Last updated on April 25, 2014 at 5:25 EDT
Shrinking Lake Chapala
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Shrinking Lake Chapala

September 15, 2003
Resting in a tectonic basin south of Guadalajara, Lake Chapala is the largest lake in Mexico. The lake and other wetlands in the Río Lerma watershed are important sites for migratory, rare, and endemic (found nowhere else) waterfowl, and the lake is part of a regional pattern of endemic fish species. Lake Chapala is important economically for tourism, recreation, and fishing.

The Landsat imagery above illustrates changes in the lake from 1986 to 2001. The surface area of Lake Chapala in March 1986 was 1,048 square kilometers (259,000 acres). By March 2001, it had diminished to 812 square kilometers (201,000 acres). In just five years, the lake lost 226 square kilometers, or just less than 60,000 acres, of surface area. The city of Washington, D.C., could be relocated to the exposed shoreline with room to spare! This loss corresponds to a water level decline between 2 and 4 meters (6.6 to 13.2 feet), and the change in depth has been accompanied by at least a 50 percent los