Lake Maracaibo

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Lake Maracaibo
Maracaibo MODIS 2004jun26.jpg
Lake Maracaibo, seen from space. The green swirls in the lake are patches of duckweed, which is infesting the lake. North is at the top of the image.
Lake Maracaibo map.png
Map
Coordinates09°48′57″N 71°33′24″W / 9.81583°N 71.55667°W / 9.81583; -71.55667Coordinates: 09°48′57″N 71°33′24″W / 9.81583°N 71.55667°W / 9.81583; -71.55667
TypeCoastal saltwater, bay
Primary inflowsCatatumbo River
Primary outflowsGulf of Venezuela
Basin countriesVenezuela
Max. length99 miles (159 km)
Max. width67 miles (108 km)
Surface area13,210 km2 (5,100 sq mi)
Max. depth60 m (200 ft)
Water volume280 km3 (230,000,000 acre⋅ft)
Surface elevation0 m (0 ft)
Islands467
SettlementsMaracaibo, Cabimas, Ciudad Ojeda
Catacumbo lightning occurs where Catacumbo River empties into Lake Maracaibo

Lake Maracaibo (Spanish: Lago de Maracaibo) is a large brackish tidal bay (or tidal estuary) in Venezuela and an "inlet of the Caribbean Sea".[1][2][3][4] It is often called a lake rather than a bay or lagoon.[5] In the north, a channel 55 km long connects it to the Carribean Sea.

The lake is named after the city Maracaibo, which lies on the east side of this channel. In Maracaibo, this channel is about 8.5 km wide. General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge spans this channel. It is is one of the longest bridges in the world.[6]

The lake has a size of about 160 kilometres (99 mi) by 110 kilometres (68 mi). 135 rivers flow into the lake. The biggest of them is Catatumbo River, which is 500 km long. Others include Escalante River and Chama River.

In the northern part of the lake, there is brackish water. The southern part of the lake is freshwater. There are many islands in the lake.

Economic importance[change | change source]

In most parts of the lake, the water is very shallow. For this reason, a canal has been built, so that oceangoing ships are able to access the ports of Maracaibo and Cabimas.

In 1914, crude oil was found in the lake, near Cabimas. The surrounding Maracaibo Basin contains large reserves of it; the lake is a major profit center for Venezuela.[7][8] Almost a quarter of Venezuela's population live in the basin around the lake.[9]

Thunderstorms[change | change source]

Lake Maracaibo is not very deep, on average, it only has a depth of 5 metres (16 ft). Its biggest depth is 45 metres (148 ft). Its water is very warm, usually 30 °C (86 °F). During the day, a lot of water evaporates from the lake. At night, the air around the lake cools down faster than the air over the lake. This leads ot the formation of clouds. Because of the difference in temperature, thunderstorms are frequent. Large flocks of cattle graze in the area around the lake. Very often, they are hit by lightning. Lightning may also hit one of the many oil extraction facilities in the lake, which often catch fire.

This weather phenomenon is known as Catatumbo lightning. It regularly occurs at Lake Maracaibo and produces more lightning than any other place on the planet.[10]

Environmental problems[change | change source]

False color image to show the pollution of the lake: The dark patches in the bluish area are oil spills
Much of the lakeshore is contaminated with waste

The environment of the lake has several problems: Part of the lake is infested with the duckweed Lemna. Duckweed are plants that float freely on the water. The problem with Lemna is that it spreads very fast: It can double in size in 48 hours. The plants can only be removed physically. Even though there are big efforts under way to remove the plants, at the moment, the infestation is only kept from spreading. In mid 2004, about 18% of the lake was covered with it. Duckweed is not toxic to fish, but some scientists are concerned that it could suck oxygen out of the lake as it decays, killing large numbers of fish. Though officials say the weed hasn't harmed fish yet, it is harming the local fishing industry. The plant clogs the motors of small boats, making it impossible for fishers to launch their vessels. Duckweed also threatens the local ecosystem because it shades large portions of the lake: Other plants in the lake may not get enough light, and die off. In certain conditions, the weed may concentrate heavy metals and bacteria such as Salmonella and Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera. Even though it causes many problems, the weed may also have some use: Duckweed can be treated to feed poultry, or to make paper.

Other problems of the lake include that much untreated sewage is released into it, and that the different oil drilling operations result in frequent pollution with crude oil.

References[change | change source]

  1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (16 June 2016). "Lake Maracaibo". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  2. Merriam-Webster (2016). Webster's New Geographical Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. p. 727. ISBN 0-87779-446-4.
  3. Times Books (2014). Comprehensive Atlas of the World. HarperCollins. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-00-755140-8.
  4. Question Unlimited (2003). "Who Wants to Be a Judge at the National Academic Championship?". National Academic Championship. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  5. John C. Murphy. "Marine Invasions by Non-Sea Snakes, with Thoughts on Terrestrial–Aquatic–Marine Transitions". Integr. Comp. Biol. (Oxford Journals Volume 52, Issue 2 Pp. 217-226.) (52 (2)): 217–226.. doi:10.1093/icb/ics060. http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/52/2/217.full. Retrieved May 10, 2012. "...from Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. The mostly freshwater lake is a remnant of the Orinoco changing course, and has a direct flow of water from the Caribbean through the Strait of Maracaibo and Tablazo Bay.". 
  6. Baverstock, Alasdair (11 March 2015). "Venezuela's nightly lightning show". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  7. Maracaibo, Lake Archived 2006-12-21 at the Wayback Machine.. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
  8. Boschetti, Tiziano; Angulo, Beatriz; Cabrera, Frank; Vásquez, Jhaisson; Montero, Ramón Luis (2016). "Hydrogeochemical characterization of oilfield waters from southeast Maracaibo Basin (Venezuela): Diagenetic effects on chemical and isotopic composition". Marine and Petroleum Geology 73: 228-248. doi:10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2016.02.020. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264817216300435. 
  9. http://www.worldlakes.org/lakedetails.asp?lakeid=9069
  10. Albrecht, R. I.; Goodman, S. J.; Buechler, D. E.; Blakeslee, R. J.; Christian, H. J. (2016). "Where are the lightning hotspots on Earth?". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00193.1.