Expedition to the Aral Sea

Published: 17/12/2021 Times Read: 80

In the period from 10 to 18 October 2021, the 24th expedition of the IO RAS to the Aral Sea took place. Within the framework of a joint project, scientists from the Institute of Oceanology named after P.P. Shirshov RAS and the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (Berlin) in cooperation with the Karakalpak Scientific Research Institute of Natural Sciences (Nukus) carried out comprehensive marine research in the central part of the western basin of the Big Aral Sea.

The main goal of the expedition is to study the current regime of vertical mixing of waters in the western basin and the response of the ecosystem to its possible variability. Previous expeditionary studies of the IO RAS in the northern part of the western basin revealed the existence of a heliothermal nature of the vertical structure of waters and meromictic mixing conditions in the separating Chernyshev Bay [Izhitskiy et al., 2021], which raises the urgent question of the possibility of the presence of similar features in the main part of the western basin. As a result of work in the water area, information was obtained on the modern thermohaline stratification of the basin waters, water samples were taken to study the ion-salt composition, total water salinity, and dissolved methane concentrations. For the first time for the Big Aral, a surface alongshore trawling for microplastics was carried out at a distance of 4 km. In addition, in the central part of the basin, an autonomous anchored station was set up equipped with sensors for temperature, dissolved oxygen and pressure, which will allow for the first time for the western basin to obtain information on the variability of the parameters of stratification and vertical mixing in the annual cycle.

Within the framework of the hydrobiological block of work, the concentrations of the gill-footed crustacean Artemia perthenogenetica were investigated in the open and coastal parts of the basin, and samples of phytoplankton and microphytobenthos were taken. The observations also revealed extensive sources of groundwater on the horizon of the freshest drainage of the coastline. Such seepage is both brook and lower, and an extensive mantle-like runoff with depths of up to several centimeters. The bottom surface here is densely covered with algo-bacterial mats, which retain water and contribute to the formation of floating salt crusts. The composition and structure of the mats gradually changes from the source, where bacterial films predominate, to areas of wide runoff, where the communities are composed of macrocolonies of diatoms and cyanobacteria. Depending on the microlandscapes of the bottom and the concentration of salt crystallizing along the edges of the stream branches, the communities modify the structure. Microscopic examination of the samples showed not only a relatively high diversity of microorganisms, but also the presence of three new species of diatoms for the Aral Sea that entered such biotopes after 2019. In different areas of the water area, flights and feeding of small flocks of aquatic birds were observed.

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