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002. Lake Baikal basin on Eurasia map

002. Lake Baikal basin on Eurasia map

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Patterns of territorial combinations of conditions and factors of the development of environmental problems in the Baikal basin are, to a large extent, determined by the basin’s location in the northern temperate latitudes of Eurasia, in its inner ultracontinental sector, and by its natural isolation from adjacent territories. The Baikal basin has all the features of the landscape and ecological integrity and economic and cultural unity. The region is home to one of the world's major watershed divides between the catchment areas of the Arctic Ocean (the Yenisei and Lena basins), Pacific Ocean (the Amur basin), and the drainless region of Central Asia. It is precisely here, on orographic barriers, where airflows from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Arctic, and southern territories subside.

Lake Baikal is the oldest, deepest, and largest by volume lake among the great rift lakes of the world. The lake is situated at an elevation of 455.5 meters above sea level, between 51°28’ - 55°47’N and 103°43’ - 109°58’E. The Baikal basin's catchment area is located in the heart of Asia on the territory of two states – Russia and Mongolia - between 46°20’ - 56°40’N and 96°50’ - 114°10’E. It has an elongated shape stretching from southwest to northeast. The total area of the Baikal basin is 576.5 sq. km, including the water area of Lake Baikal - 31.7 sq. km. 44.6 % of the catchment area is located in the Russian Federation (31.8 % in the Republic of Buryatia, 10.2 % in Zabaikalsky krai, 2.2 % in Irkutsk oblast, and 0.4 % in the Republic of Tuva) and 55.4 % in Mongolia. About 53 % of the volume of river water is formed in Buryatia, 27 % in Mongolia, 16 % in Zabaikalsky krai, and 4 % in Irkutsk oblast.

In general, due to its geographical and geopolitical location, as well as natural, resource, economic, ethnic, cultural, and human resources potential and the lake itself, the Baikal basin represents a key strategic region in eastern Russia and northern Mongolia - a major foothold for social and economic development of the two countries. However, such development has its own peculiarities, because the Baikal basin has a special regime of natural resources management. The fact that Lake Baikal and its surrounding territory was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has attracted attention of the global community. It also underlined the role of the great lake as both a unique natural phenomenon and a place for establishing a recreation zone of the planetary significance, as well as a source of the exclusively eco-oriented land management and business in the future. Over the long term, in the context of the growing deficit of freshwater in the world, Lake Baikal’s water will become the most important strategic resource of the world. Therefore, the water factor of development is a priority. Reproduction and recovery of the lake’s water take place on the territory of the whole Baikal basin, which predetermines a particular attention towards nature protection in this region and dictates the prohibition of numerous types of production in order to prevent environmental pollution and preserve the Baikal water for humankind. Presently, the necessity of nature protection activities for maintaining the unmatched biological and landscape diversity of the lake's basin has emerged as a result of the intensive use of natural resources in different parts of the basin, where anthropogenic impact of varying degree and type is observed. Only responsible use of the complex of adaptive techniques and methods of organization of economic activity with due consideration to the special environmental and resource-related role and strategic importance of the Baikal region can make it, as early as in the first third of the 21st century, one of the full-fledged subjects of economic, geopolitical, and geo-demographic processes and relations of global significance. The Ecological Atlas of the Baikal Basin will be quite helpful in this endeavor. For the first time ever, the maps of this Atlas will reflect spatial patterns of the development of the environmental situation within the whole catchment basin of Lake Baikal and its water area, which makes it possible to define and substantiate the directions of environmentally balanced and sustainable territorial development of Russia and Mongolia in the future.

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