The vast lowland plains that dominate the Russian landscape carry some of the world’s longest rivers. Five main drainage basins may be distinguished: the Arctic, Pacific, Baltic, Black Sea, and Caspian. Of these basins the most extensive by far is the Arctic, which lies mostly in Siberia but also includes the northern part of the Russian Plain. The greater part of this basin is drained by three gigantic rivers: the Ob (2,268 miles [3,650 km], which with its main tributary, the Irtysh, extends for a continuous 3,362 miles [5,410 km]), the Yenisey (2,540 miles [4,090 km]), and the Lena (2,734 miles [4,400 km]). Their catchments cover a total area in excess of 3 million square miles (8 million square km) in Siberia north of the Stanovoy Range, and their combined discharge into the Arctic averages 1,750,000 cubic feet (50,000 cubic metres) per second. Smaller, but still impressive, rivers make up the remainder of the Arctic drainage: in the European section these include the Northern Dvina (with its tributaries the Vychegda and Sukhona) and the Pechora, and in Siberia the Indigirka and Kolyma.
The Siberian rivers provide transport arteries from the interior to the Arctic sea route, although these are blocked by ice for long periods every year. They have extremely gentle gradients—the Ob, for example, falls only 650 feet (200 metres) in more than 1,250 miles (2,010 km)—causing them to meander slowly across immense floodplains. Owing to their northward flow, the upper reaches thaw before the lower parts, and floods occur over vast areas, which lead to the development of huge swamps. The Vasyuganye Swamp at the Ob-Irtysh confluence covers some 19,000 square miles (49,000 square km).
The rest of Siberia, some 1.8 million square miles (4.7 million square km), is drained into the Pacific. In the north, where the watershed is close to the coast, numerous small rivers descend abruptly from the mountains, but the bulk of southeastern Siberia is drained by the large Amur system.
Over much of its 1,755-mile (2,824-km) length, the Amur forms the boundary that divides Russia and China. The Ussuri, one of the Amur’s tributaries, forms another considerable length of the border. Three drainage basins cover European Russia south of the Arctic basin. The Dnieper, of which only the upper reaches are in Russia, and the 1,162-mile- (1,870-km-) long Don flow south to the Black Sea, and a small northwestern section drains to the Baltic. The longest European river is the Volga. Rising in the Valdai Hills northwest of Moscow, it follows a course of 2,193 miles (3,530 km) to the Caspian Sea. Outranked only by the Siberian rivers, the Volga drains an area of 533,000 square miles (1,380,000 square km). Separated only by short overland portages and supplemented by several canals, the rivers of the Russian Plain have long been important transport arteries; indeed, the Volga system carries two-thirds of all Russian waterway traffic.
Russia contains some two million fresh- and saltwater lakes. In the European section the largest lakes are Ladoga and Onega in the northwest, with surface areas of 6,830 (inclusive of islands) and 3,753 square miles (17,690 and 9,720 square km), respectively; Peipus, with an area of 1,370 square miles (3,550 square km), on the Estonian border; and the Rybinsk Reservoir on the Volga north of Moscow. Narrow lakes 100 to 200 miles (160 to 320 km) long are located behind barrages (dams) on the Don, Volga, and Kama. In Siberia similar man-made lakes are located on the upper Yenisey and its tributary the Angara, where the 340-mile- (550-km-) long Bratsk Reservoir is among the world’s largest. All of these are dwarfed by Lake Baikal, the largest body of fresh water in the world.
Some 395 miles (636 km) long and with an average width of 30 miles (50 km), Baikal has a surface area of 12,200 square miles (31,500 square km) and a maximum depth of 5,315 feet (1,620 metres). (See Researcher’s Note: Maximum depth of Lake Baikal.) There are innumerable smaller lakes found mainly in the ill-drained low-lying parts of the Russian and West Siberian plains, especially in their more northerly parts. Some of these reach considerable size, notably Beloye (White) Lake and Lakes Top, Vyg, and Ilmen, each occupying more than 400 square miles (1,000 square km) in the European northwest, and Lake Chany (770 square miles [1,990 square km]) in southwestern Siberia. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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