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Bolivia's Second Largest Lake Dries Up Because Of Global Warming

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Not even local residents may recognize that the second largest lake in Bolivia used to flow where it did. In December 2015, Lake Poopó was officially declared as "dried up" because of global warming.

Unfortunately, scientists say that recovery may no longer be possible.

"This is a picture of the future of climate change," says German glaciologist Dirk Hoffman. Hoffman studies the role of rising temperatures from fossil fuel burning in the advanced melting of Bolivia's glaciers.

Scientists believe drought due to repetitive El Nino is the main cause of the natural disaster. They also think deviations from the lake's tributaries are contributing factors. Aside from some agricultural purposes, Poopó's tributaries or freshwater streams that feed from the lake are mostly used for mining.

El Nino has plagued the nation for a millenia. Bolivia's delicate ecosystem is also said to have undergone extraordinary stress over the past 30 years. The country has experienced a rise in temperatures by about one degree Celsius.

One great effect of the lake's fate is the significant letdown in the livelihood of the local residents who have tucked away their fishing nets and other gear. Over 100 families have sold their llamas, alpaca and sheep. In the past three years, residents have evacuated from the previous lakeside village, leaving only half of its population, mostly the elderly.

The earliest recorded history of the lake dates back to only a century. Record keepers are not able to acquire reliable data about the number of people relegated by its dissipation. The office of the governor says 3,250 people at the minimum have received humanitarian help.

Gov. Victor Hugo Vasquez estimates that the lake has declined to a mere two percent of its former water level. The maximum depth of water recorded in Lake Poopó was at 16 feet or 5 meters.

Animal presence was also affected as field biologists say about 75 bird species have disappeared from the lake.

The government has already asked the European Union for $140 million to fix water treatments plants, among others. Critics, however, do not feel good about this. "I don't think we'll be seeing the azure mirror of Poopó again," said Milton Pérez, a Universidad Técnica researcher. "I think we've lost it."

In December 2015, Vasques placed the province under a state of calamity when Lake Poopó almost completely dried up. The lake once covered about 1,780 square miles of land, while Lake Titicaca, the largest in Bolivia, measures about 3,200 square miles.

NASA's Earth Observatory says this is not the first time that Lake Poopó has dried up. The lake also evaporated in 1994, but it took years before the water returned and livelihood recovered.

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