Located in Siberia (central Asia) some 445 meters above sea level, lies Lake Baikal; the world’s largest and deepest lake.
Due to its sheer size, Lake Baikal has an incredibly diverse set of climates, with deep-sea marine life existing on its floor and birds and mammals living off the marine life from its shore. The lake also changes dramatically throughout the year, spending January to May completely frozen, then unfreezing and becoming completely crystal clear for some of summer and then experiencing extreme algae blooms in the autumn months which turn the water murky and almost soup-like.
This lake is home to some of the world’s highest levels of biodiversity, with thousands of different species of fish and marine plants. Omul fish and Nerpa (Baikal Seal) are the most well known animals to be living in the lake and are also endemic, meaning they exist nowhere else in the world. This kind of biodiversity is put down to the lake’s large surface area and the ability for high levels of oxygen to be passed into the water to support life.
Lake Baikal is known as the ‘Sacred Lake’ and it comprises more water than the entire mass of all the lakes in Northern America combined.
Lake Baikal is believed by scientists throughout Earth to be at least 25 million years old and at the most 30 million years old (during the late Paleogene geological period). Although nobody can be entirely certain, it’s thought that Baikal began as a simple (yet comparatively large) river bed, joining a series of small lakes together and being fed by rivers coming from Mongolia and Zabaikalia.
Over those many millions of years these smaller lakes joined each other and Lake Baikal’s immense basin began to form. The movement of tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface is certainly believed to have influenced the shape of Lake Baikal’s mountainous areas and therefore probably the depth of Lake Baikal’s basin too. However, the natural folds of the earth are also thought to have made a difference and scientists and geologists across the world today still cannot agree on the exact way it formed.
Why it Was Chosen:
At present there are high levels of water mixed with waste products being pumped into lake Baikal, which is one of the main reasons that CEDAM International (the American Diver’s Association) chose it for one of their seven wonders of the underwater world. CEDAM (conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine-research) International began this project in 1989 with the aim to preserve and protect endangered areas of the world that needed conservation.
Lake Baikal is also very unique because the majority of the species that live within it are exclusive to the lake itself. These sponges, coral, plants and marine life do not exist anywhere else on the planet, and if they were to die then the world’s biodiversity would be severely affected.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) also chose Lake Baikal as one of its World Heritage sites, bringing more protection to the area.
How Can it Be Seen?
Lake Baikal has formed within a suburban area of Siberia and it’s therefore very easy to visit. It is a huge tourist draw for this area of Asia, and there are several ways to travel there, including via railway, air and rented vehicles. Nizhneangarsk Airport is located towards the northern tip of the lake and from there you can travel on the Baikal-Amur mainline railway service to the main focal points of the lake.
Alternatively, you can fly to Irkutsk Airport at the south of the lake. If you wish to explore the area of Asia surrounding lake Baikal first, then your best move is to take the Trans-Siberian Railway service which makes a main stop at the lake. Both Irkutsk and Nizhneangarsk have a number of hotels and places to eat and find entertainment because they have become the main tourist airports for the lake. Listvyanka, located in Irkutsk, is the ultimate tourist area with a seven story hotel.
Due to the climate in Siberia the lake is frozen for a large part of the year. If you travel there in July to October, however, then it’s often possible to take diving excursions in certain areas. Be warned though; the lake never really gets ‘warm’!