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Lake Baikal, Respublika Buryatiya,
Russia
Earth's Natural Wonders in Asia
 
Length of Lake Baikal: 394 miles (635 km)
Width of lake: 30 miles (48 km)
Depth of lake: 5,380 feet (1,640 m)

 

Lake Baikal sits in Southern Siberia in Russia, located between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast, near the city of Irkutsk. Also known as the "Blue Eye of Siberia," it contains more water than all the North American Great Lakes combined. At 1,637 meters (5,371 ft), Lake Baikal constitutes the deepest lake in the world, and the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume, holding approximately 20 percent of the world's total surface fresh water.

Like Lake Tanganyika, Lake Baikal formed in an ancient rift valley and therefore has a long, and crescent shape with a surface area (31,500 km²) less than half that of Lake Superior or Lake Victoria. Baikal serves as home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds found only in the lake zone. UNESCO designated Lake Baikal a World Heritage Site in 1996. At more than 25 million years old, it has been declared the oldest lake in the world.[4] The successful dive of Mir-1 and Mir-2 mini-submarines to the deepest place in Baikal on 29 July 2008, at over one mile, has opened the prospect of new discoveries of ancient lake life.

 

Geography and hydrography
The peninsula of Svyatoy Nos.While known as the "North Sea" in historical Chinese texts, Lake Baikal had been located in the then Xionu territory. Lake Baikal had been out of the public eye until the Russian government built the Trans-Siberian railway between 1896 and 1902. The scenic loop encircling Lake Baikal needed 200 bridges and 33 tunnels. As under construction, F.K. Drizhenko headed a hydrogeographical expedition that produced the first detailed atlas of the contours of Baikal's depths. The atlas demonstrated that Lake Baikal has more water than all of North America's Great Lakes combined—23,600 cubic kilometers (5,662.4 cu mi), about one fifth of the total fresh water on the earth. In surface area, the much shallower Great Lakes Superior, Huron and Michigan in North America, as well as by the relatively shallow Lake Victoria in East Africa exceeded it. Known as the "Galápagos of Russia," its age and isolation have produced some of the world's richest and most unusual freshwater fauna of exceptional value to evolutionary science.Lake Baikal lies in a rift valley created by the Baikal Rift Zone where the crust of the earth pulls apart.

The Yenisei River basin, Lake Baikal, and the settlements of Dikson, Dudinka, Turukhansk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk.At 636 kilometers (395.2 mi) long and 79 kilometers (49.1 mi) wide, Lake Baikal has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in Asia (31,494 km²), constituting the deepest lake in the world (1,637 metres, previously measured at 1,620 metres). The bottom of the lake measures 1,285 metres below sea level, but below that lies some 7 kilometers (4.3 mi) of sediment, placing the rift floor some 8–9 kilometers (more than 5 miles) below the surface: the deepest continental rift on Earth. In geological terms, the rift, young and active, widens about two centimeters per year. The fault zone experiences frequent seismic activity. New hot springs appear in the area and notable earthquakes happen every few years. It drains into the Angara tributary of the Yenisei.

Its age, estimated at 25–30 million years, makes it one of the most ancient lakes in geological history. Unique among large, high-latitude lakes, its sediments have been unscoured by overriding continental ice sheets. U.S/ and Russian studies of core sediment in the 1990s provide a detailed record of climatic variation over the past 250,000 years. Geologists expect longer and deeper sediment cores in the near future. Lake Baikal has been confirmed as the only fresh water lake with direct and indirect evidence of gas hydrates existing.

The lake is completely surrounded by mountains, with the Baikal Mountains on the north shore and the taiga technically protected as a national park. It contains 22 islands; the largest, Olkhon, measures 72 kilometers (44.7 mi) long. The lake has as many as three hundred and thirty inflowing rivers, the main ones draining directly into Baikal include the Selenga River, the Barguzin River, the Upper Angara River, the Turka River, the Sarma River and the Snezhnaya River. The Angara River serves as its single drainage outlet. Despite its great depth, the lake's waters have excellent oxygenation throughout the water column compared to the stratification that occurs in such bodies of water as Lake Tanganyika and the Black Sea.

Olkhon, the largest island in Lake Baikal, constitutes the fourth-largest lake-bound island in the world.[2]

 
One fifth of the world's water is contained in a single lake, Lake Baikal in Russia's southern Siberia. The lake is relatively small in suface area, ranking ninth in the world. It is 394 miles long and 30 miles wide, but it is extremely deep. It reaches a depth of 5,380 feet and contains about 5,500 cubic miles of water; more than the total contents of North America's Great Lakes.
The lake is also incredibly old. It was formed about 20 million years ago after a rift formed in the earth's crust. Hot springs on the lakebed indicate the area is still geologically active. Annually the region's seismic stations register up to 200 earthquake tremors
 

In the winter the lake is frozen solid and local people drive out across the frozen landscape to fish through holes they drill in the ice. In places where the ice was formed in calm conditions it is transparent and the fish can be seen swimming below. Although the ice is strong, daily temperature flucuations cause intricate patterns of cracks that form gaping crevasses as much as three feet wide. In summer the ice splinters into tiny slithers, creating prisms of light that dance across the water. After the ice melts, the water can be so clear you can see down 130 feet or more.

Many animals living here are unique to Bailal, such as the Baikal seals and golomyanka fish that gives birth to live young. The fish can endure an amazing amount of pressure, at a drpth of 3,280 to 4,593 feet it can move quite freely, whereas at such a depth even a cannon cannot shoot because of the enormous pressure.[3]

Scientists are still debating the lake's origin. Some are trying to prove that it emerged as a result of tectonic processes of orogenesis, while others consider it as having been formed as a result of the earth's crust gradually subsiding. So far nobody has been proved right.

The Baikal area is a veritable treasure trove of mineral resources. Sables thrive in the region's taiga; valuable fur animals live in the surrounding mountains and valleys; and birds and fish abound in the forests and rivers of the area. The nearby Dauro-Mongolian steppes are very fertile. There are hot springs in the vicinity of Lake Baikal, the water of which is of excellent quality. The lake acts as a powerful generator and biofilter producing this water.

"Blue eye of Siberia," Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. This crescent-shaped lake is more than 900 miles from the nearest ocean (the Pacific) and is about 400 miles long and 50 miles wide. Rimmed by mountains, and nearly surrounded by forests, it's one of the most beautiful lake settings in the world. While it's the 7th largest lake on the globe in regards to surface area, in terms of volume of water, Lake Baikal has no peers. Its greatest depth is 5,022 feet - the world's deepest lake.

 

Interestingly, Lake Baikal is gradually getting bigger. It rests in the biggest continental trough or rift in the Earth's surface, and this rift has been widening at a rate of about 3/4 inch (2 cm) per year. Lake Baikal is so astonishing big that if were drained, and if all of the world's rivers were diverted so as to empty into the huge trough, it would take a full year to refill it! Not only does Lake Baikal contains 1/5 of all of the world's supply of unfrozen, fresh water, but it could satisfy the drinking water needs of everyone on Earth for almost 50 years.

Though more than 330 rivers and streams feed Lake Baikal, only the Angara River is an outlet. The Angara empties into the Arctic Ocean, more than 1,500 miles away. Lake Baikal is estimated to be nearly 25 millions years old, making it possibly the world's oldest lakes. Additionally, of the 1,800 or so fauna and flora that are found in and around the lake, about 2/3 of them are indigenous - a higher percentage anywhere, except for the Antarctic lakes. While most of the lake's unique fauna are microscopic invertebrates, the Baikal seal is one of the lake's most popular indigenous mammals.

Unfortunately, Lake Bailkal's once pristine waters are no longer that way, but even though the water is now tainted by pollution, it's still remarkably clear. Tiny crustaceans act to purify the lakes's waters so that it's possible to see a bright object on the lake bottom in 500 feet of water! However, while the lake water is still clear now, a real concern is that the buffering effect of the lake's well-oxygenated waters may be overwhelmed by toxins and industrial waste in the near-future.

Until timber began to be widely harvested from Lake Baikal's slopes in the early 1900s, it's said that the lake's water was clean enough to be consumed without filtering. As large tracks of forests were removed with the growth of lumber and pulp industries, tons of silt and sediment washed into the lake. Since the 1960s, industrial pollution has been the biggest problem. More than 100 factories can be found close by the lake. Perhaps the worst polluters are factories that use chlorine to turn wood pulp into cellulose, which is used in the manufacturing of cardboard packaging. This chlorine slowly but surely makes its way into the lake. As a result of this chemical pollution, not only have some fish species declined but so have smaller life forms that are crucial in keeping the lake healthy. Pollution from the largest cites near the lake, Irkutsk to the southwest and Ulan Ulde to the southeast, are also causing problems. In addition, another source of pollution comes from the burning of coal in several power plants adjacent to the lake. Since Lake Baikal contains such a large volume of water, and only a single river outlet, the contaminants that are present now will be there for years to come.

A number of initiatives have been proposed over the years and a few laws have been passed to prevent blatant pollution practices. However, as of now, many of these laws have little bite. They may impede polluters but they can't stop them. The people who live near Lake Baikal, of course, don't want to see their beautiful lake threatened by pollution. A few groups are doing what they can to promote awareness of the lake's fragility and are active in efforts to remove litter and reduce industrial effluent. But, because the Russian economy has been in dire straits since the break up of the Soviet Union a decade ago, the government's emphasis has been on trying to fix the economy, and environmental issues receive relatively little backing, financial or otherwise. Closing down a lake-side factory in violation of pollution ordinances, and thus eliminating perhaps thousands of jobs, will just further cripple the region's economy. It'll be sometime before things get better. Even the few government and scientific institutes that in the past have been responsible for monitoring this impressive lake's health, now have few resources to do so. [4]

You tube video-Lake Baikal

The second stop on our trip across Siberia - Lake Baikal and the tiny village of Bloshoe Gloustonoe.

 

leelefever
September 23, 2006

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References
 
1. Flickr-Creative Commons Attribution License-retrieved 6/15/2009
2. Lake Baikal. (2008, November 12). New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:12, June 16, 2009 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lake_Baikal?oldid=851076.
3. 1,001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die 2005-p. 621- Michael Bright-retrieved 6/14/2009
4.NASA--retrieved 6/15/2009

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