Most people know that water is a precious resource. Between climate change and the needs of the world's ever-growing population, water is vanishing more and more rapidly. Many bodies of water around the world aren't what they once were. You may even be aware of water shortages in your area. And while some water sources are gradually diminishing, other cases are much more dramatic. The following are five lakes that are tragically disappearing before our eyes.
The Dead Sea — Israel and Jordan
The Dead Sea is a remarkable place for many reasons. Tourists flock to the area because you can swim in the sea and float due to the salinity of the water. The salt and mineral-rich mud are known for their health benefits, another big draw. The Dead Sea is also the lowest place on Earth at 430.5 meters (or 1,412 feet) below sea level!
Unfortunately, the water level is decreasing by about a meter per year. The water loss is primarily due to the fact that one of its main water sources, the Jordan River, was dammed in the 1960s. As the population grows, water from this river goes to maintaining crops and supporting the human community in the region. And because of the tense political climate, the potential solution of creating a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea has been hard to implement. There's still a lot of water left in the Dead Sea, but if you want to see this anomaly of nature and float in the water yourself, you might be smart to go sooner rather than later.
Lake Poopó — Bolivia
Lake Poopó is a tragic example of what can happen when humans divert too much water from a lake. This lake was once the second-largest lake in Bolivia, but now it's all but completely dried up. Some stark aerial photos from NASA show the lake is virtually gone. This is a huge loss considering the lake saw highs of up to 3,000 square kilometers (1,200 square miles). Since the lake was always shallow, the locals are used to fluctuations in the size of the lake.
The current disappearance is not good news for the local communities that rely on the lake for fish. However, those who have been in the area for a long time have seen this before. The lake dried up entirely in 1994 because of drought and evaporation, and eventually replenished itself. So there is hope that the lake will fill back up, and the ecosystem will eventually rebuild. The rainy season in Bolivia is from December to March, so if the drought doesn't drag on, the lake could potentially fill back up.
The Aral Sea — Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan
This sea that lies on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan used to be the fourth-largest lake in the world, with only Lakes Superior, Victoria, and the Caspian Sea being larger. But when the water was diverted in the 1970s, the lake slowly began to dry up, and now only 10% of the water remains. The disappearance of the water is especially distressing for communities that used to live off of the fishing industry. The BBC describes the demise of this sea as "one of the most dramatic alterations of the Earth's surface for centuries."
A visual reminder of the death of this lake, perhaps for people who weren't alive before the 1970s when the lake was full, are the stranded ships that accidentally ran ashore as the water levels dropped. The mud dried, and the landscape became a desert, with the boats as relics of what once was. People who used to farm and fish in the region have had to look for other means of income, and many have struggled to do so.
Poyang Lake — China
Poyang Lake was once China's largest freshwater lake. The size has always been hard to define due to the fluctuations throughout the seasons. Now, however, Poyang Lake is nearly gone due to drought and the diversion of the Yangtze River. Unlike some of the other disappearing lakes, the former lake is now an eerie grassland instead of a desert. However, if the drought continues, the land could quickly turn to sand and dirt like we've seen in the Aral Sea.
Some aerial photos reveal bizarre paths in the grass from people cutting through the lake bed. The disappearance of the lake certainly affects the logistics of the surrounding cities and towns. For example, the city of Nanchang used to sit right on the water's edge. Now the shoreline is over 15 miles away. And all this change has happened in just the last century. Animal activists are especially concerned about the impending extinction of a finless porpoise that mainly lives in Poyang Lake.
Lake Chad — Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon
Lake Chad in Africa is another story of a once-enormous lake shrinking because of irrigation, climate change, and a steadily-growing population. This African lake has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s and is the water source for 20 to 30 million people. Is there any hope for restoring its waters?
Some propose routing water from the Congo River. The main problem with that is that the river is over 2,400 kilometers away (1,500 miles), and the governments of the four countries who share the lake (Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon) are having a hard time coming to a consensus. Proponents of the plan suggest that if they can refill the lake, it would ease the crisis of nearly 11 million people in the region who need humanitarian aid to survive.