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Lake Profile

Baikal (Ozero Baykal)

General Information

Description Lake Baikal is one of the most ancient lakes in the world, created 20 to 30 million years ago by tectonic forces. Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. Baikal is also the deepest lake on earth, sitting in the planetís deepest land depression, a rift nine km deep, located in one of the most complicated and least understood fault zones on earth.
Country Russian Federation
Latitude 52° 40' 0" (52.6667)
Longitude 107° 0' 0" (107.0000)
River Basin Yenisey


 Baikal global index map (LakeNet Explorer)
 Largest Lakes in the World by Area (LakeNet Explorer 2004)
 Largest Lakes of the World by Volume (LakeNet Explorer 2004)
 Baikal locator map
 Ancient Lakes of the World
 Baikal Basin Protected Areas (TACIS Technical Dissemination Project)
 Baikal Environment Assessment Zones (Tahoe-Baikal Institute)
 Lake Basin Management Initiative (LakeNet Explorer)

Physical Characteristics

Description The lake stretches for 636 km and is up to 80 km wide. The lakeís unusual purity is due to two factors. First, one of Lake Baikalís 250 species of freshwater shrimp, the endemic Epishura baicalensis strains out large amounts of algae and bacteria from the water. In addition, most of the Baikal watershed is underlain by bedrock, causing water inflow to have very little contact with sediments and minerals in route to the lake.

The lake has 365 rivers flowing into it and holds a full 20% of the liquid freshwater on the surface of the earth. This ancient lake is considered by many to be one of the cleanest lakes on the planet, and untreated lake water withdrawn from deep in the lake is used as a source of bottled drinking water.

Volume 23,600.00 km3
Surface Area 31,500.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 730.0 m
Maximum depth: 1,637.0 m
Residence Time 330.0 years
Age Greater than 20 million years before present
Origin Tectonic
Trophic State Oligotrophic
Type Fresh
Catchment Catchment size: 571,000.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 18:1


Economic Value Forestry, fisheries, agriculture, hunting and tourism continue to be major activities around the lake. The state of the omul population is tremendously importat for the local residents since catching and selling omul is a significant portion of the local economy. The proportion of urban to rural land has grown repeatedly through the 20th century (Sukhodolov 1996).

The geographicĖeconomic region of Lake Baikal stretches from the southeastern section of Siberia to portions of northern Mongolia to the south. The Russian portion of this region covers 1 million km2, equivalent to the territory of France, Germany and Italy combined. The Russian portion of the Baikal region is divided between three members of the Russian Federation: the Republic of Buryatia (73%), Irkutsk Oblast (21%), and Chita Oblast (6%). The population density is three persons per km2. Industrial development has inevitably led to the growth of urban and rural settlements around Lake Baikal and the construction of new communities.

In the course of history the mixed human population of the Lake Baikal region has created and preserved a distinct multicultural environment at the crossroads of West and East, Christianity and Buddhism. A synthesis of diverse traditions and life styles developed, unique European and Asian cultural elements crystallized, and the ecological and spiritual values of Buddhism also matured. The region is a spectacular example of coexistence among different cultures and faiths through the centuries. Over one thousand archaeological remains of past cultures have been found near the Lake Baikal shores.

The culture of people in the Baikal region (Russian Old Believers, Orthodox, Buddhists, and Shamanists) is imbued with a deep reverence for nature that was passed down from one generation to another. In fact, the whole population of the Trans-Baikal region worshipped the water of Lake Baikal. Even now, the Buryats practice special rituals to thank the spirits of mountains and lakes. Source: Garmaeva, T. (2001)

Primary Economic Sectors Aluminum - 25%
Mining - 55%
Oil - 31%
Timber - 15%
Major Cities Irkutsk, Irkutsk Oblast and Ulan Ude, Buryatia

Watershed Management

Description Over the last 50 years, watershed management efforts at Lake Baikal have progressed from a strictly resource extraction focus in the 1950ís, to a management and educational development focus in the 1990ís to the current period of transition. Policy-makers currently have the choice of implementing progressive watershed management plans developed in the last decade while supporting the development of the service sector economy, or to pursue intensive development options that could increase economic gains in the short term, but jeopardize environmental integrity and human health in the long run. The path taken in the next decade in regards to environmental policy will guide development within the region for the next century. This long-term trajectory is based on current decisions because economic development is just beginning to take hold in Russia, in general, and at Baikal, in particular. For example, recent legislation allowing housing developments around the shores could bring a huge influx of development pressures on Baikalís shoreline. Once constructed, it would be impossible to then reverse development trends towards conservation priorities.
Watershed Action Plan In development
Issues Environmental impacts within the Lake Baikal Basin are generated from numerous point and non-point pollution sources. The most significant air pollution sources are located just north of Lake Baikal (the Irkutsk Oblast) and in several Russian industrial centers just south of the lake. Water pollution sources flow almost entirely into the southern portion of Lake Baikal from Russia and Mongolia, leaving the northern end of the lake relatively pristine.
Other Issues Atmospheric Deposition
Health Advisories - Fish
Health Advisories - Swimming
Invasive Species
Point source pollution
Watershed habitat alteration
Specific Contaminants Industrial
Monitoring The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 created an institutional vacuum in developing watershed management plans and programs for the Basin. Domestic efforts to develop plans were greatly enhanced from assistance from international multi-national and uni-lateral development programs such as the World Bank, Global Environmental Facility (GEF), USAID, German Development Agency (GTZED), EU/TACIS, which have funded thousands of projects supporting government, NGOís, scientist and local citizens.
Monitoring Programs In-Lake
Water Quality

Water Quality

Biodiversity Conservation

Description The lake, mountains, forests, steppes and tundra of the Baikal area have extremely high biodiversity. Approximately half of the 2,615 plant and animal species found in the Baikal region are endemic. There are over 560 species of algae alone (a third of which are endemic).

Lake Baikalís diverse and unusual biota includes the Baikal seal (Phoca sibirica), which lives nowhere else on earth and is separated by 3,220 km from its nearest relative, the Arctic ringed seal. The Baikal seal, known locally as nerpa, are fully adapted to freshwater. Baikal seals can remain under water for up to 45-60 minutes, due to the extraordinary capacity of their blood to hold oxygen, and they give birth to their young in snow dens on the lake ice.

Fifty-two species of fish inhabit Lake Baikal waters. The omul (Coregonus autumnalis migratorius Georgi), an arctic white fish endemic to Baikal, accounts for two-thirds of the annual catch from the lake.

Designations LakeNet Biodiversity Priority
Ramsar Site
World Heritage Site
WWF Global 200
Ramsar Site Name Selenga Delta
Ramsar Designations 1, 2, 5
Species of Concern A number of bird species listed in the Russian Red Data Book occur in the delta, including: Grus leucogeranus, Ciconia nigra, Cygnus columbianus bewickii, Anser cygnoides, Aquila heliaca, A. chrysaetos, Falco peregrinus, F. rusticolus and F. cherrug, Haliaeetus albicilla and Limnodromus semipalmatus.
Species Richness High
Endemism High
Other Species Info Global rarity
Biological Distinctiveness Globally outstanding


Baikal Environmental Wave
Tahoe-Baikal Institute
Baikal Museum Complex

LakeNet Programs

World Lake Basin Management Initiative
Environmental Exchanges Among Managers of Nine Lakes in Russia, Hungary and the U.S.
Exchanges Among Environmental Specialists on 20 Lakes in the Former Soviet Union and in Eastern & Central Europe
Lake99 Workshop: Managing the Great Lakes of the World, Implementing the Watershed Approach
LakeNet 2000: A Dialogue on Participatory Watershed Management
LBMI Regional Experience Sharing and Review Workshop for Europe, Central Asia & the Americas


Baikal  (PDF) Experience Brief. Final. 2/27/2006.
Lake Baikal: Model for sustainable development of the territory  Case Study. Final. Lakes and Reservoirs- Research and Management. 9/1/2004.
Lakes & Reservoirs: Research and Management, Special Issue edited by LakeNet, Volume 6:3  (PDF) Announcement. Blackwell Science-Asia. 7/31/2001.
Managing Lake Basins for Sustainable Use - Lake Basin Management Initiative Final Report (PDF)  Project Report. Final. English. 2/27/2006.


Biodiversity Conservation of the World's Lakes: A Preliminary Framework for Identifying Priorities
Crop Explorer - Global Reservoir and Lake Elevation Monitoring
Crop Explorer - Lake Level Variations from TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason-1 Altimetry for Lake Baikal
ILEC Database
Lake Baikal: Model for sustainable development of the territory
Living Lakes Partner Profile: Baikal
The endemic fishes of Lake Baikal
Yenisey River Basin map & information


3/22/2014 - Researchers Find Chemical Layering in Baikal Seals' Teeth Reflects Environmental Changes
6/6/2008 - Lake Baikal Warming ID'd by One Family's Tradition
4/7/2005 - Disappearing Lakes, Shrinking Seas
2/18/2005 - Siberian Party: Moscow's Buryats celebrate Sagaalgan, the month-long festival that marks the start of the lunar year -- and band together against racism.
4/23/2004 - Towards a Lake Basin Management Initiative
9/10/2003 - Baikal Nordic Games coming soon
7/26/2003 - Greenpeace begins cleanup on Baikal shores
7/25/2003 - Premier promises government action to protect Lake Baikal
7/24/2003 - Vehicles, vessels and vodka litter Lake Baikal
7/21/2003 - Cleanup of submerged cars leaking oil gets underway in a Lake Baikal area
3/12/2003 - Buryat public figures seek safe oil pipeline route near Baikal
2/16/2003 - Proposed Russian oil pipeline through Lake Baikal
12/30/2002 - Russians take celebrations to new depths
10/3/2002 - BBC to make film about Lake Baikal
7/21/2002 - Scientists recommend a fresh look at fresh water
5/22/2002 - World Bank mission to mull credit to Baikal pulp mill
5/17/2002 - Lake Baikal basin is getting deeper and wider
3/26/2002 - World Bank mission to assess Baikal Project
9/12/2001 - Hooked on life on Lake Baikal
8/27/2001 - UNESCO experts to examine Baikal's ecological condition
8/3/2001 - Lake Baikal: Group wins UN funding to patrol shores
7/27/2001 - Lake Baikal: Vanishing nerpa seal
5/27/2001 - Trans-Baikal Old-Believers' culture

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
Duker, L. and L. Borre. 2001. Biodiversity conservation of the world's lakes: a preliminary framework for identifying priorities. LakeNet Report Series Number 2. Annapolis, Maryland USA.
Experience and Lessons Learned Brief

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