IRKUTSK, July 29 (RIA Novosti) - Two Russian mini-submarines came to the surface of Siberia's Lake Baikal on Tuesday after a record-breaking dive to the bottom of the world's deepest lake.
The Mir-1 and Mir-2 submersibles were shown on TV channel Vesti-24 being lifted onto a barge after their 1,680-meter (5,500-foot) ascent from the lake's deepest point.
The ongoing expedition in what locals call the 'Sacred Sea' is led by Artur Chilingarov, a Russian lawmaker who led a symbolic dive to the North Pole seabed last August, during which a Russian flag was planted on the seabed.
The mini-subs, which were used for the Arctic dive and had been specially adapted for freshwater conditions, were submerged in the middle of the lake, between Olkhon island and the Svyatoy Nos ('sacred nose') peninsula.
Chilingarov earlier said the Mir dives were "a logical continuation of lake exploration that was begun 30 years ago with the Pisces apparatus."
Soviet scientists in a Pisces submersible reached a depth of 1,410 meters (4,600 feet) in 1977, and examined the lake's bed with searchlights. The lake has since been the focus of numerous Soviet, Russian and international research expeditions.
Crew member Natalia Komarova, the first woman to take part in a Mir mini-sub dive, told reporters before the dive that the results of the expedition would have an important impact on environmental legislation.
"We need to understand how to protect Baikal and use it without harming its unique ecosystem," she said.
She said new safeguards would be needed to protect the lake, given the planned intensive economic and industrial development of East Siberia over the coming years.
The lake has been the focus of major environmental scares in recent years, with a last-minute change to an oil pipeline route that was set to pass near Baikal's shores, and environmental regulators' claims against a pulp mill accused of pumping large volumes of toxic waste into the lake.
The expedition is set to run for two years, during which the scientists will conduct around 160 dives in various areas of the lake. Research will include tectonic information-gathering and exploration for archeological artifacts.