Lake Baikal, in eastern Siberia, is no ordinary lake.
Here are some interesting facts about it:
Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world with a maximum depth of 1,632m
It is also the world’s largest volume of fresh water 23,000 cubic km.
This means that one-fifth of all the fresh water in the world is located here at Lake Baikal.
Lake Baikal is 640km long and judging by its dimensions only it would be more of a sea than a lake.
Baikal is also the world’s most ancient freshwater lake, it originated 20-25 million years ago.
It is home to many unique species of animals and plants including the freshwater seal.
Lake Baikal is one of the clearest and purest bodies of water. In a good day you could see 40 meters into the lake.
Dimensions of Lake Baikal: It is 636 km long, 79 km wide.
There are 27 islands in Lake Baikal, most of them being uninhabited.
Baikal Lake’s coastline measures 2100 kilometers (around 1300 miles).
More than 300 streams and rivers flow into Lake Baikal, but there is just one outlet, the Angara.
The water in the lake creates a mild microclimate around its shores.
More than half the species found in Lake Baikal are unique to this place.
It lies in a cleft where Asia is literally splitting apart, the beginnings of a future ocean.
Geologists say Baikal today shows what the seaboards of North America, Africa and Europe looked like as they began to separate millions of years ago.
More than 5,000 feet deep (1637m) at its most profound, with another four-mile-thick layer of sediment further down, the lake’s cold, oxygen-rich waters teem with bizarre life-forms.
One of those is the seals’ favourite food, the golomyanka, a pink, partly transparent fish which gives birth to live young. Geologists estimate that Lake Baikal formed somewhere 20-25 million years ago, during the Mesozoic.
Surrounded by mile-high snowcapped mountains, Lake Baikal still offers vistas of unmatched beauty. The mountains are still a haven for wild animals, and the small villages are still outposts of tranquillity and self-reliance in the remote Siberian taiga, as the forest is called.
Lake Baikal, formed 25 million years ago, provides a haven for 1,200 animal species, 600 types of plants, and the world’s only freshwater seals.
Of these plants and animals, 75 percent are found only in the Lake Baikal region, making its preservation crucial.
Some of Baikal’s fish can survive more than one mile beneath the surface, despite the incredible water pressure at that depth.
They are so well-adapted to these pressures that they will literally explode if brought to the surface, where the pressure is dramatically different.
Out of all the animals living in the Lake Baikal, the most interesting are the fresh water seals.
Scientists still have not determined how the seals got to Lake Baikal, although it is supposed that they travelled here in prehistoric times from the Arctic through a river.
The nerpas – how they are often called – differ in many aspects from the Arctic seals as they have adapted to the Baikal climate.
For example they have more blood, which makes it possible to them to swim for more than 70 minutes. They can also travel at great depths, sometimes reaching depths of 300 meters under the surface.
One of the most bizarre fish that lives in Lake Baikal is the golomyanka (oil-fish). The golomyanka has no scale and a translucent body. It can swim at depths of more than 1000 metres.
The omul is the most popular fish in Lake Baikal and you will find it in most tourist towns as it is the main food supply of the locals.
Because it is situated in a pretty remote location in Siberia, Lake Baikal is not frequented by many tourists.
However, there are some places where you could stay and visit the surroundings of the lake.
By far the most popular destination for tourists is the village of Listvyanka. It is located less than 2 hours away from Irkutsk, a city which is served by international airlines.
Listvyanka has a number of good hotels and it is also the preferred destination of locals.
Much further from Irkutsk lies the town of Severobaikalsk, on the northern shores of Lake Baikal.
There are also many islands on Lake Baikal. Out of them, by far the most popular is the island of Olkhon, a big island with several villages.
The traditional lifestyle of locals around the Baikal endures, revolving around the lake and its bounty.
Most local people live on a diet that consists largely of fish.
Roads from the major city of Irkutsk into the lake region are dotted with stands where elderly women bundled up against the cold sell warm, freshly-smoked fish.
Visiting Baikal in the summer, it is almost impossible to imagine that for five months of the year the lake is covered by metres of ice.
The freeze begins in November and ships head for the sanctuary of Irkutsk’s harbour.
During the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, the lake’s ice was so thick that the Russians were able to lay a railway straight across it and transport supplies to the battle front throughout the winter.
Half the water flowing into the lake comes down the Selenga River in the southeast.
The rest comes from more than 330 other rivers and streams, many of them flowing from the surrounding mountains.
Lake Baikal’s only outlet is the Angara River, which flows westward from the lake’s southwestern end.
Lake Baikal has about 45 islands and islets, of which the two biggest are Olkhon, about 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) in area, and Great Ushkany, which covers only about 3.6 square miles (9.4 square kilometers).
Olkhon is a region of forests and grasslands that supports deer, brown bears, and a wide range of birds.
Great Ushkany is rocky, the site of the largest rookery of Baikal seals. Many of the other islands are little more than rocks, used as roosts by water birds.
With many thanks to Lake Baikal.Org
Picture credit for map here.
Picture credit for frozen lake here.