En+ Group, a vertically integrated aluminium and power producer, has partnered with Russia’s leading universities on a scientific expedition to understand the factors affecting the ecosystem around Lake Baikal.
The project is part of the group’s comprehensive plan to ensure the world’s largest freshwater reservoir is managed sustainably by all stakeholders. Implementation of the overall program has been under way since 2011. The expedition will include the most detailed investigation to date into the impact of plastics on the lake’s freshwater environment, En+ Group says.
Lake Baikal is a unique environment, containing 20% of the world’s fresh water and having a surface area the size of Belgium and the Netherlands. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world and has a capacity of 25.6 million acre-feet. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve and affects the regional climate of North Asia and the Arctic Basin. The Selenge River is the main source of Lake Baikal.
En+ is taking the lead on conserving this ecosystem, committing to a long-term data-driven approach. The business generates most of its hydropower from rivers flowing out of the lake.
With coordination from En+ Group, a team of researchers from Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Siberian Federal University, and the Russian Academy of Sciences will spend July to September studying human impacts on the lake’s ecosystem. Research from the expedition will inform the strategies of En+ Group’s local operations.
Researchers will focus on four key issues facing the lake ecosystem. Building upon surface level studies from 2017, they will examine micro-plastics present in the lake water. They will also analyze the content of heavy metals, toxins and biogenic elements in the ecosystem. In addition, they will seek to understand the cause of increased algal blooming, an important indication of changing pollution levels. And they will investigate the origins of a disease affecting Baikal’s endemic sponges.
“Baikal is unique and, with most of En+ Group’s assets located in East Siberia, it is our duty to develop the region responsibly and safeguard this most important of habitats,” said Vladimir Kiriukhin, chief executive officer of En+ Group. “Our comprehensive Baikal preservation program will bring all stakeholders together to agree meaningful actions which will protect the unique environment for generations to come.”
Based on the findings, the group also aims to establish a roundtable of businesses, government agencies and NGOs to agree to a set of meaningful and measurable policies for sustainably managing the lake and its surrounding ecosystem.
The group anticipates initial findings will be published this in the third quarter of 2019, with a more detailed report released in December.