Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Siberia Russia - The blue eye of Siberia

Lake BaikalLake Baikal - Olkhon Island

This giant among fresh-water lakes; that contains 20% of the world’s total fresh water stock; remained almost unknown under the iron curtain spread by the erstwhile Communist regime. It was the publicity stunts associated with the construction of the Baikal Amur Railway made the existence of such a magnificent lake –known as the bule eye of Siberia- under the public glare.

Lake Baikal located in the southern region of the Siberian Region (one of the coldest parts of the earth) has the credit of being the deepest lake in the world (depth 1637 meters), it is 636 km long and 80 km wide and occupies a land area of about 23,000 sq. km. The size of this lake is mind boggling; it can be made understandable from the following way, suppose all the rivers of the world flow in to it (Amazon, Zambezi, Nile, Niagara, Ganges included); even then it will take one whole year to fill the lake!

Baikal Amur Railway

Lake BaikalMap of Lake Baikal courtsey:

This is one of the biggest projects undertaken by the Soviet Union; connecting the Siberia to the European portion of Soviet Union (Lake Baikal to River Amur). Its work began on 1974 and completed on 2002. This railway passes through world’s most difficult terrain- Siberia which has a climate varying from minus 50 in winter and plus 40 in summer and major part of it is permafrost. This railway is 3150 km long and encircles Baikal Lake; there is one tunnel or a bridge for every km. Cost involved is only guesswork; in the erstwhile Soviet Union there was no such thing called cost accounting!

Not just sediments; it is virtual treasure!

Lake BaikalBaikal Lake image courtsey:

Lake Baikal is believed to be about 20 to 30 million years old and it is crescent shaped and extra deep; a usual phenomenon associated with rift lakes. These rift lakes are that formed when water fill a rift valley - rifts occurs on surface of land due to tectonic forces, Lake Tanganyika is another rift lake.

The bottom of this lake is 1280 meters below sea level one may think it is that deep but not; seven km deep mud (sediments accumulated in its bottom occupy that depth –about 7 km. This ‘mud’ that has been formed for about 25 30 millions of years, which would have many stories to tell; the events occurred on the mother earth for the last 25 million years, animals and plants born evolved during this time all!

In 1990 geologists of Russia and USA conducted a combined study by analyzing the sediments of the lake and detected the climatic variations undergone by the region and the developments undergone by the animals and plants of the area in the millenniums that have passed.

A fresh water monopolist in a communist land!

The word ‘Baikal’ is said to have its origin from the Mongolian word baigal which means nature. It has 330 rivers flowing in to it from various surrounding Baikal Mountains of which River Selenga, Chilkoy and Uda are main ones. There is only one river to drain the water out the Angara River. In short Baikal is a monopolist of fresh water from a Communist haven.

Though the surface area of this lake is not as big as the other great lakes (23600 sq km), its great depth (1.637 km!) compensates more than enough as it holds water far greater than any of the other great lakes in the world, it contains 31494 sq km of fresh water (even the water of the great five lakes of US is put together it would not equal the Baikal water. Lake Baikal is a UNESCO approved World Heritage Site since 1996 mainly for the biodiversity within and it’s surrounding areas.

The Russian Galapagos

Lake Baikal is known as the Galapagos of Russia as both share a history of spending many years in isolation from external world for very long period; if it was ocean that isolated Galapagos, it was the hostile permafrost of Siberia that cut Baikal from outside world. The flora and fauna of both lands had to evolve independently being cut off from mainstream animals and plants.

Lake Baikal and its surroundings play host to more than 1700 (so far identified) species of plants and animals. About two thirds of them are quite exclusive of the region. The extreme climate of Siberia and unimaginable depths of this lake make exploration a tall order. The surrounding areas of this lake is where mammoths (elephant like animals but far bigger in size) roamed all around, fossils of many have been recovered from here and there in Siberia.

Lyuba and her story

Lake BaikalBaikal Lake image courtsey:

Lyuba is/was a six month old female baby mammoth; lived in Siberia about 37,000 years back. Her frozen grey and brown dead-body was found intact by one Yuri Khudin a reindeer herder of that area; from the melted permafrost in July 2007. Scientists are after her for more details about mammoths, their way of life and the reason for them becoming extinct. There are some planning to extract DNA from her cells and cloning new baby mammoths!

The story Lyuba has to tell is not only about mammoths but of the man himself; the reason for her body getting exposed was the melting of the permafrost, a warning sign of human being also, either change your lifestyle or be prepared to follow the mammoths.


Lyuba image courtsey:

Olkhon Island a ‘bonsai continent’

Olkhon Island is a very interesting one for those who are curious to know about exotic locations on earth. Lake Baikal has 22 islands of which Olkhon is the largest; it has the credit of being the fourth largest lake island in the world (the biggest one is Manitou in Island in Lake Huron USA).

This is a 72 km long mountainous island formed due to the tectonic activities; it has a total area of 730 sq kms and it is located at about 1276 meters above sea level.

Though Okhlon is a lake island; it has all the geographies of a big continent, a small desert, steppes, taiga regions, its own lakes, high mountains and every thing a continent can have but a sea! Mount Zhima is the highest mountain with a height of 818 meters. It has a population of 1500 people; mostly Buryats (a local ethnic group) and five villages.

No. 1 not just in size alone

The scenic beauty of the lake and its surroundings are not properly understood, the Berguzin Mountain; protector of the area is endowed with dense forests; these are home to many types of animals like elks, lynx, bears and many other animals it has ideal trekking places also. The lake that freezes in winter is skiers’ paradise, during summer the shores get covered by herbs in full bloom looking like heaven. Boating facilities are available after the ice melts.

Fish that tastes different!

Lake BaikalOmul Fish at the Listvyanka market. Lake Baikal

This lake is not just fun it is a valuable source of fish for the surrounding areas, its nerpas (an endemic variety of fresh water seal), golomyanka (sculpin fish- a rare viviparous fish –that gives birth to children; instead of laying eggs), omul salmon (a celebrity claimed to be the tastiest fish in the world exclusive of his region), episura (a type of cray fish) are just some of them. When the lake yields fish its surroundings yield valuable timber for the nation.

Baikalsk Conference; an issue of lake- inmates

Lake BaikalLake Baikal image courtsey:

As we know that the Baikal region is rich in forests and man has found it as an important source for raw material for paper mills, this region is rich in mineral resources and mining also is rampant. The crude technology belonging to the erstwhile Soviet Era employed in these mills located in this area is causing tremendous pollution of river and lake. A nation’s responsibility does not end in extracting natural wealth but it has the duty of preserving them to the future generations also. The fat of one nerpa fish when tested contained large quantity of dioxin, this means that the poison is reaching from fish to human beings.

In August 22 to 30 a conference was held in Baikalsk, delegates from Russia, America and other nations took part in it. The meeting was to discuss; pollution of the lake due to dioxin the main effluent from the nearby mills. The meeting failed to reach in a consensus regarding the course of actions. At present Russian government alone can do something to protect the valuable inmates of this lake; after all whose baby is this lake?

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