Located in the southeast region of Siberia, lies one of the world’s most fascinating lakes, Lake Baikal. This giant mass of water, which holds 20% of the world’s freshwater reserves, is estimated to be 25 million years old and has a depth of 1642 m, making it the oldest and deepest lake in the world. To put this into perspective, the lake is so big it could easy engulf Belgium and so deep that if you could stand two Burj Khalifa’s one on top of the other and only 16 m would stick out of the lake.
The lake is covered in 2m of ice for 5 months of the year and one would think that with temperatures that reach -50°C below zero, that nothing could survive, well you would be wrong; the lake is so deep that it lies very close to the earth’s magma creating natural hydrothermal vents, a phenomenon commonly found in oceans but also only found in Lake Baikal. These hydrothermal vents enrich the waters with minerals which give life to approximately 2000 different species. With 50% of these species being endemic to the area, the lake is also known as the “Galapagos of Russia”. Some species so unique, like nerpa seal that is the only fresh water seal in the world and an odd finger like sponge called, Lubomirskia, that is responsible for keeping the waters crystal clear, a phenomenon for which the lake is famous. The water is so clear that it has a remarkable visibility of 40 m below the surface, something that is even more evident in winter.
But it is the winter winds that allow the true beauty of the lake to unfold, as the waves along the shore freeze to form moving crystals and massive shards of turquoise ice are blown together colliding to creating ice barriers or “hummocks”. Freezing the water so rapidly that it traps bubbles of methane, like flecks of white paint from a Jackson Pollock painting!