UC Davis professor Charles Goldman was recently named chair of the Tahoe-Baikal Institute’s Board of Directors. Goldman, whose career at UC Davis spans over 50 years, founded the nonprofit organization in 1991.
The Institute (TBI) has trained over 300 students in environmental research and management through annual summer exchange programs that focus on the ecosystems, communities and cultures surrounding Lake Tahoe in California-Nevada and Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia, Russia.
Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake on earth, contains 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater and is home to over 2,000 unique aquatic species including a freshwater seal species.
“While Lake Tahoe and Lake Baikal are different ecosystems, they share a number of similar characteristics such as great depth … and the fact that limnological, or lake science, research has been going on in both systems for quite a long time,” said John Reuter, researcher and associate director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment, in an e-mail interview.
As the new chair, Goldman will oversee finances for the Institute’s exchange program, which is funded by charitable groups and contributions from the Board of Directors to sponsor around 20 students from the U.S., Russia, Mongolia and other countries each summer.
Students spend five weeks at Lake Baikal and five weeks at Lake Tahoe where they perform research and restoration projects with academic, government and nonprofit agencies, according to the TBI’s website. They will also meet with top environmental scientists and policy-makers, and participate in learning activities that foster cultural exchange and leadership development.
Goldman says the task of soliciting support will be challenging given the current financial situation, and some sacrifices – such as trimming staff and cutting subsidies for exchange students – may be needed to keep the program running.
“[TBI has] been a very important group for both Lake Tahoe and Lake Baikal,” Goldman said. “It has actually focused attention on the environmental plight of both of these lakes … and many [TBI graduates] are rising rapidly to positions of importance both in the U.S. and in Russia.“
Reuter and Goldman were part of a National Geographic Research Expedition in 1990 to study Lake Baikal and set the stage for collaboration with resident scientists.
“Lake Baikal faced and still faces significant environmental issues resulting from in-lake disposal of industrial pollutants,” Reuter said. “An important aspect of that trip was to raise social awareness on these issues both in country and internationally.“
Along with similar United Nations programs, the expedition helped Baikal achieve protected status as an international heritage lake.
Goldman’s research on Baikal’s unique and delicate ecosystem helped alert Russians to the potential threat from a planned copper smelting operation in the north vicinity of the lake.
“If they were not very careful with this operation, they could have a very dramatic effect on the [lake’s] microorganisms which we showed … to be extremely sensitive to copper pollution,” Goldman said.
Goldman also provided vital support to an on-site research institute at Lake Baikal during difficult financial times.
“If not for [Goldman’s] tireless efforts to reach out to the public and talk about the plight at Lake Baikal, I’m not sure there would be a TBI as we know it today,” Reuter said. “His selection as chairman is fitting.“
Goldman was a founder of the Tahoe Research Group at UC Davis over 30 years ago, where he is currently director. His considerable contributions include long-term ecological research that has shed light on the causes behind Lake Tahoe’s declining water clarity. He is also an internationally recognized expert who has served on many committees and translated his findings to policy decisions regarding water resource conservation.
ELAINE HSIA can be reached at email@example.com.