Lake Khanka: The Emerald of Northern China

Lake Khanka is the largest freshwater lake in the Far East of Russia, with 72% of it located in Russia, while the remaining 28% belongs to China. It is also the largest lake in Northeast Asia, and on the Chinese side it is known as “Lake Xingkai”.

Lake Khanka Stats

Lake NameLake Khanka
Surface area4118.840
Maximum depth11.0
Average depth4.4
Lake typeNatural freshwater lake
Catchment area17049.40
OutflowsSongacha River
Shore length372.31
Mixing typeDimictic
Residence time2318.7
FrozenDecember to April
Trophic stateEutrophic
Average discharge90.349

Lake Khanka Accommodation

Geography and Hydrology

Lake Khanka lies on the border of Primorsky Krai (Russia) and the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, with a water surface area that ranges between 4000 and 4000 km2. The lake has a total drainage basin ok 16,890 km2, of which approximately 97% belongs to Russia. It has an average depth of 4.5 meters, and an average volume of 18.3 km2. At the closest point it lays merely 79 kms east of the city of Jixi. At the southern end, at the Khanka Lowland, there is a rich black-earth area with some of the best soils in Eastern Siberia.

The lake is fed by 23 rivers in total, of which 8 are in China and the rest come from Russia. Its only outflow is the Songacha River, which flows east into the Ussuri River. The Ussuri then forms the international boundary, and heads north to join the Amur River near Kharbarovsk. Lake Khanka belongs to the Ussuri River System, which is part of the Amur River System.

The lake has a residence time of 9.9 years. The lake bottom is sandy, just like its many beaches. Fishing is a popular activity at Lake Khanka.


The general climate around Lake Khanka is monsoon, with large variations among both seasonal and daily temperatures. The maximum monthly mean temperature during summer is 21.2OC (in July), while the minimum mean temperature is -19.2OC during the winter months. A small amount of now falls in winter, while springs are usually dry and cool. During the summer the temperature is generally warm, and rain usually falls. The annual precipitation is between 650-750 mms per year. The lake freezes from November, and winds prevail from the south and southwest all year round.

Flora and Fauna

The lake area has abundant vegetation, consisting of various species of sedge and reed. The surroundings are mainly made up of open lowlands and grassy meadows, as well as swamps and other smaller lakes. Meadows make up 1/5th of the Khankaisky Zapovednik, whilst 60% of it consists of swamps and wetlands. 322 species of aquatic plants and more than 620 vascular plants have been identified in the Lake Khanka area.

The lake is home to many fish and aquatic invertebrate species, including many endemic species. There are more than 75 species of fish, including the Amur catfish, pike, common carp and grass carp. The area is known for housing the largest population of extremely rare Chinese soft-shelled turtles in the Russian Far East. Other amphibians include the bell toad and the Asiatic grass frog. 43 species of mammals can be found in the Khankaisky Zapovednik reserve, such as Amur wildcats, red wolves, Amur tigers, Siberian roe deer, Sika deer and wild boar.

The Lake Khanka area is known as the home of one of the highest levels of bird diversity in all of the temperate zone of Eurasia. 327 species of nesting, wintering and migratory birds have been seen in the lake area. The cattle egret, Eurasian spoonbill, and the Japanese crested ibis are between the rare endangered birds, whilst the redshank, sandpiper, black-tailed godwit and the Eastern curlew are among the common shorebirds. About 300-350 000 ducks, 100-130 000 geese, 3-5000 swans and 20-25 families of a rare species of Japanese crains can be seen in the area. Daurskia crains also live in the Lake Khanka region, as well as 15 families of far eastern white storks.

Environmental Concerns and Protection

The lake’s waters are moderately polluted, since the metal ion content is pretty high. Because the Prikhankaj Skaja Plain has seen an increase in rice growing areas, it not only meant a powerful spur to the local economy, but the large amount of fertilizers also polluted the Lake Khanka area. Because of this the water quality has deteriorated, and received a large amount of copper, zinc, phenols, mineral oils and pesticides.

The Russian Federation designated Lake Khanka as a Ramsar Convention Wetland Site. It was also included in the list of “World Biosphere Reserves” by UNESCO in 2005.


The lake was called Beiquin Sea in the Jin Dynasty (between 265 and 420) and Meituo Lake in the Tang Dynasty (between 618 and 907). It was called Lake Khanka during the Qing Dynasty between 1644 and 1911. In the Manchu language the lake’s name means “water flowing down from higher to a lower place”.

Lake Khanka Map