Baikal - The Blue Eye of the Earth.
by Slava Klimov
Some several million kilometers from the Earth's sphere, a blue eye six-hundred and thirty-six kilometres long and eighty kilometers wide can be spied several million kilometers from the earth's surface.
People living from time immemorial in Western Siberia considered Lake Baikal to be sacred. There are a number of large lakes but none of them exceeds Baikal in terms of depth and fresh water deposits. People believe its ancient name means the 'rich lake' or 'sea'. Due to its humongous size and occasional roars, locals continue to use the phrase, 'sail the seas'. Every Russian appreciates Baikal; one Muscovite (Moscow resident) called it 'a wonderful melody coming from childhood', noted as having 'fascinating shores and crystal clear water and unique plants and animals'.
It is considered that during pre-historical times one of the subcontinents crashed into Asia. Following this collision, mountain beds were crushed as vast territories of Earth's crust rose, forming the Himalayas. This collision led to some Siberian fractures known as the Baikal rift zone. One of the huge pits was filled with aqueous rock strata coming from the nearby mountains, while the rest of the pit was filled with water, thus giving birth to Baikal. Nowadays, more than 300 rivers and brooks flow into it, and only Angara is sourced from Baikal.
Unlike many aged world lakes, Baikal is not turning into a swamp. According to experts, this tectonic plate is still being formed and the rift is getting wider. As plates are constantly shifting, hot springs spout from the lakebed; consequently, the lake is not filled with aqueous rock strata, but instead becoming deeper and deeper! Due to plates shifts hot springs spout from the lakebed.
Baikal's water is as crystal clear as air and you can see into the water for fifty metres, which is why sailing across the lake is rather thrilling! A number of copepods filter water, separating the seaweed and bacteria, leading to water turbidity. Many other species of crustaceans treat and purify the water of organic wastes thus preventing decay.
Baikal's water is famous for its purity and transparency, as well as for its oxygen content. Some deep lakes around the world suffer from oxygen shortage, forcing lake inhabitants to dwell in relatively shallow waters. Baikal's currents distribute oxygen at enormous depths, stirring this ecosystem and creating a bewildering variety of life forms. Green sponge forests also grow within the lake's cold pure waters. This sponge resembles coral in that it shelters many microscopic forms of marine life. Many life forms which require heat dwell on the hydrothermal springs.
For approximately five months a year Baikal is covered with ice, which exceeds one metre by the end of January. It looks like it's being cut with seams thus the lake's surface shines like stained-glass. It is so clear that it seems to be very thin and you can see small stones on its bed. In fact this ice is very strong. A hundred years ago during the Russo-Japanese war, the Russian army built a provisional railroad on the lake ice that managed to carry 65 steam trains!
From the end of April through to June, the ice is cracked and broken. Sounds of the ice's music is very familiar to locals. The naturalist Gerard Durrell, who visited Siberia wrote, 'Ice rings like little bells and purrs like kittens in the basket.' The coming spring makes waves, while the wind creates ice blocks and flings them to the shore.
Some Baikal birds, the dipper for example, live on the Angara head - the only place that is free of ice all year. Later on, other birds such as ducks, geese, swans and herons accompany the dippers.
From early spring to June, the seaweed paints the lake green. This is fodder for crustaceans, the shore becoming turquoise, the offshore waters resembling the sapphire of ocean waters.. The shores are formed with fascinating bays and capes, sand dunes and dramatic cliffs.
At the end of the year storms take place rather often. Autumn is accompanied by roaring winds and sometimes even hurricanes. This tranquil, mirror-like surface transforms into six metre reeling waves, sometimes resulting in an occasional shipwreck for the unfortunate!
The climate of Siberia may make one imagine Baikal as gloomy and dreary. However, many animals and plants enjoy this area, as it is bordered by several mountain chains. Red book northern deer and Siberian ibexes (goat) inhabit these mountains. Vales transform into meadows, boasting an intoxicating variety of flowers. Rare demoiselle cranes and great Asian bustards can also be seen within these environs.
Baikal's surroundings are influenced by Boreal coniferous forests. They are double the size of Brazil's tropical rainforests. They play a key role in maintaining ecological equilibrium of our planet. A lot of different birds (including the well known cock of the wood) settle in these forests. You can also come across the gracious Baikal teal. The sable also takes a special place and is now recovering its population thanks to the help of activists. The Barguzin conservation area was created in 1916 to save this sable, and at present three reserves and three national parks are open to the public.
Baikal is now a UNESCO heritage listed site, with more than three hundred thousand visitors every year. Nowadays, Baikal is highly appreciated by nature-lovers and holiday makers from all over the world. Glorious beaches, rich flora and fauna and a hotchpotch of cultures have made Baikal to be considered one of Asia's many pearls. Its many glories are evidence of the unknown.
- 1. Great encyclopedia of Kirill and Mefodius. 2006
- 2. Wake Up journal, December of 2007.
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