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Russia's national treasure, Lake Baikal, is the world's deepest lake and is our planet's largest freshwater lake measured by water volume. Its bottom is 4,215 feet below sea level. Lake Baikal contains about 1/5 of Earth's unfrozen surface freshwater. It is also one of the most biologically diverse lakes on Earth.
Lake Baikal is the world's oldest lake, estimated at 25 to 30 million years old. Because of its location, depth and volume, Lake Baikal rapidly self-purifies. Despite its great depth, it freezes in winter. (Russian minisub dives in 2008 reported its maximum depth at 5,512 feet, but 5,314 is more generally accepted.)
Lake Baikal is a "continental rift lake", situated in one of the world's deepest active rifts -- ocean-creating phenomena where Earth's crust separates by a few centimeters every year. Seismic activity occurs every few years, producing natural hot springs.
Lake Baikal's well-oxygenated water helps to create unique biological habitats for at least 1,500 animal species and 1,000 plant species. Most of these are endemic - found only at Lake Baikal - including "nerpas" (freshwater seals) and omul salmon. The unique Goby fish - completely transparent, with no scales and comprised 1/3 of fat - surfaces at night but must stay deep during the day to prevent sunlight from liquefying its fat.
Fed by more than 300 rivers and streams, Lake Baikal boasts at least 50 species of fish. Fishing and ice-fishing are both supported by outfitters. Game fish include black grayling, perch, omul salmon, pike, umber, bullhead and sturgeon. Big game hunters pursue Manchurian deer, sable, bear, wolves, elk, lynx, wild boar, and more.
Described by the US Geological Survey as a "magnificent natural resource", Lake Baikal is one of the most intensively studied lakes on Earth. While clearly an unsurpassed natural wonder, Lake Baikal is also a natural beauty, with clean, clear blue water and visibility exceeding 125 feet. Surrounding forests, the majestic Barguzin Mountains, waterfalls, warm-weather boat tours, hiking, plus excellent fishing and hunting make tourism a growing source of income for surrounding residents.
Lake Baikal enthusiasts question its ability to maintain its pristine quality. Some believe that Lake Baikal is "growing warmer, dirtier and more crowded." They say that Baikal is threatened by increasing tourism by wealthy Russians and others, by global warming, and by a uranium enrichment facility and pollution from factories on its waterfront. Lake Baikal's future will depend on the Russian government's commitment to preserve and protect Lake Baikal as a uniquely valuable world resource.
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