Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela • Earth.com

Today’s Image of the Day from the European Space Agency features a Copernicus Sentinel-2 photograph of Lake Maracaibo, a large brackish tidal bay (or lagoon) in Venezuela. 

It is often mistaken for a lake but is actually an estuary directly connected to the Gulf of Venezuela and ultimately the Caribbean Sea. Maracaibo is one of the oldest on Earth, formed approximately 36 million years ago.

“With an area of over 13,000 sq km, Lake Maracaibo is generally considered the largest lake in South America, although by some estimates it should be considered an inlet of the Caribbean Sea since much of its water is brought in by its direct connection to the ocean,” said ESA.

“As a result, the water in the northern part of the lake is rather brackish, while the southern waters are fresh, owing to the many rivers that flow into the lake. The biggest, the Catatumbo River, can be seen entering the lake from southwest, where a large amount of sediment carried by the river appears as a yellowish plume.”

“The port of Maracaibo can be seen in light brown on the west side of the strait. After Caracas, Maracaibo is Venezuela’s second city and the country’s oil capital.”

Lake Maracaibo is notable for its oil-rich basin, which has made it a central hub for the Venezuelan oil industry. The lake has been a source of wealth due to its petroleum reserves, but this has also led to significant pollution problems.

One of the natural phenomena associated with Lake Maracaibo is the Catatumbo lightning. This is a unique meteorological event characterized by almost continuous lightning, occurring at the mouth of the Catatumbo River where it empties into the lake. This lightning happens for about 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours per day, and up to 280 times an hour, and it’s so regular that it’s been used for ship navigation, earning it the nickname “Lighthouse of Maracaibo.”

Image Credit: ESA

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