It is 31,500 square kilometers and equal to the area of such countries as Belgium, Netherlands or Denmark. By its surface area Baikal ranks eighth among world's largest lakes.
The total water volume on the Earth is about 1406 mln. cubic kilometers. Of them lakes and rivers contain 0.231 mln. cubic km. The volume of baikalian water mass is about 23.000 cubic kilometers. It is greater than the water volume contained in all five taken together Great Lakes in North America ( Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erei, Ontario), in the Baltic, by 23 times greater than in Ladoga Lake. Lake Baikal contains one-fifth of the world's surface water resources (except ice of Antarctica, Green land and other glaciers), and four-fifth of fresh waters of Russia.
The word Baikal is derived from the Turkish Bai-Kul, which means "a rich lake" (compare: Issyk-Kul - a warm lake, Kara-kul - a black lake). Some authors believe this word to come from the Mongolian Baigal (rich fire) or Baigal-Dalai (large sea).
Baikal is the deepest lake on the Earth. Its average depth is about 730 m. For the first time it was exactly calculated by G. Yu. Vereshagin in the 30's. The deepest known depth of Baikal (and lakes of the world) is 1637 m.
The coastline is 456 m above ocean level. The coastline is a boundary between land and water surfaces. On the map it is drawn along the line of an average little water level. The real boundary between land and lake - the edge line - is constantly changing due to water fluctuations.
The level has risen by 1 m. The surface area of the lake has increased by 500 square km. It has resulted in serious ecological problems.
336 rivers and rivulets (constant watercourse).
It is 20-25 mln. years old. But a modern shape Baikal acquired relatively recently, may be some million years ago.
By the eastern shore of the Olkhon Island between Izhimey and Khara-Khushun capes 8-12 km to the east from the shore (depth 1637). In the southern trough of Baikal the maximum depth (1432 m) is located between the rivers Pereemnaya and Mishikha, in the northern trough - 890 m between the Elokhin and Pokoiniki capes.
Most expressive is the Akademichesky Range, stretching from the Olkhon Island towards the Ushkany Islands. Its stretch is about 100 km, maximum height over the bottom of Baikal is about 1848 m.
Enviromental Protection Service and Ministry of National Health should assess the effects of pollution on Baikal. But this state system of control can not solve all problems. That is why a great role is played by scientific-research institutions, having at their disposal highly-qualified specialists and high quality equipment. For example, for 50 years the Scientific-Research Institute of Biology of the Irkutsk State University has been making every ten-days observations on all components of the Baikal biota at the Baikalian biological station in the Bolshyie Koty settlement, on the Angara biostation - observations on the Angara reservoir biota.
Monitoring is being conducted by the Scientific-Research Institute of Biology of the Irkutsk State University. Observations in the place of supposed waste water discharge were started by M. M. Kozhov as early as in 1961. It was established that in the place of discharges of industrial purified and domestic waste waters, on the bottom of the lake there occurred a dead spot, where only bacteria live. Outside the dead spot a zone was formed, where a radical restructure of communities had taken place. The area of the zone is more than 30 square km.