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The rapid decline of Lake Poopó, Bolivia

08 February 2016

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The Bolivian Government has recently placed Oruro Department under a state of natural disaster following the rapid decline of Lake Poopó. The second largest water body in Bolivia after Lake Titicaca, Poopó is a saline lake sitting at an altitude of 3,700 m, high on the Andean altipano.

Occupying 2,000 square kilometers in the 1990s, the lake has been an important resource, with nearly 50,000 inhabitants relying on it for their livelihoods. Yet the lake has been deteriorating over the past decade, with 2015 a critical year. In December, the local government's office estimated that Lake Poopó was down to just 2% of its former water level. However it has since been declared evaporated.

The map shows the extent of Lake Poopó every other month in the last half 2015, from June to December. The surface area was extracted by DMCii from Landsat imagery, and the rate of decline over this short, 6-month period is staggering.

The shallow waters of Lake Poopó are vulnerable to fluctuations in precipitation, meaning it has been negatively impacted by recurrent droughts. The warming of the climate by approximately 1 degree Celsius has also contributed to increased evaporation – it is estimated that the water is now evaporating three times as fast between rains. Having suffered from these climatic changes, the lake was extremely vulnerable to the impacts of the El Niño event which arose in 2015. This phenomenon, which some consider to be the worst in a century, has accelerated Poopó's decline.

Source: DMC International Imaging (DMCii)

Image credit: NASA Landsat - The rapid decline of Lake Poopó, Bolivia

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