Asia is the world's largest continent in terms of both size and population. The continent features diverse climates and geological features and contains a large number of lakes that vary considerably in shape, size, and origin. The largest lake in Asia is the Caspain Sea. Although the Aral Sea was previously the second largest lake in Asia, it has shrunk considerably in recent decades. Many of Asia’s other large lakes are also shrinking in size, often as a result of damming rivers that supply water to these lakes. The largest lakes of Asia are highlighted below.
1. Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest inland body of water in Asia, as well as the world. Located east of the Caucasus Mountains and west of the steppe in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea is an endorheic basin, which means that it loses water primarily through evaporation. The lake encompasses an area of 371,000 km2 and has a salinity level that is about one-third of seawater. Although the Caspian Sea is home to numerous forms of aquatic life, pollution from oil industries and the numerous dams built along the rivers that drain into it threaten some of these species.
2. Lake Baikal
With an area of 31,500 km2, Lake Baikal is the second largest lake in Asia. Located in Russia, it is also the world’s biggest freshwater lake in terms of volume. In fact, about 23% of the planet's freshwater is located in Lake Baikal. It is also the world's deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 1,642 m. Lake Baikal was formed as an ancient rift valley, and now supports thousands of species of flora and fauna. Many of these species are endemic, meaning they do not exist anywhere else in the world. As a result, Lake Baikal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
3. Lake Balkhash
Asia’s third-biggest lake, Lake Balkhash, is located in southeastern Kazakhstan and is part of a large endorheic basin that also extends into China and Kyrgyzstan. Seven rivers that emerge from this basin serve as the lake's primary inflows. The lake covers an area of 16,400 km2 but is shrinking in size. This is mostly attributed to a large number of dams built along rivers that drain into the lake, thus reducing its volume. Lake Balkhash is also part freshwater and part saltwater and is divided by a strait. Balkhash is the largest city near the lake.
4. Lake Taymyr
Located south of the Byrranga Mountains in the Taymyr Peninsula of Russia, Lake Taymyr is the fourth biggest lake in Asia, with an area of 6,990 km2. The lake has an irregular shape, with several arms projecting out in different directions. The Upper Taymyra and several other rivers and streams feed the lake, while it is drained by the Lower Taymyra River. The lake remains ice-covered for several months in winter, but many species of fish survive in its cold Arctic waters, such as muksun, sig, and loach. Some amount of contamination from radioactive plutonium has been detected in the waters of Lake Taymyr, possibly the result of nuclear tests conducted during the Cold War.
5. Issyk-Kul Lake
The fifth biggest lake in Asia lake is Issyk-Kul, which covers an area of 6,200 km2. Located in Kyrgyzstan, it is the world’s seventh deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 668 m, and the tenth largest in terms of volume. Issyk-Kul Lake has been designated as a Ramsar site due to its rich biodiversity, which includes several endemic species of fish. It is also the world’s second biggest mountain lake, and is situated at an elevation of 1,607 m. Issyk-Kul's inflows include approximately 118 rivers and streams, but as an endorheic lake, it has no outflows. Snow-capped peaks surround the lake, making it a popular tourist destination.
6. Lake Urmia
Lake Urmia is the sixth largest lake in Asia. Located in Iran, it is an endorheic salt lake that covers an area of 6,001 km2. Historically, the lake was larger in size, but the damming of rivers that serve as inflows to the lake, as well as the pumping of groundwater, has decreased its volume. The lakes reaches a maximum depth of 16 m, and contains more than 100 islands. Lake Urmia is protected as a national park by the Iranian Department of Environment.
7. Sarygamysh Lake
Sarygamysh Lake is located in Central Asia, near the boundary between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and has an area of 5,000 km2. Historically, the Uzboy River served as the lake's primary inflow, but Sarygamysh Lake is now fed by a canal from the Amu Darya River and surface runoff from nearby agricultural lands. The water of the lake is thus heavily polluted, and contains high amounts of heavy metals, herbicides, and pesticides.
8. Qinghai Lake
Qinghai Lake is Asia’s eighth largest lake, with an area of 4,489 km2. Located in China, it is part of an endorheic basin in China's Qinghai province. The lake is both alkaline and saline, and has a maximum depth of 32.8 m. Qinghai Lake is fed by numerous rivers and streams, while most of its water loss occurs through evaporation. Few fish species survive in its alkaline habitats, such as naked carp and stoneloaches.
9. Lake Khanka
The ninth largest lake in Asia is Lake Khanka, which occupies an area of 4,190 km2. Located on the China-Russia border, the lake is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 10.6 m and an average depth of only 4.5 m. Approximately 24 rivers flow into the lake, while the Songacha River is its primary outflow. Lake Khanka features a great diversity of plant and animal life, and through the Ramsar Convention, has been named a wetland of international importance.