Lake Poopo in Bolivia has dried up. And Climate Change has been named as the top cause of the disaster.
After decades of drought and depressed rainfall related to a human-forced warming of the globe, the once-massive lake is now gone. Once measuring 90 by 32 kilometers and covering an area of over 1,000 square kilometers this second largest lake in all of Bolivia has turned into a dried out disaster zone. Cracked, baked earth, overturned and abandoned boats, and the desiccated remains of lake life are all that are left as sign to the fact that a giant lake once existed. The flamingos, fish and other wildlife that relied on the lake are now dead or long gone. Yet more lonely casualties of a climate changed radically by an incessant burning of fossil fuels.
(Human-forced climate change is implicated in Bolivia’s loss of Lake Poopo. Video source: TeleSUR English.)
Rainy Season Undone
About a decade ago, the rainy season in this region of the Altiplano Mountains began to dry up. Rainfall became less regular and the great Lake Poopo — important to locals for its supply of fish and wildlife — began to fade away. By 2015, record global temperatures and El Nino conditions had again pushed the rainy season back. By January of 2016, one month into the typical rainy season, no rains had yet fallen and the great lake had dried up completely.
According to NASA, ongoing drying impacts related to warming have been impeding the flow of water into Lake Poopo for decades. The first time the lake dried out was back in 1994. The lake subsequently took more than three years to re-fill. But it has never fully recovered.
Rates of Evaporation Increase by a Factor of 3
Rising global temperatures are increasing the rates of evaporation and precipitation worldwide. But Lake Poopo sits in an evaporation and water loss hot spot. Scientists researching this drying event indicate that impacts to the hydrological cycle as a result of a human-forced warming of the globe have increased rates of evaporation for the Lake Poopo area by 3 times that of the 20th Century average. And this greatly intensified baking of the lands there has resulted in a profound loss of reliable water supply for the lake.
(Lake Poopo before and after. A merciless and ongoing decadal drought has caused lake Poopo to turn into a dried up desert. Image source: Earth Observatory.)
Long-term Outlook Looks Pretty Amazingly Bad
Since Bolivia occupies a region very vulnerable to the human-forced warming of our world, the current drying of Lake Poopo may last longer than the 1994 event or, perhaps, indefinitely. Bolivian officials seem determined to restore water to the lake — estimating that such a project would require the diversion of other sources along with a 150 million dollar investment.
But the situation is now far more challenging than during the time following the initial drying event of 1994. Global temperatures are in the range of 0.5 C hotter. Meanwhile, trends toward drying are settling in all over this region of South America. Bolivia’s first largest lake — Titicaca — is also under threat, require a half a billion dollars to preserve its own falling water levels. Sao Paulo, to the east, is still undergoing its own severe water crisis. And to the north, the loss of moisture due to a deforestation and warming of the Amazon Rainforest is further exacerbating extreme drying events throughout South America.
Given this changing local and global environment, any lake restoration efforts will meet with extremely severe challenges. Over the next two decades, global temperatures may spike above 1.5 C above 1880s averages and the Amazon may be well on its way to collapse. It’s difficult to imagine that many lakes and rivers would survive such brutal conditions, much less the very vulnerable Lake Poopo.
Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego