Amazing Places

The World's Largest Freshwater Lake Freezes Over Every Year and the Pictures Are Stunning

Imagine an ice rink the size of Maryland. When winter comes to the Northern Hemisphere, that's exactly what becomes of Lake Baikal. This enormous freshwater lake is beautiful enough in warm weather, but its real claim to fame comes in the dead of winter.

On Thick Ice

Lake Baikal is located in eastern Siberia and put simply, it's a record breaker. At 20–25 million years old, it's the oldest existing freshwater lake on Earth. It's also the deepest continental body of water, reaching to 5,315 feet (1,620 meters) at its deepest. Oh, and it's the world's largest freshwater lake by volume: Its depths contain 5,500 cubic miles (23,000 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That's a fifth of all of the freshwater on the planet's surface. We're telling you: Lake Baikal is really big.

Of course, because it's in Siberia, it stands up to some really cold weather. In winter, the air temperature averages around minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 21 degrees Celsius) — temps that are positively mild compared to the surrounding regions. As a result, the entire surface of the lake — all 12,200 square miles (31,500 square kilometers) of it — freezes over in January and doesn't thaw until June.

Sometimes, that results in weird natural phenomena, like these frozen waves that crash on the shore with the sound of breaking glass.

Ice Ice детка

This isn't just any ice. Along with being the biggest lake in the world, Baikal is also among the clearest. According to Russian photographer Kristina Makeeva who chronicled her experience on the ice for BoredPanda, despite the fact that the ice reaches up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) thick in spots, you can gaze straight through the water to see fish, plants, and rocks up to 130 feet (40 meters) beneath the surface.

Thick ice means a sturdy base for standing, walking, or even driving. At its thickest, it can hold a 30,000 pound (13,600 kilogram) vehicle — but Makeeva did see a few cars that weren't so lucky. In 2015, a team of adventurers spent two weeks circumnavigating the lake on WWII-era Russian motorbikes. Even though the weather was unseasonably warm and much of the ice had melted, they survived to tell the tale.

"Navigating the ice was a challenge in itself as it's constantly moving and changing like tectonic plates," former Royal Air Force pilot Matt Prior told Mashable. "It was honestly like being dropped on a different planet."

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A lake this majestic has inspired plenty of writers. For the first major journalistic examination of Lake Baikal in English, check out "Sacred Sea: A Journey to Lake Baikal" by veteran environmental writer Peter Thomson. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer February 8, 2018

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