Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake has Disappeared

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Lake Poopó is Bolivia’s second largest lake; rather, it was until it dried up. Droughts and human activity have accounted for the lost lake which has essentially dried up completely this year. The slow descent of the lake’s shorelines in the past years caused concern among locals who relied on the fish from the lake. Unfortunately this concern didn’t seem to be enough to keep the lake from being used up.

Lake Poopó met the fate of hundreds of other water sources around the world. Inconsistent rainfall coupled with consumption by humans and industry has affected rivers, lakes, and even the world’s oceans. The world seems to be hitting a tipping point- will we do what we need to do to save our freshwater resources, or is it already too late?

The Bolivian lake’s resources were affected by man and by nature. Consistent drought has plagued parts of Bolivia, prompting the use of extra water in Lake Poopó. The lake’s waters were also used in the country’s mining and agriculture industries which both consumed a significant amount of water each year.

The image on the left, acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, shows the lake in April 2013 when it still held water. OLI acquired the image on the right in January 2016, by which time the lake had dried up.
The image on the left, acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8, shows the lake in April 2013 when it still held water. OLI acquired the image on the right in January 2016, by which time the lake had dried up.

Two images, one taken in 2013 and the other in 2016 show the water’s former levels and how the lake looks in the present day. The lake still had water in April 2013, when the first image was taken, but had completely dried up by January 2016. Lake Poopó once spanned an area of approximately 1,200 square miles but has an average depth of about nine feet. This means the salty lake is incredibly vulnerable to climate changes including heat or a lack of rainfall.

Hope isn’t lost for Bolivia’s second largest lake- the lake dried up in 1994 but recovered a few years later. In that time, though, the ecosystem was in some way irreversibly changed. Tracking the changes of Lake Poopó and others that are under threat of evaporation could help us understand how to better protect these valuable resources.

More: Bolivia’s Lake Poopó Disappears, NASA Earth Observatory

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