Lake Baikal, in south-central Siberia, has been the focus of an international effort (the Baikal Drilling Project; BDP) to obtain continuous long cores (upwards of 100 m) from this unique rift-valley lake and to interpret the paleoclimatic history from various proxy data. As part of this effort, the clay minerals were examined by two research teams. A consistent clay-mineral assemblage, containing illite, inter-stratified illite-smectite, chlorite, and kaolinite as the major minerals, characterizes much of the modern sediments. The relative abundance of these minerals changes with depth in both short piston cores from various parts of the lake and in 100-m-long cores taken from the distal toe of the Selenga Delta (BDP-93). Independent analyses of the abundance changes and correlation with other data from the cores show that the clays are responding to two influences; (1) climatic fluctuations, particularly in the upper 40 m of the sedimentary record, which show the relative amount of illite-smectite (and sometimes kaolinite) increasing during warmer climate episodes, and (2) source-area changes, which are most evident below 40 m in the BDP-93 cores and mark a shift from an eastern (Buguldeika River) to a western (Selenga River) source. The clay-mineral-based climate fluctuations are correlative with the marine oxygen-isotope record through stage 7, and provide a relatively simple and cost-effective tool for gaining insight into the paleoclimate of this interior continental site.

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