32 Fun Facts About Lake Baikal: The Blue Eye of Siberia

Interesting facts about Lake Baikal

In this article, you’ll find a list of fascinating, educational, fun, and lesser-known facts about Lake Baikal.

Tucked away deep in the heart of Siberia, Lake Baikal is one of nature’s greatest treasures. Famous for its impressive size, unique wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes, it’s no surprise Lake Baikal is considered one of the top wonders of the natural world.

1. Lake Baikal is a rift lake found in southeast Siberia, Russia. It sits between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Republic of Buryatia to the southeast. It’s also to the north of the Mongolian border.

2. In 1996, Lake Baikal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s recognized for its exceptional value to humanity and its outstanding natural significance. See its UNESCO entry here.

A post with lots of colorful ribbons tied to it and Lake Baikal in background with a small rocky island
Local indigenous people have a tradition of tying ribbons around the lake.

3. Despite its remote location, Lake Baikal faces significant environmental threats, including pollution, climate change, and industrial development. Conservation efforts are ongoing to protect this natural treasure for future generations. The lake has also been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to ensure the preservation of its delicate ecosystem and to promote sustainable development.

4. With a history that dates back more than 25 million years, Lake Baikal is considered the oldest lake in the world. Lake Baikal is located within the Baikal Rift Zone, an area of active tectonic activity. This rift zone is responsible for the lake’s formation and continues to shape the landscape to this day.

5. The name Lake Baikal comes from Baigal, which means “nature” in the Mongolian language. However, in Russia, the lake is commonly referred to as “Ozero Baykal”. A popular nickname for the lake is “The Blue Eye of Siberia”.

6. Lake Baikal is home to over 20 islands. The largest one is Olkhon Island. Other notable islands include Bolshoy Ushkanyi, Maloye More, and Ogoy Island.

7. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. It holds approximately 6 quadrillion (that’s 6 plus 15 zeros!) gallons of water and 22% of the planet’s fresh surface water. It has more water than all the Great Lakes combined.

A dry, barren lakeshore of Lake Baikal, with an island on the lake in the distance
Olkhon Island is the largest of the lake’s islnds

8. Lake Baikal is larger than the US state of Maryland or 59 countries in the world. It is approximately 395 miles (636 kilometers) in length and 49 miles (79 kilometers) wide at its widest point. In total, it covers an area of 31,722 square kilometers (12,248 square miles). That means it has less than half the surface area of Lake Superior.

9. Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, could fit under Lake Baikal almost twice. The tip of the second one would only stick 14 meters out from the surface. At its deepest point, Lake Baikal is a whopping 1,642 meters (5,387 feet) deep. That makes it the deepest lake in the world. Lake Baikal is 200 meters (656 feet) deeper than Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa (Tanzania, Congo, Burundi, and Zambia), which is the second deepest lake in the world.

10. Thanks to its remarkable clarity, Lake Baikal is renowned for its translucent waters. In some parts of the lake, underwater visibility is as high as 40 meters (130 feet). To put that into perspective, Lake Superior only has an average underwater visibility of 8 meters.

11. At Lake Baikal, you can find weird natural rocks that stand on a thin pedestal. Also referred to as Baikal Zen, this rare effect happens when a flat rock falls onto the ice. When the rock catches the spring sun, the ice underneath melts, leaving a pedestal to support the rock.

12. Lake Baikal is home to an exceptional array of plant and animal species, many of which are unique to the lake. Over 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found here, two-thirds of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world.

A large rock standing upright in the middle of ice with crack lines on the ice on Lake Baikal
A standing rock in frozen Lake Baikal

13. Lake Baikal holds hidden treasures beneath its surface in the form of ancient submerged forests. These preserved forests offer insights into the region’s geological past. The lake’s bays, silty lagoons, and sheltered coves harbor a wide range of plants. These include water buckwheat, thin reed, cattail, sedge, and hornwort.

14. Along the shores of Lake Baikal, you can find peculiar-looking trees called “Barkan.” These trees are twisted and gnarled due to the harsh climatic conditions, creating a haunting sight.

15. Lake Baikal is home to unique freshwater gastropods called “Lymnaea stagnalis.” These snails can petrify the shells of other snails by covering them with a layer of calcite, turning them into solid mineral objects.

16. The Baikal Seal, otherwise known as the Nerpa, is the only mammal that inhabits Lake Baikal. The Nerpa is one of the smallest true seal species and the only exclusively freshwater seal in the world. It’s a critically endangered species that relies on the lake’s icy waters for survival.

17. Lake Baikal experiences dramatic temperature changes. The coolest time of year can see temperatures drop to as low as -20°C (-4°F). Meanwhile, the hottest time of year can see temperatures rise to 26°C (78°F).

A few Baikal seals resting on a rock in the lake
Baikal seals

18. The different regions around Lake Baikal can exhibit distinct microclimates due to the complex terrain and varying elevations. The mountains surrounding the lake contribute to the creation of diverse weather patterns.

19. In the winter, Lake Baikal undergoes a stunning transformation. The surface freezes, creating a phenomenon known as “Baikal’s Ice Rings.” The ice on Lake Baikal can reach remarkable thicknesses, often exceeding one meter (3.3 feet). In some areas, it can even reach up to two meters (6.6 feet) thick.

20. A unique tourist attraction at Lake Baikal is the ice grottos. As the ice shifts and cracks, unique ice grottos and caves are formed along the shores of the lake.

21. Lake Baikal attracts adventurers, nature lovers, and photographers from around the globe. Activities such as boating, hiking, camping, and wildlife spotting are popular among visitors.

22. Almost 2 million tourists a year from Asia alone visit Lake Baikal. The lake is often at the center of a battle between the state, residents, and environmentalists who are trying to strike the balance between tourism and mass development impacting the fragile ecosystem. 

A person wearing winter gear and standing inside a large ice cave with ice crystals hanging down above the person's head
An ice cave on the lake

23. Every year, the Baikal Ice Marathon takes place on Lake Baikal. Athletes from around the world gather to participate in this unique race, which sees participants run 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) across the frozen lake.

24. Lake Baikal has been the backdrop for grueling ultramarathons, testing the limits of long-distance runners. Participants push themselves to run distances exceeding 100 kilometers (62 miles).

25. The cliffs and frozen waterfalls around Lake Baikal attract ice-climbing enthusiasts. Scaling the icy walls requires strength, skill, and nerves of steel, making it an audacious feat.

26. Despite the freezing temperatures, Lake Baikal is also a popular swimming location. American swimmer Lyn Cox became the first person to swim across the lake in 1988. She swam the 11.1 miles it takes to cross the lake in 4 hours and 20 minutes.

27. Lake Baikal provides a unique opportunity for cycling enthusiasts to explore its frozen landscape. Equipped with special bikes with studded tires, riders can traverse the icy surface.

Some large chunks of ice sticking upright out from the frozen surface of Lake Baikal
Frozen ice drift

28. It’s believed that Genghis Khan may once have come across Lake Baikal. Historical records suggest that the Mongol conqueror and his army reached the shores of Lake Baikal during their expansion across Asia in the 13th century.

29. The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has visited Lake Baikal multiple times. He has been photographed participating in various activities such as fishing, hiking, and exploring the lake’s shores.

30. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has also visited Lake Baikal. He has expressed admiration for its beauty and emphasized the need for its preservation.

31. Hollywood actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio visited Lake Baikal in 2010. He explored the lake’s surroundings and met with scientists to discuss environmental issues affecting the region.

32. Lake Baikal has also served as a backdrop in several movies. These include “Transsiberian” (2008), “The Way Back” (2010), and more recently “Baikal: The Heart of the World 3D” (2020).

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