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Some of the World’s Biggest Lakes Are Drying Up. Here’s Why.


lakes are drying up
LAKE POOPÓ – The dry, salt-crusted Bolivian lake bed unfurls into the distance. Boats are stranded; the fish and waterfowl are gone. Fishermen who depended on the lake are moving else – where. It’s a diaspora born of drought.

By Kenneth R. Weiss | National Geographic

Photographs by Mauricio Lima, Newsha Tavakolian, Carolyn Drake, and Michael Christopher Brown

Tire tracks stretched across the flat lake bed to the horizon. We followed them in a Suzuki 4×4, looking for clues about what’s happened to Poopó, once Bolivia’s second largest lake, which has vanished into the thin air of the Andean highlands.

We were driving on the lake bottom, yet we were more than 12,000 feet above sea level. The spring air was lip-chapping dry. Many of the fishing villages that have relied on Lake Poopó for thousands of years have emptied too, and we drove past clusters of abandoned adobe homes. Dust devils danced around them, spinning in warm winds. In the distance we spotted several small aluminum boats that seemed to be floating on water. As we drove closer, the mirage receded, and we found the boats sitting abandoned in the silt. I stepped out of the vehicle. My shoes cracked the salty crust that had formed jagged lumps, like ice cream in a freezer that has melted and recrystallized.

My guide, Ramiro Pillco Zolá, crunched across the salt pan to reach one of the dilapidated, half-buried boats. Boyhood memories of paddling across the lake flooded back to him from long before he left his village of San Pedro de Condo to study hydrology and eventually earn a Ph.D. in hydrology and climate change at Lund University in Sweden. “We’re not talking about a small thing,” Pillco Zolá told me. “Three decades ago this lake covered 3,000 square kilometers. It’s going to be hard to recover.”

Water that once spread across an expanse about the size of Rhode Island was gone. A pair of black rubber boots lay discarded near the boat. A fish skull bleached brilliant white flashed under the blinding sun. The wind suddenly stopped, cloaking the post-apocalyptic scene in silence. If water is life, this was the absence of both.

Round the globe, climate change is warming many lakes faster than it’s warming the oceans and the air. This heat accelerates evaporation, conspiring with human mismanagement to intensify water shortages, pollution, and loss of habitat for birds and fish. But while “the fingerprints of climate change are everywhere, they don’t look the same in every lake,” says Catherine O’Reilly, an aquatic ecologist at Illinois State University and co-leader of a worldwide lake survey by 64 scientists.

In eastern China’s Lake Tai, for example, farm runoff and sewage stimulate cyanobacterial blooms, and warm water encourages growth. The organisms threaten drinking-water supplies for two million people. East Africa’s Lake Tanganyika has warmed so much that fish catches that feed millions of poor people in four surrounding countries are at risk. The water behind Venezuela’s massive Guri hydroelectric dam has reached such critically low levels in recent years that the government has had to cancel classes for schoolchildren in an effort to ration electricity. Even the Panama Canal, with its locks recently widened and deepened to accommodate supersize cargo vessels, is troubled by El Niño–related rainfall shortages affecting man-made Gatun Lake, which supplies not only water to run the locks but also fresh drinking water for much of the country. Low water levels have also forced limits on the draft of ships so the ships don’t run aground in the lake.

Of all the challenges lakes face in a warming world, the starkest examples are in closed drainage basins where waters flow into lakes but don’t exit into rivers or a sea. These terminal, or endorheic, lakes tend to be shallow, salty, and hypersensitive to disturbance. The vanishing act of the Aral Sea in Central Asia is a disastrous example of what can happen to such inland waters. In its case the main culprits were ambitious Soviet irrigation projects that diverted its nourishing rivers.

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One Comment

  1. , I believe, as manywhoved looked into and studied this, the climate change is real, but its mostly caused by , chemtrails, harp, nasa, weather modification, airforce, ect., cell towers, gwen towers, look into it its for real, its worldwide and has been going on for decades, , just like in Vietnam, agent orange, operation popeye, others, , the weather is not normal anymore, anywhere, , the wildlife are acting weird, if not mass kill offs, , satanic nwo, satan destroying gods creation, , , plus chemtrails and monsatan, Monsanto, killed the honey bees, now Walmart will get the first patten for , robotic bees,google it., also nasas solar shield, which is just acknowledging, the chemtrails, , to block out the sun, of course for our own good, ., the earth is , probably warming and cooling at different times, its all screwed up, the crops , and trees, wildlife, seasons have changed, its going to be bad for agriculture, ect., , all recent , last few years, the storms are all extreme, they keep getting extreme, , there putting all kinds of metals in the atmosphere, and using microwave towers, ect., to heat up atmosphere, just look up and see the planes almost daily, crisscrossing the sky, , and wait, youll see the white plumes from the jets, do not dissaper, like a reg. jet fuel contrail, which is water vapor, but the chemical trails, stay and get wider, till they form, fake clouds and haze, , you could have a clear blue sky , one minute, then the planes start, and after a hour or less, the sky above you is a haze, white or gray, , don’t laugh or poo poo it, till you do your research, our weather is and has been manipulated, for decades, while most people are too busy looking down on there cell phones, and the younger ones weren’t born, when real cloud formations , long ago, what real clouds used to look like.,geoengineering is real, and it s well documented, and so many photos, and evidence, this is whats happening to our planet, their playing god, with these forbidden technologies , god help us all to wake up and survive till he comes back.

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