The Human Hothouse Turns Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake into a Withered Wasteland

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 BeforeLake Popoo Dried Up

(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.

Links:

Earth Observatory

TeleSUR English

Lake Poopo

Bolivia’s Second Largest Lake Lost to Climate Change

Bolivia and Peru Sign 500 Million Dollar Deal to Preserve Lake Titicaca

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

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30 Comments

  1. Scott

     /  January 25, 2016

    I spent several days living with a family on the shores of Lake Titicaca eight years ago. The villagers have created a co-op to make sure the entire community benefits from a budding tourism “industry.” Different families do what they can. Some host visitors (which requires the biggest investment – a private room with a toilet and shower), some handle sailing/fishing excursions, some cook a lunch on the shore, some lead nature and history walks, and families with children escort visitors to the local school where you meet their class and describe your home town and home country.

    When we visited, Lake Titicaca had dropped to the degree that the local water intake pipe was no longer below water, and thus part of our daily routine was to assist the family in gathering the day’s water from the lake for cooking, bathing, toilet flushing, etc. Our room had a beautiful bathroom, fully plumbed for running hot and cold water, yet we (and everyone else in town) were carrying water up the hill in buckets because of the decline in lake levels. I fear that things have not improved in the last eight years.

    This is one of the most amazingly beautiful places on earth. The surrounding snow-capped mountains, the beautiful villages, and the amazing skies are unlike anyplace else on earth. Sitting on the shores of the lake, with the Milky Way spreading from horizon to horizon (the lake is over 12,500 feet elevation (3,800m) and there are almost no electric lights) is an absolutely stunning experience. Almost all income is from fishing, subsistence farming, and grazing of llamas and shearing of vicunas (which are captured periodically, sheared, and released).

    Allowing this treasure and these amazing people to be harmed are crimes against humanity.

    Reply
    • It’s tragic. Seems such an amazing, wondrous place. A place filled with so many of the kindest of people. It’s not just a climate change. It’s a death to beauty, to the natural wonders of our world.

      Reply
    • Ryan in New England

       /  January 25, 2016

      Wow, that sounds amazing…and heartbreaking. And to think that those being affected the most have done very little to nothing to cause what’s happening. It is a crime against humanity, and the rest of the biosphere.

      Reply
      • Scott

         /  January 26, 2016

        So true. These people have done everything right to try to protect their natural resources. No big hotels, no big infrastructure, they truly see tourism as the proverbial golden goose…care for the goose wisely, feed it well, and the eggs will come one at a time to be shared by all. Little did they know that we have slowly poisoned their goose and it’s probably all over but the dying. So tragic and so unfair.

        Reply
      • Griffin

         /  January 26, 2016

        Thank you for this post Robert. You simply do amazing work. Scott, thank you for sharing your story as well. Although I am profoundly saddened to think of what is being lost, I lived just a little of the beauty through your words. You are all very right of course. Those poor folks had nothing to do with what we have brought to bear upon them.

        Reply
  2. – Bueno, Robert.

    Post emailed to KBOO News 2:45 PM PST

    Reply
  3. Reply
  4. – “the climate has changed.”
    – ncdc.noaa.gov/news

    Climate Change and Extreme Snow in the U.S.

    Years with heavy seasonal snow and extreme snowstorms continue to occur with great frequency as the climate has changed. The frequency of extreme snowstorms in the eastern two-thirds of the contiguous United States has increased over the past century. Approximately twice as many extreme U.S. snowstorms occurred in the latter half of the 20th century than the first.

    Conditions that influence the severity of eastern U.S. snowstorms include warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures in the Atlantic…

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/news/climate-change-and-extreme-snow-us

    Reply
  5. Reply
    • Jacob

       /  January 25, 2016

      Wow, some of the denialist responses to that tweet. SMH.

      “The Science couldn’t be clearer – we owe it to our kids to do everything we can to combat climate change.”

      Which in my eyes, at a minimum, means a national mandate to end reliance on fossil fuels and enact mass utilization of alternatives as swiftly as possible. Furthermore, it means acknowledging, shaming, and preferably prosecuting the power brokers who would keep and have kept us reliant on such energy sources. Just for starters.

      Reply
  6. Ryan in New England

     /  January 25, 2016

    Such a tragic situation. And as always, it is the least responsible and most vulnerable who are suffering the most. You know, there are a lot of ecosystems disappearing and collapsing around the world. Before we know it, there won’t be any left. Our hubris and indifference will be our undoing.

    Reply
  7. Ryan in New England

     /  January 25, 2016

    Here’s a good piece by Joe Romm on how warming oceans and AMOC slowdown is supercharging storms like Sandy and Jonas in the Northeast U.S. (I would also add storms Nemo and Irene to that list)

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/01/25/3742321/climate-change-jonas-sandy/

    Reply
  8. Is Climate Change Supercharging Storms Like Jonas And Sandy More Than We Thought?

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/01/25/3742321/climate-change-jonas-sandy/

    Reply
  9. Ryan in New England

     /  January 26, 2016

    Here’s a good article by Bill McKibben about Zika virus. He beats the horse I already beat to death with my comments here about the idea of not being able to get pregnant.😉 A real life dystopia.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/25/zika-virus-brazil-dystopian-climate-future

    Reply
    • Griffin

       /  January 26, 2016

      It’s pretty cool to realize that you may have spawned an idea in the mind of one of out heroes!! Your comment was spot on Ryan. I sat back and thought for a long time after that one. You were absolutely right about the ripple effect.

      Reply
      • Ryan in New England

         /  January 26, 2016

        Oh wow, that thought never occurred to me Griffin! Bill McKibben is very knowledgeable about all aspects of climate change, and seems to be able to come up with wonderful ideas and insightful thoughts on his own. But man wouldn’t that be cool if he was visiting our gang here and our comments planted a seed in his mind that bloomed into that article? Just the fact that he seems to have put into words the same idea that popped into my mind is humbling. The Zika virus seems to have really exploded in the past year, and the thousands of cases of microcephaly makes clear the very real, and devastating consequences of the spread of this disease, and the mosquitoes that carry it. If women can’t get pregnant, well that’s just about the most profound change you could make to society.

        Have you ever seen “Children of Men”? It’s a movie set in Britain in a future dystopia where women the world over can no longer have children. It’s unknown why, but the entire global civilization has collapsed into chaos, leaving nobody untouched. Obviously we’re not there yet, but already women south of us are being told to avoid getting pregnant for the next two years. That’s pretty damn serious.

        Reply
  10. Ocean Warming is Making Floods Worse, Study Finds

    Trenberth said new findings of ocean warming, and warming-induced expansion, which is known as steric expansion, challenge figures that have been accepted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that assesses climate science.

    “Our new estimates of the steric rise in sea levels are considerably greater than those often accepted,” Trenberth said. “I think a lot of the estimates that are in the literature are very conservative. They’re low in terms of changes in ocean heat content.”

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/rapid-ocean-warming-making-floods-worse-19955

    Reply
  11. Ryan in New England

     /  January 26, 2016

    This is a good article by The Guardian putting current warming into perspective. Things are really starting to ramp up.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2016/jan/25/record-hot-2015-gave-us-a-glimpse-at-the-future-of-global-warming

    Reply
    • Mark from OZ

       /  January 27, 2016

      Good read Ryan!
      Thanks!
      For those that cannot fathom our planet is warming and prefer to accept the position of the multitudes of ‘deniers’, I find it helpful to reference a very close and similarly sized planet that may reveal where we could be headed.
      The atmosphere of Venus is ~96% Co2 (technically, not a gas but a supercritical fluid) and temps at surface are ~467 C (872F) and the atmospheric ‘pressure’ is analogous to about a kilometre below sea level on Earth.
      It’s also the hottest planet surface of the solar system ( beats much closer to the Sun Mercury handily) and many believe it too held water before a runaway greenhouse event ‘got away’. To me, it stands as a testament of what may occur and that there is no reason to suggest our planet cannot become a ‘Venus’ too.

      Reply
  12. Steven Blaisdell

     /  January 26, 2016

    Thanks to all for the links.

    Reply
  13. Reblogged this on "OUR WORLD".

    Reply

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