10 Worst Drying Lakes in the World

Updated on April 9, 2018
Kosmo profile image

Environmental issues have always been a major interest of Kelley's, especially as they relate to pollution, clean up, and climate change.

Aral Sea, before and after water diversion
Aral Sea, before and after water diversion

The world is running out of fresh water!

Many of the lakes on this list will dry up within years (a few already have, more or less), but some may take decades to disappear entirely. The reasons vary, but most will expire because of drought, deforestation, overgrazing, pollution, climate change or water diversions - or all of the aforementioned. Will anybody care? People who live near the lakes and depend on them for making money and/or feeding themselves will almost certainly care a great deal. Most likely, scientists the world over will find this issue concerning as well. How about you?

This list is written in no particular order and includes both lakes and seas - that is, large bodies of water (fresh or salty) surrounded by land.

Please keep reading!

Aerial view of Lake Chad
Aerial view of Lake Chad

1. Lake Chad

Dramatic environmental change has hit Africa in recent decades, and the shrinking of Lake Chad is a primary aspect of this pending catastrophe. Once the size of the Caspian Sea, Lake Chad, located in west-central Africa, has lost about 95 per cent of its water since the 1960s. Considered an endorheic body of water (or closed hydrological system), Lake Chad is a shallow lake (30 to 40 feet deep) in an arid grassland and, at one time, covered nearly 400,000 square miles - but that was about 5000 BCE, way before recent times of drought and human expansion in sub-Saharan Africa. Consequently, the lake’s surface area has shrunk to about 520 square miles, though since 2007 its girth has rebounded somewhat, so maybe Lake Chad won’t disappear entirely any time soon. But if issues such as overuse by people, climate change and desertification are not addressed, it may vanish sooner rather than later.

Aral Sea
Aral Sea

2. Aral Sea

Located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the Aral Sea is another endorheic lake and one of the four largest lakes in the world as recently as the 1989. Once covering an area of over 26,000 square miles, the Aral Sea is now only about 10 per cent of its original size and has split into four separate bodies of water. The main reason for this desiccation is that since the 1940s much of the water that feeds the lake has been diverted for agricultural usage, primarily to grow cotton, rice, melons and cereal. Unfortunately, this water diversion has mostly destroyed the fishing industry of the lake. Moreover, the poorly constructed irrigation canals used for the diversion have wasted 30 to 75 per cent of the diverted water. Now the Aral Sea’s remaining water is much saltier and more polluted and therefore practically useless. But the people in the area seem resigned to the fate of the Aral Sea, so it may dry up entirely any day now.

Lake Poopo
Lake Poopo

3. Lake Poopo

Located in the Bolivian Altiplano Mountains, Lake Poopo has, in recent years, become little more than a seasonal lake - and a very salty, polluted one as well (much of the time only its wetlands survive from one year to the next). Since the Lake Poopo exists in a very dry area and is only about 10 feet deep on average, and is also found at a very high altitude - more than 12,000 feet – it has a high evaporation rate. Unfortunately, only one river feeds into the lake, the Desaquadero River, which flows from Lake Titicaca, but this lake is also losing water, so the river is too. This water loss is caused by recent drought and climate change, which has led to the shrinkage of many glaciers throughout South America. Concerned about the demise of Lake Poopo, it has been designated for conservation by the Ramsar Convention. Tragically, this alarm bell may have been wrung much too late. But we can always hope, of course.

Lake Urmia in 1984
Lake Urmia in 1984

4. Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia is a hypersaline lake located in Iran. Formerly the largest saltwater lake in the Middle East, covering over 2,000 square miles, Lake Urmia has shrunk to only 10 per cent or its original size and now holds only five per cent of the water it once had. The reasons for this dramatic water loss are many: the 13 rivers entering the lake have been dammed; increased groundwater pumping has reduced flows into the lake; water diversions; climate change and drought. Unfortunately for the people of Iran, if Lake Urmia vanishes, so will the tourism it attracts, and the lake’s marshes will dry up too, no longer supporting 226 species of birds and many other animals. But Lake Urmia may survive at least somewhat; Iranian officials are working to persuade neighboring countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan to divert water to help refill this dwindling water resource.

Great Salt Lake
Great Salt Lake

5. Great Salt Lake

Located in the state of Utah of the United States of America, Great Salt Lake, aka America’s Dead Sea, is the largest salt water lake in the Western Hemisphere, though at times it’s considerably smaller than normal and covering about 1,700 square miles. Far saltier than seawater, Great Salt Lake nevertheless supports life such as brine shrimp, brine flies and numerous species of birds. Great Salt Lake is a pluvial lake and the largest section of Lake Bonneville, a fresh water paleolake that existed in the Great Basin from 14,000 to 16,000 years ago. Since the American Southwest has been drying out since the end of the Pleistocene, so have all the lakes in the Great Basin, including Great Salt Lake, which will probably survive for quite some time; but when drought and climate change are taken into account, it could eventually dry up and become the largest salt flat in the US.

Orbital view of Lake Tanganyika
Orbital view of Lake Tanganyika
Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika
Fishermen on Lake Tanganyika

6. Lake Tanganyika

One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Tanganyika is located in Tanzania and considered the second largest lake by volume in the world; it’s also considered an ancient lake - one that has carried water for more than a million years. The lake supports numerous plants and animals and people, and particularly attractive are its tropical fish. However, the productivity of the lake has declined since the 1800s. Anyway, unlike an endorheic lake, Lake Tanganyika has a large inflow and outflow of water. However, in the past, the lake had no outflow, because of changing geological conditions, thus making it partly endorheic. At present, Lake Tanganyika has an outflow through the Lunkuga and Congo Rivers; but this could change if water is diverted from the inflow of the lake, thus lowering its level so the rivers can't drain it. Then the eventual demise of Lake Tanganyika could happen within decades or even years.

Lake Assal
Lake Assal

7. Lake Assal

Located in Djibouti, in the so-called Horn of Africa, Lake Djibouti, covering about 20 square miles, rests at the bottom of a volcanic crater, some 500 feet below sea level; only the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are deeper; and only the Don Juan Pond in Antarctica has a higher salt content in its water – ten times that of seawater, in fact. A virtual hellhole, since it’s always very hot near the lake, over 120 degrees F in the summer and just about as hot during the winter, Lake Djibouti has no outflow except from evaporation. Interestingly, since ancient times people have mined the salt flats near the lake, and there’s millions of tons left to be extracted. So, if Lake Assal eventually dries up, few people may lament its passing, since the salt can be hauled away for many years, providing people with a continuous way of making money.

Lake Faguibine (upper spear-shaped blue area)
Lake Faguibine (upper spear-shaped blue area)

8. Lake Faguibine

Found in the Sahel region of Mali and not far from the famous city of Timbuktu, Lake Faguibine, doesn’t exist much of the time, unless the Niger River, about 75 miles south, floods over, filling some small lakes to the north and eventually adding water to Lake Faguibine as well. Unfortunately, the Niger River doesn’t flood much these days, because drought has hit the Sahel since the late 1970s. Also, the Niger River had been dammed in recent years, reducing its flow. But, fortunately for farmers in the area, the soil where Lake Faguibine is – or used to be - is very fertile. So, if there’s adequate water for crops, provided by rainfall and/or the lake, people can engage in subsistence farming and raise cattle in the nearby grasslands. Therefore, if Lake Faguibine survives to some extent, people in the area may have cause for optimism.

The Dead Sea
The Dead Sea

9. The Dead Sea

Bordered by Israel and Jordan, the Dead Sea, more than 1,400 feet below sea level, is the lowest point on land in the world. This hypersaline body of water supports little life, therefore its name. However, though dead, the water has attracted tourists for thousands of years. About 2,000 years ago, Herod the Great came here to partake of its reputed healthy water. Another terminal lake, with no outlet, salt and minerals have been building up in the Dead Sea for two million years, making it a source of salt, asphalt and potash. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea has shrunk dramatically in current times, mainly because the flow of the Jordan River, the main source of water for the Dead Sea – other than scant rainfall – has been reduced for agricultural use. But the Red Sea – Dead Sea Conveyance project, established by Jordan, plans to build a pipeline to the Red Sea, bringing brine to the Dead Sea and is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca
Reed boat at Lake Titicaca
Reed boat at Lake Titicaca

10. Lake Titicaca

Beautiful Lake Titicaca, lying between Peru and Bolivia, is perched atop the Andean Altiplano at over 12,000 feet in elevation; it is the largest lake in South America and has a surface area of over 3,200 square miles. Although the lake doesn’t seem in eminent danger of drying up, its water level has decreased since 2000, because rainy seasons have grown shorter and glaciers in the area are shrinking, reducing flows into the lake. Moreover, the lake has only two types of outflow: the Desaquadero River and evaporation, the latter of which accounting for 90 per cent of its water loss. So, if the river dries up, the lake will become a closed one, similar to many others on this list, and could eventually become another fetid, hypersaline mud hole. Also suffering from water pollution, the Global Nature Fund in 2012 labeled it the “Threatened Lake of the Year.” It seems safe to suggest that if Lake Titicaca begins drying up to a great degree, the entire world may panic!

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Kelley Marks

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      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        5 months ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Larry W Fish. I enjoy writing about ecological issues, and the subject of dying lakes definitely fits that genre. Later!

      • Larry Fish profile image

        Larry W Fish 

        5 months ago from Raleigh

        This is a great read and an educational one as well. It is sad that these lakes are drying up. Climate change is real, there is no doubt about it.

        Weather is changing around the world at a rapid rate. There are companies that pollute our rivers and streams. I am sad at what I am seeing around the world. Thanks for sharing this information, Kelley.

      • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

        Kelley Marks 

        5 months ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Peggy Woods. I'm also alarmed by the changes to the ecosystem brought about by population stress, deforestation, climate change and pollution. Later!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        5 months ago from Houston, Texas

        This was interesting but also alarming to read about these lakes which have been drying up through the years. The only one that I have personally seen is the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

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