101: WHAT IS THE DEEPEST LAKE IN THE WORLD?
August 21, 2011
What do endemism,
freshwater seals and the term Pearl of Siberia have in common? Another
way to get the correct answer is to ask a classic trivia question, "What
is the deepest lake in the world?" Answer: Lake Baikal.
attended a seminar by Dr. Stephanie Hampton, University of California,
Santa Barbara, about ecological research on this enormous Siberian lake.
She is deputy director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis
and Synthesis. The center's mission involves organizing and synthesizing
previously collected data to "advance the state of ecological knowledge
through the search for general patterns and principles." Researchers
in diverse fields of science collaborate to analyze long-term data sets.
The joint scientific effort benefits resource managers and policy-makers
by providing information to address important environmental issues.
presentation involved analysis of data collected by Russian scientists
for more than 60 years. The findings from the long-term research observations
are intriguing, and the lake itself is a magnificent example of the earth's
is an environmental wonderland. I once conducted ecological research in
large lakes in Michigan but had to marvel at the far more amazing habitat
of Lake Baikal. At 12,248 square miles, it is larger than Massachusetts
(including all its bodies of water). From outer space, the crescent-shaped
lake is said to resemble a blue banana. Sometimes called the Pearl of
Siberia, the lake is about 400 miles long (the length of peninsular Florida)
and 60 miles across at its widest point.
than 25 million years ago by a rift valley when a major chunk of the earth's
crust fell away, creating an enormous chasm, the lake's water clarity
is comparable to crystal clear tap water. Limnologists consider the winter
ice of Lake Baikal to be among the clearest ice formations in the world.
acclaimed record for the greatest depth of a freshwater lake is well deserved,
as the deepest points are over a mile and the average depth is almost
a half mile. Hampton showed photographs where only a few feet from the
shoreline the water depth was more than 600 feet. Lake Baikal, she said,
is so deep, long and wide that you "could pour all of the water from
the Great Lakes into it." The lake consistutes roughly 20 percent
of the world's total surface fresh water.
is a biological term for a phenomenon in which an identifiable geographic
area has one or more native species of plants or animals that live nowhere
else. More than a thousand endemic species of plants and animals live
in Lake Baikal. Among these is the Baikal seal, the world's only species
of freshwater seal. Except for occasional sightings in nearby rivers,
the species is endemic to Lake Baikal itself and is the lake's only mammal.
The seal population is estimated to be more than 60,000.
and animals endemic to the lake have been isolated long enough from their
closest relatives to have evolved into different species. Lake Baikal
is home to a group of fish known as sculpins. Most of the more than 300
species worldwide are marine fish. But a species ended up in Lake Baikal
millions of years ago and managed to exploit different habitats, from
the pristine shoreline to the cavelike darkness at the lake's greatest
depths. Today, 33 species of freshwater sculpins inhabit the lake, many
with bizarre body morphology atypical of this family of fishes. Among
the lake's other animals are various aquatic invertebrates found nowhere
else in the world.
Hampton's analysis of the 60-plus years of data taken on plankton, the
summers appear to be warmer now and the ice cover season is shorter. Scientists
are observing changes in the ecological dynamics among the lake's animal
inhabitants, presumably because of global climate change. How these changes
will affect Lake Baikal is a matter of conjecture, but one thing is certain,
as one of the most remarkable lakes in the world it warrants continued
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