Lake Maracaibo: Gorgeous picture of South America’s largest lake hides a darkish secret

Lake Maracaibo, seen from house

Copernicus Sentinel/ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

This beautiful picture of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela was captured by one of many satellites from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission – however its stunning colors have a grimy origin.

From the north – the place a slim strait connects it to the Gulf of Venezuela – to the south, Lake Maracaibo is the most important pure physique of water in South America, with a floor space of round 13,500 sq. kilometres. It’s also one of many oldest on Earth, forming roughly 36 million years in the past.

Funnelling in saltwater from the Caribbean Sea, the northern a part of the lake seems fairly briny in contrast with the more energizing waters of the south introduced in by rivers. Within the backside left of the picture, which was taken in August however printed in November, the Catatumbo river transports a brownish-yellow path of sediment into the lake alongside recent water.

Two cities flank the lake on each side. To the west of the strait, the beige area is Maracaibo – Venezuela’s second largest metropolis, often known as its oil capital. Barely beneath the strait to the east sits town of Cabimas, one other essential oil-producing space.

It’s contamination from these cities and different areas, within the type of oil leaks and sewage run-off, that provides the lake its vibrant jade-coloured swirls. These are poisonous blooms of blue-green algae, which have flourished within the air pollution, posing a critical danger to the encompassing ecosystem and other people who reside across the lake. Scientists are conserving a detailed eye on air pollution ranges by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, permitting them to evaluate the risk to well being and the atmosphere.


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