High and Dry

A massive lake in the Bolivian Andes has evaporated.

January 27, 2016

NASA Earth ObservatoryLake Poopo in April 2013 (left) and in January 2016 (right). Images from NASA Earth Observatory.

You can see right down to the bottom of Bolivia’s Lake Poopó right now, and it’s not because the water’s clear—it’s because it’s, well, gone. The country’s second-largest lake (after Lake Titicaca) was officially declared evaporated last month (so it's officially not really a lake anymore, is it?). Many local fisherman have had to move to other towns. Gone, too, are the migratory bird species that rely on the lake as a stopover. Poopó dried up once before, in 1994, and quickly made a comeback. But this time around, scientists say it may really be the end.

Poopó sits high in the Bolivian Andes, where its relatively shallow waters are vulnerable to fluctuations in precipitation. Recurrent drought from climate change and El Niño has taken its toll, and diversion of the lake's water for agriculture and mining has only made matters worse. January, mind you, is what should be the middle of the region's wet season, but so far there’s nothing doing. As glaciologist Dirk Hoffman told the Associated Press, “This is a picture of the future of climate change.”

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