The story of water from two continents: the Amazon River and Lake Baikal

Let us start with two tricky questions. Pause here and take a wild guess.

Q1: Suppose the entire Lake Baikal is drained on Russia, how deep a water pool would it create?

Q2: Suppose the water flowing in the Amazon river is used to fill an equivalent of Lake Baikal, how much time it would take to fill?

Do remember these questions, we would discuss the answer at the bottom.

Every civilization has a relation to a river. One of the world famous destinations in the continent of South America is Machu Picchu and the sacred valley of the Incas, situated in the Peruvian Andes range. Peru is a country located on the Pacific west coast of South America. For the Inca civilization, the Urubamba river is the main river in their valley. Their empire extended between the Pacific coast and the Andean highlands with Cuzco as the capital. But, the rainwater from this valley does not go to the Pacific Ocean, instead it finally reaches the Atlantic Ocean more than 6000km away. This is because the Urubamba river is one of the headstream tributaries of the mighty Amazon river. The west most tributary of the Amazon river is Río Marañón which originates only around 100km away from the Pacific Ocean in Peru itself. It is not far away from Lima, the Peruvian Pacific coastal capital city.

Coming to the water volume, the Amazon’s average discharge is 209000 cubic metres per second. That is the equivalent of draining 84 Olympic size swimming pools in every second.!!! This discharge is so powerful that freshwater could be seen at around 100 kilometres away from the mainland in open Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon river discharges more water than the next 7 largest rivers combined together. If we combine Orinoco in South America, Mississippi in the US, Congo and the Nile in Africa, Ganga, Brahmaputra, Padma together in India, Yangtze in China, Yenisei in Siberia, Volga in European Russia and Danube in Europe together, still it would be less than the Amazon in terms of flow volume.

For a comparison, current world oil production is 1/1100 of this rate, that is around 95 million barrels per day or 176 cubic metres per second.

Amazon River Basin in Peru (Courtsey: Wikimedia)
Urubamba River at Machu Picchu (Courtsey: Wikimedia)
River Marañón in Peru (Courtsey: Wikimedia)

Now consider the other side of the world. From the Amazon rain forest to the Taiga forest in the Russian Siberia. Lake Baikal is the largest lake in Siberia and in Russia. It is located between the federal subjects of Irkutsk Oblast and the Republic of Buryatia. Mainly 3 rivers flow into the Lake. They are Selenga, Barguzin and Upper Angara. Whereas, the main Angara river originates from the Lake and it is one of the main tributaries of the Yenisei river ecosystem.

The areas surrounding the Lake are very sparseley populated and it is extremely beautiful. The Trans Siberian railway section between Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude goes through the shores of the Lake. Also there is the picturesque 89km long Circum-Baikal raiway around the South West shore of the lake. Republic of Buryatia is famous for their Tibetan Buddhist culture and heritage.

Looking at the surface area, Lake Baikal is the 7th largest in the world with an area of 31500 square kilometers. It is the deepest lake with a maximum depth of 1642m. With 23600 cubic kilometres of water, it is the largest freshwater lake by volume. It has more water volume than the entire five American Great Lakes combined together, even though individually Superior, Michigan and Huron are larger in area. Lake Tanganyika in Africa comes second in terms of both depth and water volume. No wonder, Lake Baikal holds 22 percent of world’s surface freshwater.
For a comparison, the largest man made reservoir, the Lake Kariba in Africa has a capacity of 180 cubic kilometres.

Circum Baikal Railway (Courtesy: Wikimedia)
Turquoise ice on Lake Baikal (Courtsey: Wikimedia)
Tibetan Buddhist Stupa on Ogoy Island, Lake Baikal (Coursey: Wikimedia)

Now back to our original question.
Russia is the largest country in the world with an area of 17.1 million square kilometres. If we drain Lake Baikal on Russia the entire country would be covered with 1.38 meter deep water. The Amazon River would take 1307 days, which is 3.5 years to fill Lake Baikel.

Fresh water is a very precious natural resource, let us conserve it.


Published by Anand Sivaram (आनन्दः )

One thought on “The story of water from two continents: the Amazon River and Lake Baikal

  1. Great post Anand! The details are captured very nicely, leading to a authentic experience. Thanks!

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