Anders Bekeken

100 Places To Remember: Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia

Geschreven op 9-5-2010 - Erik van Erne. Geplaatst in Natuur Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

100places to rememberThe Oldest and Deepest Lake in the World. Lake Baikal in southern Siberia is the worlds deepest lake, and the largest freshwater one by volume. It contains more water than all of North Americas Great Lakes combined, equivalent to 20% of the worlds surface fresh water. Baikal is also the oldest lake in the world, possibly dating back more than 25 million years.

Being completely hidden behind mountains, very little was known about this immense body of water until the Trans-Siberian railway was built between 1896 and 1902, encircling the lake. Due to its age and isolation, Lake Baikal contains some of the most extraordinary flora and fauna in the world. This is of great value to evolutionary science and has given rise to the lakes nickname, The Galapagos of Russia. Baikal is home to nearly 2,000 plant and animal species found nowhere else on the planet, including the Baikal freshwater seal, or nerpa.

Lake Baikal was formed as the Earths crust pulled apart in a gigantic rift valley in the Siberian plateau. The rift is still active and widens by about two centimetres a year, continuously expanding the lake.

For a long time, Lake Baikal was believed to be unaffected by human activities, thanks to its unique self-cleansing ecosystem whereby the endemic zooplankton Epischura baicalensis suck particles of toxic waste out of the lake and clean the water. However, studies have now shown that the Epischura do not neutralise contamination after all but pass it on to other animals instead.

The lake will not escape the impact of global warming, either. The biodiversity of Lake Baikal is adapted to cold, long winters during which its waters freeze for five months. In the last 60 years, Baikals waters have warmed by 1°C, and the winters have become shorter. If temperatures rise as they are projected to do, it will have severe consequences for the entire ecosystem, not least the Epischura, which depend on a narrow range of temperatures. Pollution and global warming now threaten to destroy much of the ancient marine life of Lake Baikal.

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