Thermal stratification, nutrient dynamics, and phytoplankton productivity during the onset of spring phytoplankton growth in Lake Baikal, Russia

Charles R. Goldman, James J. Elser, Robert C. Richards, John E. Reuter, John C. Priscu, A. L. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Lake Baikal, Russian Siberia, was sampled in July 1990 during the period of spring mixing and initiation of thermal stratification. Vertical profiles of temperature, dissolved nutrients (nitrate and soluble reactive phosphorus), phytoplankton biomass, and primary productivity were determined in an eleven-station transect encompassing the entire 636 km length of the lake. Pronounced horizontal variability in hydrodynamic conditions was observed, with the southern region of the lake being strongly thermally stratified while the middle and north basins were largely isothermal through July. The extent of depletion of surface water nutrients, and the magnitude of phytoplankton biomass and productivity, were found to be strongly correlated with the degree of thermal stratification. Horizontal differences likely reflected the contribution of two important factors: variation in the timing of ice-out in different parts of the lake (driving large-scale patterns of thermal stratification and other limnological properties) and localized effects of river inflows that may contribute to the preliminary stabilization of the water column in the face of intense turbulent spring mixing (driving meso-scale patterns). Examination of the relationships between surface water inorganic N and P depletion suggested that during the spring and early summer, phytoplankton growth in unstratified portions of the lake was largely unconstrained by nutrient supplies. As summer progressed, the importance of co-limitation by both N and P became more apparent. Uptake and regeneration rates, measured directly using the stable isotope 15N, revealed that phytoplankton in stratified portions of the lake relied primarily on NH4 as their N source. Rates of NH4 regeneration were in approximate equilibrium with uptake; both processes were dominated by organisms <2 μm. This pattern is similar to that observed for oligotrophic marine systems. Our study underscores the importance of hydrodynamic conditions in influencing patterns of biological productivity and nutrient dynamics that occur in Lake Baikal during its brief growing season.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-24
Number of pages16
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1996


  • Lake Baikal
  • nitrogen and phosphorus
  • nutrient limitation
  • phytoplankton
  • primary productivity
  • thermal stratification


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