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No. 130: JUL-AUG 2000

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Baikal: The Inland Ocean

Lake Baikal, in Siberia, is the planet's deepest lake (1635 meters) and the richest in biodiversity (over 1,000 species of animals and plants existing nowhere else). Even though Lake Baikal is only 20-25 million years old, more than 5 kilometers of sediment have accumulated in some spots. These facts are remarkable as fresh-water lakes go, but Baikal also has features usually found only in salty oceans. It seals sport in fresh water 1,000 kilometers from the nearest salt water. (How did they get there?) Even more interesting are Baikal's thermal vents or chimneys that are otherwise restricted to cracks in the earth's crust in the deep oceans.

Further enhancing Baikal's marine attributes, deep drilling and seismic profiles have recently discovered the existence of gas hydrates (methane hydrate, for example). Plumes of gas bubbles have also been detected where gas hydrates have been tectonically disturbed. There are even craters on Baikal's deep bottom where gas hydrates have erupted explosively.

(De Batist, Marc, et al; "Tectonically Induced Gas-Hydrate Destabilization and Gas Venting in Lake Baikal, Siberia," Eos, 80:F502, 1999.)

Comments. Baikal's gas-explosion craters resemble those on the floor of the North Sea. There, the sudden releases of gases are thought to cause the famous "mist-pouffers" or "fog-guns" heard around the shores of the North Sea. The Barisal Guns (India) and Guns of the Seneca (New York State) probably have similar origins. (GSD1 in Earthquakes, Tides...) Someone should be listening for "Baikal Guns." See also: BOG BREATH.

From Science Frontiers #130, JUL-AUG 2000. � 2000 William R. Corliss

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