Russia's Unrivaled Stockpile of Fresh Water

2016-12-16 06:57

Ok, so those thinking that this was going to be an article about Russia's preparations for the impending third world war may be disappointed. Anyone else fascinated by interesting facts, read on...

Imagine five lakes of equal size big enough to, between them, contain all of the fresh water on the surface of the earth... One of these actually exists in the Siberian region of Russia.

You would be forgiven for never really having considered Lake Baikal before. It is, after all, only the seventh largest fresh-water lake in the world by surface area. But, as with so many things, it is what is below the surface that really counts.

Layers of air pockets trapped in a frozen Lake Baikal

This is where I have to admit that I learned this amazing fact from my seven-year-old son as he prepared for an oral presentation on Russia. From a pack of Top Trumps and a Children's Britannica Encyclopedia he taught me that at 20 million years old and 1642 metres deep, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake on the earth. I also learned that for six months of the year the ice on the lake is so thick that trains can, and do, travel on it. I was also shown a picture of a human swimming next to a blue whale and told that Lake Baikal is as deep as 56 blue whales end-to-end.

It is, of course, the immense depth of the lake that makes it so significant. But if, like me, you struggle to imagine 56 blue whales end-to-end, here are a few other visual comparators. Lake Baikal is as deep as:

  • Five and a half Eiffel Towers;
  • Fifteen and a half football pitches;
  • 995 average human beings end-to-end.

Did that help? Hmmm... I'm open to other suggestions if you have any.

What this all boils down to is that Lake Baikal is, by a massive margin, the most voluminous lake in the world. But how do we imagine volume at this scale? Let's give it a go...

I recently had to fix my swimming pool which required emptying most of the water, making the repairs, then refilling with roughly 50,000 litres (50 cubic metres) of water. I ran two hoses into the pool and turned the taps up full. It took me almost 3 days to fill the darn thing.

This got me thinking... How long would it take me to fill Lake Baikal?

Ok, so the biggest 'hose' I have available to me in nature is the Amazon River. This gargantuan geographic marvel discharges 209,000 cubic metres of water--enough to fill my pool 4180 times--into the Atlantic Ocean every single second. Our second natural hose is the Congo River which adds a further 41,200 cubic metres of water to the Atlantic every second.

So, there are my two hoses. Now imagine that I can redirect these into an empty Lake Baikal; how long is it going to take me to fill? Well, Lake Baikal can contain 23,600,000,000,000 cubic metres of water. I have a total flow of 250,200 cubic metres per second, at which rate it will take me 94,324,540 seconds to fill the lake. That's almost exactly 3 years.

I'm not exactly sure what it is I hope you will take away from this. Sometimes things are just so profoundly fascinating that they need to be shared. For me, however, it is also a reminder that the criteria by which things are commonly judged sometimes obfuscate more interesting realities.

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