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Baikal Lake, Russian ozero baykal, also spelled ozero bajkal, lake, located in the southern part of eastern Siberia within Buryatiya republic and Irkutsk oblast (province) of Russia. It is the deepest continental body of water on Earth, having a maximum depth of 5,314 feet (1,620 m). Its area is 12,200 square miles (31,500 square km), with a length of 395 miles (636 km) and an average width of 30 miles (48 km). It contains about one-fifth of the fresh water on the Earth's surface, some 5,500 cubic miles (23,000 cubic km). Into Lake Baikal flow 336 rivers and streams, of which the largest are the Selenga, Barguzin, Upper (Verkhnyaya) Angara, Turka, and Snezhnaya.

Baikal lies in a deep structural hollow surrounded by mountains, some of which rise 6,560 feet (2,000 m) above it. The sedimentary strata on the floor of the lake may be as much as 20,000 feet (6,100 m) thick. Near the shore are remains of extinct volcanoes. Earth movements still continue, and there are occasional severe earthquakes; in 1862 a quake inundated 77 square miles (about 200 square km) in the northern Selenga River delta, creating a new bay in Baikal known as Proval Bay. Breaks in the Earth's crust continue to produce hot mineral springs.

The lake hollow is not symmetrical, having steep slopes on the western shores and gentler slopes on the eastern. About 8 percent of the floor consists of shallows 160 feet (50 m) deep. The meandering shoreline runs for 1,300 miles (2,100 km), with large indentations at the bays of Barguzin, Chivyrkuysky, and Proval and at Ayaya and Frolikha inlets; the Svyatoy Nos Peninsula juts out into the lake from the eastern shore. Baikal contains 27 islands, the largest of which are Olkhon (280 square miles [725 square km]) and Bolshoy Ushkany (more than 3 square miles [8 square km]). The influx of water into the lake is primarily from rivers, chiefly the Selenga. Most of the outflow is through the Angara River, a tributary of the Yenisey.

Baikal's climate is much milder than that of the surrounding territory. January-February air temperatures average -2 F (-19 C), and August temperatures average 52 F (11 C). The lake freezes in January and thaws in May. The water temperature at the surface in August is about 55 F (13 C) and reaches 68 F (20 C) in the offshore shallows. Waves can be as high as 15 feet (4.6 m). The water is very clear down to 130 feet (40 m) and contains few minerals. Its salinity is low.

Plant and animal life in the lake are rich and various. There are more than 1,200 animal species at different depths, and about 600 plant species live on or near the surface. About three-quarters of the species are peculiar to Baikal. There are some 50 species of fish, belonging to seven families; the most numerous of these are the 25 species of bullheads of the family Cottidae. The omul salmon is heavily fished; also important are the grayling, lake whitefish, and sturgeon. The one mammal is the Baikal seal. Unique to the lake is a fish called the golomyanka, of the family Comephoridae, which gives birth to live young. There are more than 320 bird species in the Baikal area.

Industries on the shores of Baikal include mining (mica and marble), cellulose and paper, shipbuilding, fisheries, and timber. There are many mineral springs, and visitors come to Goryachinsk and Khakusy for the curative properties of the waters.

The Limnological Institute of the Siberian Department of the Academy of Sciences and the Baikal Sanatorium are located in the town of Listvyanka, and the hydrobiological station of Irkutsk State University is in Bolshiye Koty.

The New Encyclopedia Britannica






  1. The New Encyclopedia Britannica

  2. Encyclopedia Americana

  3. The World Book Encyclopedia

  4. Belt, Don. The Words Great Lake. Russias Lake Baikal/Photographs by  Sarah Leen: National Geographic: vol.181, No 6 June 1992.

  5. Bull, Bartly. Around the sacred sea: Mongolia and Lake Baikal. Photographs by John Boit and Kerim Yalman Edinburg: Canongate: 1999.

  6. Matthiessen, Peter. Baikal: Sacred Sea Of Siberia/Photographs by  Boyd Notton - Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, 1992.

  7. Grossfeld, Stan. The whisper of stars/ A Siberian journey - Chester: The Globe Pequot Press, 1988.

  8. Galazii, Grigorii Ivanovich. Baikal v voprosakh i otvetakh  - Irkutsk : Vostochno-Sibirskoe knizhnoe izd-vo, 1987

  9. Touchart, Laurent. Le lac Bakal/Preface de Martine Tabeaud.
    Paris : L'Harmattan, 1998.




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