Nov 052009

photo courtesy of Oh mon héros [Aka Suleiman Poher] on Flickr Creative CommonsSprawling on the southern border of Siberia’s frozen wastes, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world. It’s also the biggest freshwater lake by volume. If that doesn’t mean much at face value, think of it this way. Baikal is so massive, it can comfortably hold all the water of the U.S. Great Lakes. That’s 20% of all the freshwater in the world.

Between 25 and 30 million years ago, the lake was born out of a huge rift in the earth. In geology, a rift is formed when massive continental plates slowly move away from each other, forming a gash of a valley in the seam. Water slowly began to fill the rift, which gets wider each year by about an inch. Today, the water measures just over a mile at Lake Baikal’s deepest point, an impressive depth that dwarfs any other lake in the world. But underneath that deepest point on the abyss lies another four miles of sediment, making the Baikal Rift Zone the deepest of any on earth. However you slice it, Baikal is massive.

Baikal is also where 2500 plant and animal species make their home. Two-thirds of these are found nowhere else on earth and some are downright bizarre. Because of its reputation as a nesting ground for the unique, Baikal is a naturalist’s dream, shedding light on some of the most pressing questions of biology and evolution. Since the fall of communism in Russia, Baikal has also become a popular tourist destination, where its cold waters and beautiful landscapes captivate thousands every year.

Despite its sheer size, natural wonder, and ancient secrets, Baikal is now imperiled by an onslaught of dangers, both manmade and natural. To learn more about these threats, take a look at the video below.

Lake Baikal is in many respects, one of a kind. The question is, will it remain that way?

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