Lake Rukwa in Tanzania • Lake Rukwa in Tanzania

Lake Rukwa in Tanzania. Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Lake Rukwa in the East African country of Tanzania.

Spanning an area of about 1,000 square miles, Rukwa is one of the smaller lakes that has formed in the East African Rift, which is essentially a fracture in the Earth that widens over time. 

According to NASA, lakes in this rift area occupy deep depressions in Earth’s crust.

The image was captured in March of 2020 by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station.

The lake has seen large fluctuations in its size over the years, due to varying inflow of streams. Currently it is about 180 kilometres (110 mi) long and averages about 32 kilometres (20 mi) wide, making it about 5,760 square kilometres (2,220 sq mi) in size. In 1929 it was only about 48 kilometres (30 mi) long, but in 1939 it was about 128 kilometres (80 mi) long and 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide. During the early rifting of this part of Africa, the basin of Lake Rukwa may at times have been part of a much larger basin which also included the basins of Lake Tanganyika with Lake Malawi; ancient shorelines suggest a final date of overflow into Lake Tanganyika of 33,000BP.  For overflow to occur again, the lake’s elevation would need to exceed 900 meters. Overflow into Lake Malawi is not possible now, since the pass between the two basin stands at over 2000 meters elevation. (Neither Lake Tanganyika nor Lake Malawi can overflow into Lake Rukwa since they already overflow into the Atlantic and Indian Oceans respectively.)


By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory




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