Lake Baikal, Irkutsk, Russia
GPS: 53.143320946551, 107.98282036254
Surrounded by mountains and large forest areas, Lake Baikal is located near the border with Mongolia, in the south of Eastern Siberia. Until the 17th century, this region was controlled by China before the Transbaikal Cossack Host occupied the area to quench the thirst for territorial expansion of the tsars under the Russian Empire. Representing 20% of the world’s frozen freshwater reserves, Lake Baikal is by far the largest freshwater lake on the planet. Its water reserve, estimated at nearly 24,000 km3, is greater than that of all the Great Lakes of North America combined.
With its impressive proportions, this “Pearl of Siberia” is 640 km long and 80 km wide in its middle part. These figures make Lake Baikal the sixth most important lake on Earth in terms of area (more than 30,000 km² which is the equivalent of the surface of a country like Belgium). Formed about 20 to 25 million years ago, it is not only the oldest lake in the world but also the deepest (700 meters deep on average with the highest point at nearly 1,650 meters). Due to the transparent nature of its waters, the visibility of the lake can carry up to 40 meters deep to the naked eye. Each season offers Lake Baikal its share of varied experiences through landscapes metamorphosed by nature between the sweetness of the summer period and the ice environment in winter (temperature can drop to -50 °C).
Many Buryat tribes, residing on the eastern part of Lake Baikal, still consider this crescent-shaped “sea” as sacred. Its limpid and clear-looking water extends over nearly 2,000 km of coastline and rubs shoulders with mountains, some of which peak at nearly 3,000 meters. Water from Lake Baikal is considered one of the purest on the planet. Fuelled by some 330 rivers, three of which are main (Selenga, Upper Angara and Barguzin), the lake is home to around 2,000 animal and plant species, more than half of which are unique in the world. This fabulous freshwater ecosystem has given Lake Baikal a new nickname since its registration for Unesco World Heritage: the Galapagos of Russia. Generous in nature, the lake is today threatened by the proliferation of green algae (spirogyra) obscuring its coastal waters. It has to face the gradual drop in the level of its waters, consequences of human activities (industrial pollution, illegal fishing, untreated wastewater, poaching, over-attendance, etc.) and global warming.