Situated in south-east Siberia, the 3.15-million-ha Lake Baikal is the oldest (25 million years) and deepest (1,700 m) lake in the world. It contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserve. The lake is over 5,300 feet deep at its deepest point, which is about 4,000 feet below sea level. With an area of 12,248 square miles, Baikal has a depth of average 2,442 feet – its silhouette in the shape of a crescent moon, a vast rift valley that appeared about 25 million years ago because of the divergence of the earth’s crust. Today, Lake Baikal contains around 20 percent of the world’s lake and river water, making this Russian giant comparable in volume to the entire Amazon basin. Baikal is so huge that it would take an average of 330 years for a single water molecule to cross it, from entry to exit. Lake Baikal comprises 27 islands, including a 45-mile-long one called Olkhon, while in and around Baikal live more than 1,500 animal species, about 80% of which live nowhere else on the planet.
Lake Baikal is so deep because it is located in an active continental rift zone. The rift zone is widening at a rate of about 1 inch (2.5 cm) per year. As the rift grows wider, it also grows deeper through subsidence. So, Lake Baikal could grow wider and deeper in the future.
Can We Swim
Not only is this Russian lake safe to swim in but it also boasts some of the most pure water in the world. Lake Baikal lines with resorts and towns catering to those who want to get out on the water, making it a perfect destination for anyone looking to swim in and relax along the shores of the “Pearl of Siberia.”
When to Visit
If you visit Lake Baikal, remember that winters here are frigid and icebound, with continental cold snaps bringing temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and producing a layer of surface ice as thick as two meters. Summertime is friendlier, offering long, long days and superb opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and fishing.
Lake Baikal is located in south-central Russia near the Mongolian border. The largest nearby city is Irkutsk. Lake Baikal has historically played a large role in the Russian imagination. It represents the unspoiled beauty of Russia and is sometimes referred to as the Sacred Sea. Lake Baikal plays a central part in many local creation myths and appears throughout Russian folklore, according to Baikal nature.
About 80 percent of the more than 3,700 species found at Lake Baikal are endemic, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth. Probably the most famous of these species is the nerpa, the world’s only exclusively freshwater seal. Scientists are unsure how the nerpa came to Lake Baikal and evolved, but they suspect the seals might have swum down a prehistoric river from the Arctic, according to LakeBaikal.org. Other endemic species include the oily, scaleless golomyanka fish and the omul, a white fish that is one of Lake Baikal’s most famous dishes. Other land-based species around Lake Baikal include bears, reindeer, elk, wild boar, Siberian roe deer, polecats, ermine, sable and wolves. American minks, imported from Canada, also live around Lake Baikal, according to Baikal World Web. More than 50 species of fish live in Lake Baikal, according to Baikal World Web. Aquatic invertebrate species include more than 100 species of flat worms, more than 700 species of anthropods and more than 170 species of mollusks. These invertebrates all help purify the water.
Lake Baikal has successfully met environmental challenges in the past. In 2006, activists were able to get the government to completely reroute an oil pipeline. “It would have crossed into the lake’s watershed in the north and come within 800 meters of the lake. Today, the environment in the water is slowly recovering. But the plant has not been demolished, the land around it has not been restored, and the chemicals around it have not been removed. The town is struggling economically.