Lake Baikal, Russia

53° 42’ N, 108° 11’ E

Winter’s freeze mesmerizes on this immense oasis hidden deep in the Siberian wilderness. An icy enchantment falls on the liquid landscape each January, seemingly freezing the lake in place as if by the hand of some cartoon heroine, evil supervillian or mythological beast.

Breakers hang suspended along the coast. Ice sheets, glowing turquoise, jut from the lake’s surface. Offshore, where Baikal’s water glaciates again and again until the ice measures up to more than six feet thick, air bubbles dapple and hairline cracks spiderweb the frozen plain.

Wonders exist beyond the thaw. The world’s lone known exclusively freshwater seals, known as nerpas, frolic along the lake’s shores and are one of approximately 1,500 species of animals found only in this Galapagos-like locale.

Russians affectionately refer to Baikal as the Sacred Sea, and with greater volume than all five of America’s Great Lakes combined and comparable to that of the Amazon River basin, the lake is an inland sea. Dam it today, and all 7 billion people on Earth could drink from it for the next 50 years and not drain it.

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