10 geological facts about Lake Balaton

10 geological facts about Lake Balaton

Freedom, good weather, relaxation, holidays, beautiful nature – they could be synonymous with Lake Balaton. But the Hungarian sea is even more than that: there is almost no corner of it that doesn’t hide a million secrets. But few people know, for example, why the lake’s water is “colour-changing” and why the waves are so steep. Here are 10 fascinating geological facts about Lake Balaton from geographer Róbert Bárány.

Riviere is the term originally used for the coast of north-western Italian Liguria. This is the original Riviera. It means coastline. From here it spread worldwide. Otherwise it is used for the narrow stretches of coastline separated by high mountains in the strict original sense. You can guess why it’s the Hungarian Riviéra – because with some good reason, it’s the closest to the original. The general information everywhere is that the waters of Lake Balaton change every 2.2 years or so, so roughly every two years. We can say that the water changes quickly, so the water quality is excellent in the largest lake in Central Europe. It is one of the cleanest water bodies in Europe.

Lake Balaton is deepest at the Tihany peninsula, at the so-called Tihany well. In fact, the Tihany peninsula divides Lake Balaton into an eastern and a western basin. The constriction causes the currents to speed up considerably and deepen the basin. Therefore, there is no silt deposition at Tihany alone in Lake Balaton, the currents sweep the silt out and deposit it around Siófok.

In the past, the shape of Lake Balaton was not so concrete. In the end, we can say that the shape of Lake Balaton was created by engineers who had no idea of the local conditions and the specific hydrographic features. They just wanted to build the Buda-Kanizsa railway line. And then, in a drier year, when they were surveying, the water level was at a record low. They were told by the locals that this was not the way it was supposed to look, but they knew better. They took the water level as a constant and built the line. Of course, soon after the line was opened, there was a good spell of rainfall and the whole railway was threatened by waves and ice. As it would have been difficult and expensive to move the railway, the lake was drained by almost a metre. To do this, they used the Sió canal, which had existed in Roman times but was blocked at the time. Then, to accommodate this new water level, the walls, embankments and beaches that characterise the southern coastline were built.

Lake Balaton is not entirely fresh water in the sense that it has a high mineral salt content, so its freezing point is slightly below 0 degrees Celsius.

Surprisingly large waves can form on Lake Balaton. Basically, the lake is so shallow, and it is this shallowness that can make the waves so steep. The wind blowing from the north-west through the special topography of the Balaton-felvidék creates a kind of pulsation, which can cause waves to form very suddenly out of nowhere. The highest waves measured so far were almost 2 metres.

As well as being important habitats, the reedbeds of Lake Balaton clean the water and indeed the air. They play a very important role in the ecosystem. It is very foolish to destroy reed beds for one reason or another, on the contrary: we must do everything possible to preserve them! It would be good if people could remember that the air would be cleaner if they looked at the reeds. And the water, of course. And – let’s say – fewer mosquitoes, because they are inhabited by species that are the most effective natural mosquito killers.

On the Tihany peninsula, we must mention the two huge calderas that now contain the two lakes that are no longer draining, the Inner Lake and the Outer Lake. The calderas are volcanic formations created by the eruption of a volcano and its collapse. Vesuvius, near Naples, sits in one of these huge calderas. In short, the area around Tihany – and the entire Lake Balaton region – is a paradise for volcano lovers.

The Inner Lake area is also home to one of the largest populations of wolves in Europe. And wolverines are among the most popular prey species for saker falcons, so these magnificent birds of prey can also be spotted here.

Lake Balaton is sometimes sea blue, sometimes greenish blue, sometimes brown, yellowish brown, or even grey or concrete green. Its colour depends on the time of day, the season, the weather, and so on. But basically, the colour of water is determined by the amount of inorganic suspended matter in the water column. If there are a lot of these floating particles in the water, then light rays with shorter wavelengths and higher energy – such as blue and violet – will be absorbed and the green colour will dominate. Or, if the waves whip up the water, it can be a greyer colour. In the western basin, where the Zala river brings in a load of material, the water is often brownish.

The goat’s head found in Tihany is actually the remains of mussels. In the past, the waters of the Pannonian Sea used to ripple where Lake Balaton used to be, but later became increasingly sweet and turned into an inland lake. Its fauna was characterised by a small number of species, but they lived in huge numbers. One of these was the species of mussel now known as the goat mussel, the remains of which can be found not only in Tihany but also on the southern shore of Lake Balaton.

 

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