the tasks that require urgent action.

The extent of mining operations within Lake Baikal basin decreased in 2013, when compared with 2012. This was due the environmental restrictions over the use of natural resources within Baikal Natural Territory (the Law «On Protection of Lake Baikal»). At the same time in 2012-2013, coal production increased at the coal deposits of Buryatia and Zabaikalsky Krai, far from the Central Ecological Zone of BNT.

In Mongolia, along with a general increase in extraction of mineral resources, the share of illegal mining, especially mining of gold, increased significantly. Illegal gold mining is common in Tuv soum of Zamaar aimag, Bulgan soum of Burenhangay aimag and Tsenkher soum of Arkhangai aimag (Selenga river basin).

The total population of the Russian part of Lake Baikal basin is 1058.5 thousand people (according to the Russian Census of 2010). Most of the population is concentrated within the Republic of Buryatia. Increased birthrate and reduced mortality resulted in a population growth in 2012-2013. While the total population of Mongolia is 2930.3 thousand people, 65.4% of it lives within the lake basin. The total population growth in 2013 was 2.2%. More than 43% of the entire population lives in Ulaanbaatar city.

Planned development of a tourist and recreational complex in the basin can provide significant commercial, fiscal and social effects, as well as to compensate for the economic losses of the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia due to environmental restrictions of economic activity. At the same time, the complex would increase the anthropogenic pressure on the coastal ecosystem of Lake Baikal. The government of the Republic of Buryatia, Irkutsk Region and Zabaikalsky Krai need to utilize the successful experience of Mongolia in state regulation of tourism sector.

Despite a certain economic growth and improved standard of living in both Russia and Mongolia, the challenges of sustainable development in the region can only be addressed taking into account mutual interests. Among them is the responsibility for damage caused to transboundary natural resources. The Selenga River belongs to such natural resources, being the main tributary of Lake Baikal - a World Natural Heritage Site.

Russian scientists have developed economic instruments for replenishing international environmental foundations established for protection of the natural environment within a transboundary basin (exemplified by the Selenga River basin). The creation of the Baikal Environmental Fund will ensure the accumulation of resource payments and provide target funding for conservation and restoration of natural objects and biodiversity, implementation of innovations related to environmentally sustainable development in the region.

Thus, the population of Russia and Mongolia living within the basin of Lake Baikal is facing the challenges of sustainable socio-economic development under conditions of the harsh climate, thermal and electric power shortages, high transport costs, low level of economic innovation, high dependence on natural resources and, more importantly, the contradiction between economic development of the region and the need to protect the environment.

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