Lake Baikal: Deepest, Biggest, Oldest

On January 7, 2015 by Tim Newman

Lake Baikal - vast as an ocean

Lake Baikal sits proud and alert in wintery Siberia, and as lakes go, it’s a mighty impressive girl, earning itself the nickname “the Pearl of Siberia”. As far as volume is concerned, Lake Baikal is the largest in the world, containing around 20% of the world’s entire unfrozen, surface fresh water.

At a maximum depth of 1,642 m (5,387 ft) it is also the world’s deepest lake, thoroughly swallowing the UK’s nearest contender – Loch Morar – at a trifling 310 metres.

Lake Baikal - Tagai bay

Tagai bay

So “deepest” and “biggest“ are both lovely superlatives to own but Lake Baikal has more to offer than that. Baikal is one of the clearest lakes on earth and is considered the oldest at around 25 million years old.

Baikal is home to more than 1,000 species of plant and 2,500 species of animals, a staggering 80% of Baikal’s animal species are found nowhere else on earth. For some reason, Baikal has more than its fair share of water snails with around 150 species in total, most of which are endemic.

The lake has less than 60 species of fish, but more than half are exclusively found in its frigid waters.

Lake Baikal - Olkhon island

Olkhon island – the only inhabited island on Baikal (population 1,500)

Russian Collection on LAZERHORSE.ORG

Baikal sturgeon (Acipenser baerii), a cousin of the Siberian sturgeon, were once common in the lake, but thanks to their freakishly popular eggs (caviar) they have found themselves on the endangered list. At one time it was possible to find these sturgeons weighing in at 125 Kilograms (the weight of roughly 250 cans of Strongbow).

Here’s a sturgeon, he’s not from Siberia but it gives you an idea of the sort of size we’re talking about:

Lake Baikal - Fraser Canyon BC Sturgeon

It’s not just the wildlife here that’s interesting. More than a kilometre below Baikal’s surface lays the Baikal Deep Underwater Neutrino Telescope (BDUNT). According to the official BDNUT website this is what goes on down there:

It was constructed to study high-energy muon and neutrino fluxes and search for new types of elernentary particles: magnetic monopoles, WIMPs – massive particles which can be considered as candidates to “dark” matter, and others.

Of course, as an area of natural and ancient beauty, it is under constant attack from dirty humans. The Baykalsk Pulp and Paper Mill was constructed in 1966, directly on the shoreline, bleaching paper with chlorine and discharging waste willy-nilly into Baikal. The plant finally closed down in 2009, but not through environmental pressure, it just wasn’t profitable enough.

The town of Baykalsk was a one company town (a so-called monotown), though, so when the plant closed the town went to the dogs. Around 95% of the town’s budget had come through the plant in one way or another. So, in 2010, the plant was reopened and declared exempt from the environmental rules.

Baikalsk Paper Plant - Lake Baikal

Putin, after viewing the lake in a submarine claimed that he could see the plant hadn’t damaged the environment:

I could see with my own eyes — and scientists can confirm — Baikal is in good condition and there is practically no pollution

Phew. I trust his eyes. However, in 2013 the mill finally did shut down and there are plans to save the town’s vast unemployed by turning it into a green, eco-tourist town, which sounds like a much better idea.

Travel Collection on LAZERHORSE

The next worry for Baikal is the planned East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline. The pipe is set to run within 800 metres of the lake’s shore. The area around Baikal has significant seismic active, it is a rift lake after all (a lake created by subsidence related to the movement of faults) and environmentalists are rightly worried about potential leaks.

Lake Baikal - Olkhon island 3

And it doesn’t end there. In 2006, the Russian government announced plans to build the world’s first International Uranium Enrichment Centre at an existing nuclear facility in Angarsk, 95 km (59 mi) from the lake’s shores. Naughty humans.

With all the potential threats to its majestic serenity let’s have a look at some photos before it gets utterly ruined by greedy human tendrils:

Lake Baikal - Zuunkhan village

Zuunkhan village

Lake Baikal - Jim Denevan's Giant Artwork

Jim Denevan’s Giant Ice Artwork

Animal Collection on LAZERHORSE.ORG

Lake Baikal - From Space

Lake Baikal – From Space


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