Baikal Zen – Uncommon Phenomenon Makes Rocks Look Like They Are Floating Above Water

In winter, Lake Baikal in Siberia becomes the scene of a rare natural phenomenon known as “Baikal Zen”. Large stones balance on thin ice legs above the surface of the lake and make it seem as if they are floating in the air.

Lake Baikal is a fascinating body of water. It is so big that it can easily be mistaken for a sea. It is also the deepest and oldest lake on earth, as well as the largest freshwater lake by volume. However, these are just the most famous facts about Lake Baikal. There are other more mysterious things, some of which give the place a mystical, almost magical aura. Take, for example, the phenomenon known as Baikal Zen – large, Zen-like pebbles that balance precariously on a thin column of ice above the frozen surface of the lake. Scientists have been studying this rare phenomenon for years, and we still don’t have a unanimously accepted explanation for it.

Photo © Elena Vtorushina

Photos capturing the Baikal Zen phenomenon were circulated online about four years ago, but people originally rejected it as a result of digital manipulation. However, it was soon proven that the pictures were real and that such natural works of art can form on the surface of Lake Baikal in winter, but only if certain conditions are met.

What exactly is Baikal Zen? Well, it can be described simply as flat, Zen-like stones perched on thin fragments of ice a few inches above the frozen surface of the lake. It is of course a breathtaking sight that scientists all over the world have been scratching their heads at for some time. It was actually the subject of a presentation by Team Ukraine at the 2018 International Physics Tournament. If you have 40 minutes and are curious about a scientific explanation of the phenomenon, you can watch the presentation below.

Baikal Zen is believed to occur when these flat Zen stones freeze on the surface of the lake and then are heated by the sun’s rays to the point where the ice begins to melt beneath them. However, the heat is not the only cause of this phenomenon. If it were, the ice would melt evenly and there would be no column of ice to rest on.

The strong winds that sometimes blow on Lake Baikal also play a huge role in the formation of Baikal Zen formations as they prevent the central ice column from melting. So while most of the ice under the rocks melts from the heat and forms a concave surface, the central pillar remains as a support. So the wind has to blow for this amazing phenomenon to occur.

But how do these Zen stones first land on the surface of the lake? Well, according to Russian photographer Elena Vtorushina, who took some pictures of Baikal Zen formations in 2018, the strong winds blow them onto the ice and freeze them on the spot.

It’s not clear if the poetically named Baikal Zen occurs on other bodies of water if the right weather conditions are met, but there are some who suggest that the clear waters of the Siberian Lake also somehow affects the phenomenon as no photos have been taken from so far White pillars of ice (water mixed with air) released.

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