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Lake Baikal and More of the Weirdest Lakes of the World

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Tue, 07 Aug 2012 18:50:00 +0000
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<p><a href="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/2012/08/lake-baikal-and-more-of-the-weirdest-lakes-of-the-world/photoelf-edits20120807-saved-as-24-bit-jpeg-exif-format-98-3/" rel="attachment wp-att-3942"><img alt="" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-3942" height="0" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesBaikalSpitSMALL.jpg" title="PhotoELF Edits:2012:08:07 --- Saved as: 24-Bit JPEG (EXIF) Format 98 %" width="0"></a><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrullmi/4961871330/sizes/l/" rel="attachment wp-att-3941"><img alt="" class="size-full wp-image-3941 " height="210" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesBaikalSpitBIG2.jpg" title="PhotoELF Edits:2012:08:07 --- Saved as: 24-Bit JPEG (EXIF) Format 98 %" width="575"></a></p><div class="wp-caption aligncenter" id="attachment_3941" style="width: 585px;"><p class="wp-caption-text">Desolate wilderness surrounds the giant Lake Baikal, the deepest, oldest and most voluminous lake on earth. Photo courtesy of Flickr user mrullmi.</p></div><p>No lake is more lake than Lake Baikal. Set deep within the Russian subcontinent, Baikal is the <a href="http://lin.irk.ru/grachev/eng/introduction.htm" target="_blank" title="Lake Baikal">deepest, oldest and most voluminous</a> of all lakes, a superstar of superlatives in hydrology, geology, ecology and history. The lake is more than <a href="http://uk.ask.com/beauty/How-Deep-Is-Lake-Baikal-in-Feet" target="_blank" title="Depth of Lake Baikal---specific figures vary">5,300</a> feet deep (exact figures vary) at its most profound point, which lies about 4,000 feet below sea level. With 12,248 square miles of surface area, Baikal averages 2,442 feet deep—its crescent moon-shaped figure a vast rift valley that first appeared about 25 million years ago through the divergence of the planet’s crust. Today, Lake Baikal contains some 20 percent of the earth’s lake and river water, making this Russian giant comparable in volume to the entire <a href="http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/LBA/" target="_blank" title="Volume of the Amazon basin">Amazon basin</a>. So huge is Baikal that it reportedly takes an average of <a href="http://lin.irk.ru/grachev/eng/introduction.htm" target="_blank" title="Hydrology of Lake Baikal">330 years</a> for a single water molecule to flow through it, from inlet to outlet. Lake Baikal features 27 islands, including one 45 miles in length called <a href="http://desolationtravel.blogspot.com/2010/10/siberia-on-thin-ice.html" target="_blank" title="A visit to Olkhon Island">Olkhon</a>, while in and around Baikal live more than 1,500 animal species, about 80 percent of which live nowhere else on the planet.</p><p>The most famous of these animals may be the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10795637" target="_blank" title="The nerpa seal of lake Baikal">nerpa</a>, the only exclusively freshwater seal on the planet. The nerpa numbers an estimated <a href="http://www.baikalex.com/info/nerpa.html" target="_blank" title="Lake Baikal, and the nerpa">100,000</a>—a comfortable and well-adapted population of animals whose presence in interior Russia has stumped evolutionary biologists, who aren’t certain when or just how the animals came to be so far from the open ocean. Guided tourist outfits can provide visitors with views of the animals, though the seals are generally skittish around people, who have long hunted them for pelts, fat and flesh. Brown bears and wolves dwell near the lake, too, occupying the top tiers of the Siberian food chain, as do a variety of deer, birds, rodents and smaller predators.</p><div class="wp-caption alignnone" id="attachment_3939" style="width: 585px;"><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stroganov/4292858122/"><img alt="" class="size-full wp-image-3939" height="380" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesBaikalIceBIG.jpg" title="PhotoELF Edits:2012:08:07 --- Saved as: 24-Bit JPEG (EXIF) Format 98 %" width="575"></a><p class="wp-caption-text">Of low sun and deep waters, Lake Baikal freezes in the winter with a layer of ice as thick as two meters. Here, a fisherman dangles a line through a hole in the ice. Below him plummets a vertical mile of water column. Photo courtesy of Flickr user stroganov.</p></div><p>The first European to visit Lake Baikal may have been Russian <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurbat_Ivanov" title="Kurbat Ivanov">Kurbat Ivanov</a>, in 1643, though local lore claims that Jesus took a short walk to Lake Baikal and back during his days of desert wandering. Today, a wilderness of forest, plains and semidesert surrounds Baikal in the grand landscape of Siberia, though development along the shores of the lake occurred last century with the building of several urban and resort communities. Ugliest, perhaps, among the defilements of Baikal’s coastline is a paper mill that discharged pollutants into Baikal for years before being closed in 2008 on grounds of <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/20/vladimir-putin-lake-baikal-mill" target="_blank" title="Paper mill closed, then reopened">ecological protection</a>. But the mill reopened in 2010, supposedly using cleaner and safer practices than previously. Meanwhile, local conservationists have <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/feb2010/gb20100212_026537.htm" target="_blank" title="Paper mill on Lake Baikal reopens in 2010; oil pipeline diverted drom vicinity of the lake">other causes of concern</a>. They have, for example, resisted plans to build a uranium plant in the nearby city of <a href="http://www.eecl.org/cities/angarsk/" target="_blank" title="Angarsk, Russia, on the shores of Lake Baikal">Angarsk</a>. And they raised a stink when a petroleum development company called Transneft nearly built an oil pipeline that would have passed within 3,000 feet of Lake Baikal, threatening its waters with leaks and spills. The planned pipeline route was eventually changed. Tourism development is a minor itch in comparison, though it may produce eyesores like the hotels and vacation communities of <a href="http://www.waytorussia.net/Baikal/Destinations/Listvyanka.html" target="_blank" title="Listvyanka tourist town on Lake Baikal">Listvyanka</a>, a popular winter and summer tourist town.</p><p>If you visit Lake Baikal, remember that winters here are frigid and icebound, with continental cold snaps bringing temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and producing a layer of surface ice as thick as two meters. Summertime is friendlier, offering long, long days and superb opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and fishing. Along the lake’s northern shore, the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frolikha_Adventure_Coastline_Track" title="Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track">Frolikha Adventure Coastline Track</a> leads 65 miles through the wilderness. How to reach Lake Baikal? Try the legendary <a href="http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/world-on-rails.html" target="_blank" title="Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia">Trans-Siberian Railway</a>.</p><p><strong>Other Weird Waters</strong></p><p><strong>Dead Sea</strong>. Almost nine times as salty as the ocean, with a salinity level of about 30 parts per hundred, the Dead Sea—the lowest point on earth—is inhospitable to nearly all living things, but it’s a blast to bathe in. The water’s salt-boosted density is so great that people endowed with a generous layer of body fat can hardly swim and may merely flail over the surface as if they were crawling across a sandy dune. Better not to try and, instead, just turn over on your back and enjoy the bizarre wonder of a lake in which it may be almost impossible to drown. The Dead Sea’s surface lies 1,378 feet below sea level, and it is 1,083 feet deep. This just in: <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921120331.htm" target="_blank" title="Life found at the bottom of the Dead Sea">Life-forms have been found</a> associated with freshwater springs at the bottom of the Dead Sea. Time for a name change?</p><div class="wp-caption alignnone" id="attachment_3945" style="width: 585px;"><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/azwegers/6738016885/"><img alt="" class="size-full wp-image-3945" height="420" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesDeadSeaBIG.jpg" title="PhotoELF Edits:2012:08:07 --- Saved as: 24-Bit JPEG (EXIF) Format 98 %" width="575"></a><p class="wp-caption-text">A man floats in the Dead Sea, where salinity levels almost nine times that of the open ocean make the water of this huge lake among the densest on earth. Photo courtesy of Flickr user azwegers.</p></div><p><strong>Lake Titicaca. </strong>At 12,500 feet above sea level in a high valley in the Andes Mountains, the giant Lake Titicaca is the loftiest lake commercially navigable by large boats and contains more water than any other lake in South America. Its two main ports are Puno, Peru—a beautiful old town steeped in Incan history—and Challapampa, Bolivia. Isla del Sol is an island on Titicaca’s Bolivian side. Strewn with ruins but without a single paved road, this large island is an adventurer’s playground. Get yourself a fishing rod and a canoe, and go.</p><p><strong>Melissani Cave Lake</strong>. Locals allegedly knew about the <a href="http://www.greeceindex.com/greece-ionian/kefalonia_melissani.html" target="_blank" title="Melissani Cave Lake">Melissani Cave Lake</a> in Greece all along, but if they did, the world never heard about it until 1953, when an earthquake caused a collapse of rock, exposed the crystal-clear lake and brought sunlight and color to its waters for the first time. The lake has since gained fame—and it happens to be located on the island that Homer named as the <a href="http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Odysseys-End-The-Search-for-Ancient-Ithaca.html?c=y&amp;page=1" target="_blank" title="The island Odysseus called home">home country of Odysseus</a>.</p><p><strong>Wuhua Hai Lake.</strong> Widely lauded as one of the <a href="http://all-that-is-interesting.com/worlds-six-most-beautiful-lakes" target="_blank" title="Six beautiful lakes of the Earth">most beautiful lakes</a> on earth, Wuhua Hai is located in Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, in the high mountains of Sichuan, China. The waters are emerald blue and clear as air, and over the shallow lake bed lie scores of sunken logs visible from above the surface. Forested mountain slopes rise from the lake’s shore, and wild pandas dwell in the woods.</p><p></p><div class="wp-caption aligncenter" id="attachment_3943" style="width: 585px;"><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/qmitchell/3841449882/"><img alt="" class="size-full wp-image-3943" height="400" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesPlitviceBIG.jpg" title="PhotoELF Edits:2012:08:07 --- Saved as: 24-Bit JPEG (EXIF) Format 98 %" width="575"></a><p class="wp-caption-text">Among the more photogenic of the Plitvice Lakes, in Croatia. Photo courtesy of Flickr user qmitchell.</p></div><p><strong>Plitvice Lakes.</strong> A chain of 16 lakes connected by streams, caves and waterfalls, the <a href="http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/98/" target="_blank" title="Plitvice Lakes, Croatia">Plitvice Lakes</a> of Croatia gleam in a spectrum of blue to azure colors and demonstrate beautifully what water, nature’s finest sculptor, may make of a soft basin of limestone. The dense green woods surrounding the lakes are home to bears, wolves, eagles and numerous other creatures protected in this national park and Unesco World Heritage site.</p><p><strong>Aral Sea</strong>. A reminder of the devastating effects of agriculture gone haywire, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has just about dried up since 1960. The two rivers that fed this once-giant inland sea (330 rivers feed Baikal, for comparison) no longer get there, <a href="http://orexca.com/aral_sea.shtml" target="_blank" title="Why the Aral Sea has vanished">diverted</a> to fields instead. And while the Aral’s blue ovoid shape still appears on most world maps, cartographers must surely soon realize that the sea, once one of the largest and most productive inland waterways and fisheries, has all but dried up, sacrificed over a mere 50 years for the sake of local cotton and rice.</p><div class="wp-caption aligncenter" id="attachment_3944" style="width: 585px;"><a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/neilbanas/3312451715/sizes/l/" rel="attachment wp-att-3944"><img alt="" class="size-full wp-image-3944 " height="420" src="http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/adventure/files/2012/08/LakesAralBIG.jpg" title="LakesAralBIG" width="575"></a><p class="wp-caption-text">A line of abandoned fishing boats marks the Aral Sea’s waterline of decades ago. Today, many onetime fishing villages lie in the middle of the desert, many miles from the shrinking lake. Photo courtesy of Flickr user neilbanas.</p></div><p><strong>Salton Sea</strong>. This lake in southern California’s Imperial Valley is another testament to sloppily conducted water projects—but unlike the diminishing Aral, the Salton Sea was born in the wake of a <a href="http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=639" target="_blank" title="How the Salton Sea was born">breach in a diversion canal</a> in 1905. For years the Salton Sea was a productive fishery, but today its increasingly saline waters are so <a href="http://visearth.ucsd.edu/VisE_Int/aralsea/SaltSea_pollut2.html" target="_blank" title="The polluted Salton Sea">polluted</a> that huge fish die-offs keep the shores littered with decay and rot, and fishermen are advised not to eat the corvina and tilapia they catch.</p><p><strong>Lake Karachay</strong>. Don’t visit this lake—ever. Just read: Set in the Ural Mountains of western Russia, Karachay has been called the <a href="http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/photos/the-15-most-toxic-places-to-live/lake-karachay-russia" target="_blank" title="Lake Karachay---world's most polluted place">most polluted place</a> on the planet, teeming with radioactive waste and particulates that you want nothing to do with. What a wonder that before the age of modern progress, one could drink from this poisonous cesspool.</p><p><strong>So, which ones did we miss? Tell us about more watery wonders in the comment box below.</strong></p>
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