Satellite imagery is frequently used in global climate studies, to assess how the earth’s surface is changing in response to a changing climate. Changes such as glacial and ice shelf retreat and an increase in severe weather events can all be detected using satellite imagery, though this week it was employed to assess the drying up of Lake Poopó.
Once teeming with fish and wildlife, this lake was Bolivia’s second largest lake located in the south-east region, near Oruro. It is situated at 3,700m altitude and once covered an area of 2000km2. However, it has now been reduced to simply a dusty patch high in the mountains.
Its drying is caused by a persistent series of droughts reinforced by the impacts of El Niño. Miners in the local area have also been diverting the river for their own purposes, reducing the influx of water into the lake. This has resulted in the mass killing of millions of fish and thousands of birds which habituated this wetland environment. Additionally, this has had a vast impact on the local communities which were economically and domestically dependent on this environment for income and food, respectively.
However, this has happened once before! In 1997, the lake completely dried up but substantial rains during the wet season managed to revert these impacts. This surely gives some confidence to the Lake’s revival. Sadly not. It is believed that climate change and its impacts on glacial melt and more severe droughts will ensure that the lake will probably not rejuvenate, limiting the amount of water which can return to the lake.
Mining in the proximal areas has increased silt content in the nearby rivers which has reduced the amount of flow going into Lake Poopó. The Bolivian government is asking for $140 million to help dredge the tributaries from the nearby Desaguardero River so that water can once again flow into the lake.
The images are another stark reminder of how human activities are affecting the earth’s surface, and this demonstrates how important the impacts can be for humans and the local wildlife.
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Image Credit: IFLScience.