Lake Baikal, or "Sacred Sea," is located in southeastern Siberia, in the Republic of Buryatia and the Irkutsk region, Russia. At 25-30 million years old, it is the oldest lake in the world. It measures 636 km long by 80 km wide, and has 2100 km of coastline. It's basin is made up of three underwater depressions, which together hold a volume of 23,600 cubic km of water, 20% of the world's fresh surface water. There are a number of islands in the lake, the largest of which is Olkhon, 72 kilometers long. Over three hundred rivers and streams flow into Baikal, of which the six main ones are: Selenga,Chikoy, Khiloh, Uda, Barguzin, and the Upper Angara. Only the Angara River flows out of the lake. The deepest point in Lake Baikal is 1637 m, the average depth being 630 m, and it has an exceptional clarity which allows 40-50 m of visibility. The entire surface of the lake freezes over in the winter. The deepest waters in the lake are oxygenated by thermal springs. Sarma, Kultuk, Barguzin are the winds that come screaming down from the river valleys in a matter of seconds at hurricane force, whipping up waves four to six meters high.
Lake Baikal's watershed covers 540,000 square kilometers and is made up of the surrounding taiga. Most of the watershed area is surfaced with rock, so that water inflow has little mineral or chemical content. The highest peak of the Baikal watershed is 2840 m in the Barguzin mountain range. The lake itself is 454 m above sea level. The annual precipitation ranges between 187 and 1324 mm.
Tectonic movements in the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic periods created the faults and rifts in the Baikal region. These in turn created mountainous ridges and deep valleys, and the tectonic hollow of Lake Baikal. Thermal vents in the depths of the lake are evidence of ongoing tectonic activity in the area.
Lake Baikal is home to 1200 different species of animals, and 1000 species of plants. 80% of the species at Baikal are endemic. The most unique animal at Baikal is the freshwater seal, known as the nerpa, which is also the only mammal which inhabits the lake. The small zooplankton consume waterweeds, bacteria and other material which would cloud the water. These and other small crustaceans are largely responsible for the clarity of Baikal's waters. The most diverse communities in the lake are the benthic invertebrate populations, characterized by gammarids, oligocheates, and molluscs. There are fifty edible species of fish including salmon, sturgeon, greyling and omul. The taiga which surrounds the lake supports 2500 species of animals, 82% of which are endemic, including 14 endemic families and over 100 genuses. These include the brown bear, siberian chipmunk, reindeer, and hundreds of species of birds including the white tailed eagle, the grey heron, and the black headed gull.
For the Russian people Lake Baikal is a natural treasure. Located in in the south of Eastern Siberia in the Buryat Autonomous Republic and the Region of Irkutsk near the Mongolian border, and surrounded by mountains, forests and wild rivers, Baikal is an immense and breathtaking area of physical beauty.
Baikal holds twenty percent of the earth's fresh water and over 80 per cent of the fresh water in the former Soviet Union and harbors more endemic species of plants and animals than any other lake in the world. Its water basin occupies about 557,000 sq. km. and contains about 23,000 cu. km. of water. As a point of comparison, if you were to drain Lake Baikal, it would take the Great Lakes of the United States: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario to refill the empty basin.
Baikal is not just a lake, but something greater and deeper. It is bottomless and majestic. It covers 31,500 sq. km and is 636 km. long, an average of 48 km wide, and 79.4 km at its widest point . The length of the coastline is about 2,100 km. The water level in the lake is never higher than 456 m. The Baikal is the deepest lake in the world. Its average depth is 730 m. and its maximium depth in the middle - 1,620 m. The Lake Baikal basin includes three underwater depressions. The first, in the South, extends from Kultuk Bay to the Selenga River Delta (6,890 km2). The Middle Baikal Depression reaches from the Selenga River Delta to the underwater Academic Mountain Ridge (11,295 km2). The Northern Baikal Depression extends from the Ridge to Baikal's northern shore (13,315 km2).
Three factors, the depth of the lake, its huge volume of water, and its geographical position permit Baikal's somewhat unusual process of self-purification. This process produces unbelievably clear water.
Of the 336 rivers and streams flowing into Baikal, only one, the Angara, flows out from it. There are 30 rocky islands on the lake, the biggest one being Olkhon Island which is more than 130 km2 in area. Legend has it that Olkhon Island is the birthplace of Mongolian ruler Genghis Khan
Baikal's water is cold. Overall, the average temperature of the water is +4 C, but varies like many micro climates depending on location and season. The surface temperature in August in the middle of the lake is about 8 to 10 C and along the coastal line, 14 to 16 C. Below the surface, the water temperature plunges.
In the winter Lake Baikal usually freezes in January (By the end of October, shallow bays are covered with ice and after the first few months of winter, the entire surface of the lake freezes) and the ice breaks in May. The melting process begins in the northwestern part of the lake at the end of April before spreading to other parts of the lake. The ice is 70-115 cm. thick. The average annual precipitation in the middle and the north of Baikal is 200-350 mm.; it is 500-900 mm. in the south.
Compared to the surrounding area, winter is milder and summer cooler on Lake Baikal. The average air temperature is about -30 C in January and February and about +11 C in August. The surface-water temperature on the open part of the lake in August is +9 to 12 C, and near the shore it is sometimes as high as +20 C. The lake's surrounding wild mountains and rivers make the Lake Baikal region an ideal area for engaging in an array of outdoor pursuits including hiking, climbing, whitewater sports, skiing and nature photography.
You must see Baikal to be able to say what it is like.
For the Russian people Lake Baikal is a natural treasure. Located in Siberia near the Mongolian border, and surrounded by mountains, forests and wild rivers, Baikal is an immense and breathtaking area of physical beauty.
Baikal holds twenty percent of the earth's fresh water and harbors more endemic species of plants and animals than any other lake in the world. Fed by 336 rivers and streams including the Angara, Barguzin, Selenga, Turka and Snezhnaya, the lake holds fifty species of fish including bullhead, sturgeon and omul. A glimpse into the lake's clear water is enough to convince anyone that nature not only exists in Siberia, it flourishes. The lake's surrounding wild mountains and rivers make the Lake Baikal region an ideal area for engaging in an array of outdoor pursuits including hiking, climbing, whitewater sports, skiing and nature photography.
There are also many regional cultural attractions. Today, as in the past, Baikal remains a crossroads of cultures where native Sayats still herd reindeer and Buryat people maintain many of their old traditions. The wilds of Siberia also offer a gateway to Mongolia and its ancient and amazing culture. It is hard to imagine that these wilderness areas and exotic cultures are only a five to seven hour jet ride from Moscow or Khabarask.
Baikal is not just a lake, but something greater and deeper. It is bottomless and majestic, but not an ocean or sea in which man loses all his visible bearings. There we sense the greatness of nature, feeling at one with it, not alienated from it, which is a rare phenomenon in developed countries. Baikal is a bridge to space. You must see Baikal to be able to say what it is like.