Image: Alexey Trofimov
Image: Alexey Trofimov
They gleam, like jewels, through a blanket of snow, a stunning surprise for people venturing to this part of Siberia. Their vivid hues add a colorful, otherworldly touch to the frozen landscape: a dazzling range of blues that delight the eye. Lake Baikal’s turquoise ice formations are truly a wonder to behold.
Landscape photographer Alexey Trofimov, who lives in Siberia, took these incredible pictures of the unusual phenomenon. Trofimov describes Lake Baikal itself as “the pearl of our planet.” Perhaps, then, the extraordinary blue-colored ice formations are its accompanying sapphires.
Lake Baikal is indeed remarkable, even without these striking icy marvels. Located in southeastern Siberia, the over 7.78 million-acre expanse of water is notable for being Earth’s most ancient lake, dating back as it does some 25 million years. The bottom of this gigantic basin, meanwhile, lies 3,892 feet below sea level. However, the distance from the water’s surface to its nethermost-recorded point measures an amazing 5,387 feet. Baikal is, in short, the deepest lake on the planet.
Moreover, the lake’s surroundings are exceptionally varied. Near to the huge body of water “there are,” as Trofimov tells us, “high mountain ranges, impassable taiga, sandy beaches [and] wild steppes.” The weather is also fickle, with Baikal often bathed in sunshine but adjacent landforms or even other parts of the lake prone to experiencing very different conditions such as storms. Trofimov suggests that this contributes to the place being “harsh and dangerous as [well as] beautiful.”
Given the intriguing array of environmental spectacles in, over and around the lake, it seems a fitting place to find a captivating wonder like the turquoise ice formations pictured here. The brightly hued ice reveals itself around March each year, and many people make their way to the area in order to witness its beauty at this time.
These unique frozen formations are in fact called ice hummocks. The knolls are created in part by pressure that develops gradually and unevenly in the layer of ice that covers Lake Baikal in winter. The physical make-up and temperature of the ice sheet then also become imbalanced, and hence the hummocks form and rise above the frozen surface.
The area’s variable weather also plays its part in giving rise to the phenomenon. Gales, sun and bitter winter conditions all contribute to the formation of the ice hummocks while creating fractures in the sheet ice.
The distinct turquoise tint of the hummocks is produced in more or less the same way as the blue color of bodies of water. As the sun’s rays pass through it, the water more rapidly absorbs light from the red end of the spectrum than it does light that’s toward the blue end. Meanwhile, water particles widely disperse blue wavelengths – and the naked eye is thus greeted by blue expanses.
The dense, frozen lake water of the ice hummocks brings about a similar but perhaps more intense light-scattering effect, with the hummocks’ color mimicking that of the pure, clean H2O of the basin below: a stunning turquoise.
The turquoise water of Lake Baikal is exceptionally clear, too – so clear, in fact, that it’s possible to see through the ice down as far as 130 feet beneath the lake’s surface. The water’s purity also makes it safe to drink, and Trofimov describes it as “very clean, cold and delicious.” He adds, “In its composition it is close to distilled water.”
The clarity of Baikal’s waters and ice furthermore makes it possible, in some situations, to see the marine life within the lake. Crustaceans may be spotted, while fish such as burbot and grayling are occasionally visible swimming their way through the water’s depths.
However, Trofimov tells us that anyone wishing to catch a glimpse of Lake Baikal’s aquatic inhabitants may need to wait “for several hours” – and the cold conditions might put off all but the most dedicated and hardy.
To be sure, it can get very cold here – as low as a perishing -7° F in the dead of winter. In fact, Baikal’s surface doesn’t become ice-free until May, at which point the temperature edges above freezing. In March, meanwhile, when the blue-hued hummocks appear, the thermometer usually reads 10° F – still very cold, but evidently not cold enough to deter hordes of international sightseers.
Trofimov says that he manages to escape the influx of tourists by only taking most of his photographs in places few others care to tread. He adds that he shoots the lake throughout several months of the year, capturing its many enchanting aspects from stormy November right up till the end of March.
However, Trofimov’s self-imposed isolation doesn’t guarantee him peace and quiet. Nature itself bellows loudly. The photographer says that there is “never silence” on the lake, no matter the time of year. Indeed, spring brings “the roar of the ice… [with] the noise [from] streams of melting snow [and] the quiet sound of the wind.” In the warmest months, meanwhile, “birds and animals” can be heard in the vicinity, and when the season shifts to fall, fierce gusts cause a ruckus.
That said, the lake remains a spectacle that often gives Trofimov pause for thought. As he explains, “When you look at [the] pure and crystal clear ice, hid[ing] a fantastic depth, you realize how insignificant we are in this world… You begin to ponder the meaning of life.”
Such remarks make it clear that this is a place of reverence for Trofimov. Indeed, the photographer describes the lake as “magical” and “fantastic” – and looking at his images of the stunning turquoise ice hummocks, it’s hard to disagree.
Still, for those hoping to follow in Trofimov’s icy footsteps by visiting Lake Baikal, the photographer has some words of warning. He explains, “It’s very dangerous, because of its size and weather conditions, especially in autumn and winter. All need to be very careful and cautious.”
Nevertheless, the potential peril hasn’t dissuaded the high number of visitors who come to experience Lake Baikal; nor, indeed, has it discouraged Trofimov himself. The stunning vistas and gleaming blue ice are seemingly well worth the risk. After all, as Trofimov puts it, “This is a very great place on our planet. It is beautiful.” And as he adds, “We all have to take care of it.”
Thanks to Alexey Trofimov for permitting us to feature his incredible photographs of Lake Baikal’s turquoise ice formations. The images bring these enchanting natural marvels to life and highlight the raw beauty and wonder of the magnificent body of water on which they’re to be found.