10 Lakes That Are Disappearing or Already Gone


One hundred billion gallons of water don’t just go missing overnight. In the past, it took decades for man-made water diversion projects and changes in climate to dramatically reduce the size of some of the world’s largest bodies of water. Today, water around the globe is disappearing faster than ever. Here are ten bodies of water that are already dry, or disappearing at an unprecedented rate.

1. Owens Lake, United States

The unquenchable thirst of Los Angeles is to blame for the dust bowl now known as Owens Valley. Before drying up in 1926, Owens Lake covered about 108 square miles in California near the border with Nevada. But in 1913, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power diverted the Owens River into the LA Aqueduct. One hundred years later, the City of Los Angeles has paid more than $1.2 billion to minimize the adverse health effects of the windblown dust coming off the dried lake bed. The DWP uses a combination of gravel and flora cover, plus flooding of about 42 square miles of the valley to keep airborne pollution to a minimum. But the DWP, along with local agriculture and livestock representatives, are unsatisfied with the wasted water that goes toward the flooding. This spring, the agency announced it would work with local agencies to craft a long-term solution to dust mitigation that relies less on water.

2. Aral Sea, Kazakhstan


Once an oasis in central Asia and the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world, the Aral Sea began losing volume in the 1960s. In an attempt to irrigate crops in the deserts of what is now Uzbekistan, the USSR had started diverting water from the Aral’s feeder rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, in the '40s. By 1986, the lake volume decreased to the point of becoming four distinct bodies of water. Today, it can claim only about 10 percent of its former surface area of 26,300 square miles. By volume, the lake has lost an estimated 167 billion gallons of water, more than the entire volume of Lake Erie.

Still, there is some hope the Aral Sea will persist—though at nowhere near the lake’s historic levels. In 2003, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan joined together to build the Kokaral Dam. By 2007, the structure had slowed the drainage enough to increase water levels in the northern body by about 40 meters.

3. Dead Sea, Middle East


At the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea is slowly wasting away. Although a one-inch drop in the lake level from evaporation on a hot summer day is normal, the last 30 years have seen a dramatic decrease in lake size. Recently, water levels have been dropping as quickly as 3 feet per year. Two distinct bodies of water now characterize the Dead Sea. The southern portion is home to ponds that are used to extract salts and other minerals, while the northern body is still a beacon for tourists.

To stem the disappearance of the Dead Sea, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine have agreed to a plan to pump in about 53 billion gallons of water per year from the Red Sea, which is more than 100 miles away.

4. Lake Faguibine, Mali


In its heartier days, Lake Faguibine in Mali was one of the largest lakes in West Africa, at about 230 square miles. Fed by the Niger River, the ecosystem supported a healthy economy of fishing, agriculture, and livestock herding. But by 1990, droughts had completely dried the lake, forcing residents to seek subsistence from other resources. A return of rains in the last 15 years has added about six percent of former surface area to Faguibine, but long-term restoration appears impossible.

5. Lake Assal, Djibouti


With temperatures reaching a scorching 125 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, the evaporation of Lake Assal in Djibouti is an unavoidable reality. Housed in a volcanic crater, the body of water was likely separated from the Gulf of Aden, and the greater Indian Ocean, by lava flows. In such harsh conditions, Assal sees little rainfall runoff to feed the lake. Instead, its volume is replenished through subsurface water flow from the nearby gulf.

One of just a few lakes that has not shrunk due to water diversion, Assal is still an important natural resource for the local economy. The lake is 10 times more saline than seawater, and its salt is harvested for distribution across Africa and Europe.

6. Lake Chad, Chad/Niger/Nigeria/Cameroon


The Lake Chad basin in central Africa is one of the most dusty places on earth, and a “ecological catastrophe” according to the United Nations. Like the Aral Sea, the lake’s main feeder, the Chari River, was diverted to provide irrigation for farmers in different regions. Between 1963 and 2001, the lake shrank by 95 percent to just 580 square miles; it had previously measured more than 10,000 square miles. With the lack of water and marshes, dust chokes the area, beginning the process of dune formation and the desertification of a once lush habitat.

Replenishment plans are ambitious, but still in the early phases. The nations of Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and the Central African Republic (which is home to a number of Chari River tributaries) hope to pump water from the Congo River north toward the Chari. Although the Congo dumps water into the Atlantic Ocean, the effects of diversion toward Chad remain unclear.

7. Lake Urmia, Iran


With six dams capturing a majority of water from 11 rivers that once fed the salt lake, Lake Urmia in northern Iran is evolving from a luxury vacation destination into a cracked salt bed. As big as 2,000 square miles, the lake was once among the largest in the Middle East. Today, it covers just under 40 percent of that area. Although energy and food production has benefited from the damming of the rivers, many environmentalists fear the long-term result of water diversion could be a nearly dry lakebed like the dustbowl of the Aral Sea.

8. Poyang Lake, China


This past January, China’s Lake Poyang receded far enough to reveal an ancient stone bridge that had been submerged for 400 years. But excitement over the discovery has been tempered by continuing concerns over the extremely low water levels of the country’s largest freshwater lake. In 2012, during one of the country’s worst droughts, China’s official Xihua News Agency reported the lake had reached a new record low of 7.95 meters (about 28 feet). Local authorities at that time even went to the extreme measure of air-dropping millet, corn, and shrimp for the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that feed at Poyang. And while mother nature is one of the main culprits, China’s disastrous Three Gorges Dam has also played a big role in withholding water from the lake.

Damming the lake, which is situated in the middle of the Yangtze River, has been proposed to restore lake levels for both economic and ecological benefits—but no imminent plans are in place, as the effects of the drought are forgotten during the wet season. 

9. Lake Chapala, Mexico


Since the time of the Spanish conquistadors, Mexico’s lakes have suffered dramatic upheaval. Once a pristine lake, the capital was created by draining and then building out Mexico City. Now the fate of Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala, may mimic that of the capital. Historically averaging about 700 square miles in surface area, Chapala experienced its first major crisis in 1955. A combination of drought and diversion saw the water level dip by about 7 percent, enough to wreak havoc on hydraulic electricity generation for the town of Guadalajara. Although the lake rebounded throughout the later part of the century, by 2001 more than 25 percent of the lake’s surface area had disappeared. Water levels nearly matched those of the crisis in 1955.

Faced with additional uncertainty about water availability, in March a presidential decree set strict limits on the amount of water that can be diverted from both Lake Chapala and its watershed. Enforcement of the limits will be the next test.

10. Great Lakes, United States/Canada


Staring across the vast expanse of Lake Michigan, it could be hard to recognize the signs of trouble. But last year, the Great Lakes reached their lowest levels in recorded history. With a 1.5-foot average drop in water level across the connected Lakes Michigan and Huron since 1999, 2.5 million gallons have exited the body of water. The main culprit for the receding lake level is the St. Clair River, a waterway that has been widened and deepened numerous times in the last century to provide a shipping channel between the upper and lower Great Lakes. The cumulative effect of human engineering and mother nature’s power is an oversized drain spout at the bottom of Huron.

To avoid such a fate, the Army Corps of Engineers designed remediation measures in the 1960s during the last deepening. But bureaucracy and above-average water levels hindered any action on the structures. After years of agitation on the subject, groups like Restore our Water International have reignited the drive for remediation. In March, President Obama allocated funding toward re-evaluating the Corps’ plans. Other attempts are being made to keep attention on the topic while the evaluation takes place. The documentary Drain, which is currently in production, examines the current crisis at the Great Lakes, and the lessons learned from other inland oceans like the Aral Sea.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
13 Electrifying Nikola Tesla Quotes
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The greatest geek who ever lived had more than just science on the brain. While he was alive, Nikola Tesla’s advancements were frequently and famously attributed to others. But history has shown us the magnitude of his work, a sentiment best expressed by Fiorello LaGuardia’s eulogy: “Tesla is not really dead. Only his poor wasted body has been stilled. The real, the important part of Tesla lives in his achievement which is great, almost beyond calculation, an integral part of our civilization, of our daily lives.” Here are 13 electric quotes from the legendary scientist/engineer/inventor.


“... The female mind has demonstrated a capacity for all the mental acquirements and achievements of men, and as generations ensue that capacity will be expanded; the average woman will be as well educated as the average man, and then better educated, for the dormant faculties of her brain will be stimulated to an activity that will be all the more intense and powerful because of centuries of repose. Woman will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.”

—From a 1926 interview by John B. Kennedy, “When Woman Is Boss"


“... The papers, which 30 years ago conferred upon me the honor of American citizenship, are always kept in a safe, while my orders, diplomas, degrees, gold medals and other distinctions are packed away in old trunks.”

—From “My Inventions V – The Magnifying Transmitter," 1919


“There is something within me that might be illusion as it is often case with young delighted people, but if I would be fortunate to achieve some of my ideals, it would be on the behalf of the whole of humanity. If those hopes would become fulfilled, the most exciting thought would be that it is a deed of a Serb.”

—From an address at the Belgrade train station, 1892


Blue Portrait of Nikola Tesla, the only painting Tesla posed for
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

"We begin to think cosmically. Our sympathetic feelers reach out into the dim distance. The bacteria of the 'Weltschmerz' are upon us. So far, however, universal harmony has been attained only in a single sphere of international relationship. That is the postal service. Its mechanism is working satisfactorily, but—how remote are we still from that scrupulous respect of the sanctity of the mail bag!"

—From “The Transmission of Electrical Energy Without Wires as a Means for Furthering Peace,” 1905


“What the result of these investigations will be the future will tell; but whatever they may be, and to whatever this principle may lead, I shall be sufficiently recompensed if later it will be admitted that I have contributed a share, however small, to the advancement of science.”

—From “The Tesla Alternate Current Motor,” 1888


“That is the trouble with many inventors; they lack patience. They lack the willingness to work a thing out slowly and clearly and sharply in their mind, so that they can actually 'feel it work.' They want to try their first idea right off; and the result is they use up lots of money and lots of good material, only to find eventually that they are working in the wrong direction. We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.”

—From “Tesla, Man and Inventor,” 1895


“Most certainly, some planets are not inhabited, but others are, and among these there must exist life under all conditions and phases of development.”

—From “How to Signal to Mars,” 1910


"When we speak of man, we have a conception of humanity as a whole, and before applying scientific methods to the investigation of his movement, we must accept this as a physical fact. But can anyone doubt to-day that all the millions of individuals and all the innumerable types and characters constitute an entity, a unit? Though free to think and act, we are held together, like the stars in the firmament, with ties inseparable. These ties cannot be seen, but we can feel them. I cut myself in the finger, and it pains me: this finger is a part of me. I see a friend hurt, and it hurts me, too: my friend and I are one. And now I see stricken down an enemy, a lump of matter which, of all the lumps of matter in the universe, I care least for, and it still grieves me. Does this not prove that each of us is only part of a whole?"

—From “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” 1900


Nikola Tesla, with Rudjer Boscovich's book "Theoria Philosophiae Naturalis", in front of the spiral coil of his high-voltage Tesla coil transformer at his East Houston St., New York, laboratory.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

“We build but to tear down. Most of our work and resource is squandered. Our onward march is marked by devastation. Everywhere there is an appalling loss of time, effort and life. A cheerless view, but true.”

—From “What Science May Achieve this Year,” 1910


“Everyone should consider his body as a priceless gift from one whom he loves above all, a marvelous work of art, of indescribable beauty, and mystery beyond human conception, and so delicate that a word, a breath, a look, nay, a thought may injure it. Uncleanliness, which breeds disease and death, is not only a self-destructive but highly immoral habit.”

—From “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy," 1900


"It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages around the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus."

From Popular Mechanics via the New York Times, October 1909


"Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine."

—As quoted in Tesla: Man Out of Time, by Margaret Cheney, 2001


“Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.”

—From “A Machine to End War,” 1935 [PDF]

Gut Bacteria Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

The bacteria in your gut do far more than help digest food. In recent years, scientists have discovered that they play an important role in myriad bodily processes, from mood and mental health to obesity and gastrointestinal disease. According to recent research, the trillions of microbes in your gut could also impact how you sleep, The Guardian reports.

Though investigation into the links between sleep and intestinal bacteria is just beginning, scientists already know that lack of sleep takes a toll on the body beyond just causing fatigue. It may contribute to the risk of obesity and developing type 2 diabetes. However, digestive processes may themselves affect sleep, scientists now suggest. "There is no question in my mind that gut health is linked to sleep health, although we do not have the studies to prove it yet," psychologist Michael Breus told The Guardian.

A study in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience found that rats fed a prebiotic diet (consisting of fiber that gut bacteria can feed on) had better-quality sleep than rats fed a control diet. The researchers linked this better sleep to increases in the gut bacteria Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a popular probiotic strain. The rats spent more time in REM sleep even when they were subjected to stress, which has been linked to insomnia issues.

To demonstrate how the microbiome affects sleep, though, researchers will likely have to untangle it from the many other ways that the microbiome affects our health, mental and otherwise. Imbalances in gut bacteria might influence depression, which in turn disrupts sleep. Other studies have suggested that poor-quality sleep affects the microbiome, rather than the other way around. Given how much impact the microbiome has on our health, it makes sense that there could be links between major health issues like insomnia and our bacterial colonies. The nature of those links, though, will require much more research to tease out.

[h/t The Guardian]


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