Lake Maracaibo

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Lake Maracaibo
Satelites image of Lake Maracaibo.png
Satelites image of Lake Maracaibo
Lake Maracaibo is located in Venezuela
Lake Maracaibo
Lake Maracaibo
Lake Maracaibo map-en.svg
Coordinates09°48′57″N 71°33′24″W / 9.81583°N 71.55667°W / 9.81583; -71.55667Coordinates: 09°48′57″N 71°33′24″W / 9.81583°N 71.55667°W / 9.81583; -71.55667
TypeAncient lake, Coastal saltwater, bay
Primary inflowsCatatumbo River
Primary outflowsGulf of Venezuela
Basin countriesVenezuela
Max. length210 kilometres (130 mi)
Max. width121 kilometres (75 mi)
Surface area13,512 km2 (5,217 sq mi)
Max. depth35 m (115 ft)
Water volume280 km3 (230,000,000 acre⋅ft)
Surface elevation0 m (0 ft)
SettlementsMaracaibo, Cabimas, Ciudad Ojeda

Lake Maracaibo (Spanish: Lago de Maracaibo; Anu: Coquivacoa) is a lagoon in northwestern Venezuela, the largest lake in South America and one of the oldest on Earth, formed 36 million years ago in the Andes Mountains The fault in the northern section has collapsed and is rich in oil and gas resources. It is Venezuela's main oil producing area and an important fishing and agricultural producing area. It is inhabited by a quarter of the country's population and is also the place with the most frequent lightning on earth. The famous Catatumbo lightning can illuminate nighttime navigation, and eutrophication caused by oil pollution is a major environmental problem facing the lake.


Lake Maracaibo is located in the Maracaibo lowland in the faulted basin between the Perija Mountains and the Merida Mountains of the Eastern Cordillera Mountains in northwestern Venezuela.[1][2] The lake is in the shape of a vase.[3] It is 210 kilometers long from north to south, 121 kilometers wide from east to west,[4][5] covers an area of 13,512 square kilometers, the deepest is 35 meters,[6] the shore length is about 1000 kilometers, and the volume is about 280 cubic kilometers.[1][2] The largest river entering the lake, the Catatumbo River, enters the lake from west to east, providing 57% of the water entering the lake. In addition to the influence of the prevailing wind, the lake water circulates counterclockwise.[5][7] There are also the Santa Ana River and the Chama River. , Motatan River, Escalante River and other about fifty rivers into it.[1][2]

Lake Maracaibo is deep in the north and shallow in the north. The northern half of the lake, which looks like a bottleneck, is 55 kilometers long.[3][5] The southeastern edge of the lake basin with a flat bottom is steep and the northwestern edge is gentle.[7] It is slightly salty due to the influence of tides, and the overall salinity is between 1.5 and 3.8%.[3][4] The Catatumbo River forms a bird-foot-shaped delta in the southwest of the lake basin, and the surface lake water in the delta has a salinity of only 0.13%. However, the intrusion of seawater from the mouth of the lake makes the salinity of the bottom lake water higher, reaching 0.2-0.3%.[7] The north is connected with the Gulf of Venezuela, and the spit at the mouth of the lake extends for about 26 kilometers.[4]

The annual average temperature of the lake area is 28°C,[2] the precipitation is more in the south and less in the north, and the average annual rainfall in the south is 1400 mm.[7] The mountain wind from the Andes at night contacts the warm and humid air on the lake surface, forming an average of 297 mm per year. The second night thunderstorm makes the lake area the place with the most frequent lightning on earth. There are about 233 lightning strikes per square kilometer in a year on average.[8] The famous Catatumbo lightning occurs about 140 to 160 days a year. At its peak in September, the lake area can experience up to 280 lightning strikes per hour,[7][8] approximately 28 lightning strikes per minute, lasting up to 9 hours, and is capable of illuminating nighttime navigation.[9]


Lake Maracaibo is one of the oldest lakes on earth. It was formed 36 million years ago when the faults collapsed when the Andes were uplifted in the late Eocene.[3][7] In the geological history, sea water and fresh water have alternated many times. flooded the area.[7] The lighter fresh water floated on top of the heavier salt water, allowing nutrients to deposit on the lake bottom,[10] creating sediments more than five kilometers thick on the bedrock.[7]

The Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda's fleet sailed here on August 24, 1499, the first time Europeans entered this area.[11] Spain made two attempts to establish settlements around the lake in 1529 and 1569, but it was not until 1574 that the city of Maracaibo was successfully established. On June 24, 1823, Venezuela won the famous naval battle of Lake Maracaibo in the Venezuelan War of Independence on the lake.[12]

The original depth of the lake mouth, which was only more than 4 meters deep, was increased to 8 meters after dredging in the 1930s, and the 3-kilometer-long stone breakwater was further increased to 11 meters after its completion in 1957, allowing ocean-going tankers to enter the lake,[4] At the same time, the northern part, which was originally fresh water, became brackish.[13] The 8,678-meter General Rafael Udaneta Bridge over the lake connecting Maracaibo and Santa Rita was completed in 1962.[2][11]


Lake Maracaibo is rich in oil and gas resources and is known as the "oil lake".[2] The first Spaniards who arrived used tar seeping from the lake to fill ship cracks.[9] The Maracaibo oil field was discovered in 1914,[14] the first oil well was constructed in 1917, and large-scale exploitation began in 1922.[2] The oil fields are concentrated in the northeast and northwest of the lake, and the oil-producing layers are mainly Tertiary sandstone and Cretaceous limestone, with a hydrocarbon-bearing area of ​​1,300 square kilometers,[1] mainly concentrated in the coastal waters 105 kilometers long and 32 kilometers wide in the east of the lake,[4] the extracted oil accounts for 75% of Venezuela's total oil production.[1]

Maracaibo on the northwest coast is the capital of Zulia State, the second largest city in Venezuela and an important oil export port in the world.[12] The lake area is also an important fishing and agricultural production area in Venezuela, supporting more than 20,000 fishermen, many of whom live in colorful traditional stilt houses built with iron sheets on the lake.[9] The main crops on the south bank of the lake are bananas, Peanuts, cocoa, coconut, sugar cane and coffee, the western shore of the lake developed dairy industry.[1][15]

Lake Maracaibo and the Catatumbo River are the main traffic lines for the transportation of commodities in the nearby area,[5][11] and the city of Maracaibo is the transshipment center of coffee produced in the Andes.[14] The waterway can pass through large sea-going ships and oil tankers, exporting crude oil and agricultural and livestock products from the Andean mountains and lakes.[1] The Lake District is home to a quarter of Venezuela's population,[9] and with the influx of farmers from the nearby Andes, the population of the Lake District increased from about 300,000 in 1936 to over 3.62 million in 2007.[15]


There are aquatic products such as clams, blue crabs, and shrimp in Lake Maracaibo.[7] The lake has been drilled about 14,000 times, and more than 15,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines criss-cross the lake floor, but most of these pipelines are half a century old, and oil is leaking from many aging underwater pipelines. Eutrophication caused by pollution and agricultural effluent discharged into the lake leads to duckweed and green algae blooms.[3][13]

In the spring of 2004, heavy rains fell in the Lake Maracaibo basin, causing a large influx of fresh water into the lake, causing nutrients deposited on the bottom of the lake to float to the surface of the lake, causing the duckweed to multiply and triggering a bloom that lasted for up to eight months. , the blooms once covered 18% of the lake in June, and the local government had to spend about $2 million per month on cleanup work.[10][13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "马拉开波湖". 中國大百科全書 (in Chinese (China)) (第一版 ed.). Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "马拉开波湖". 中國大百科全書 (in Chinese (China)) (第二版 ed.). Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Earth from Space: Maracaibo, Venezuela". ESA. 2005-05-20. Archived from the original on 2019-12-06.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Lake Maracaibo". britannica. 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
  5. ^ a b c d John P. Rafferty (2010-10-01). Lakes and Wetlands: A "Juvenile Nonfiction Book". britannica Publishing. p. 192. ISBN 978-1-61530-403-5.
  6. ^ Merriam-Webster (2016). webster. p. 727. ISBN 978-0-87779-446-2.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Joyce A. Quinn; Susan L. Woodward (2015-02-03). Earth's Landscape: An Encyclopedia of the World's Geographic Features. ABC-CLIO. p. 397. ISBN 978-1-61069-446-9.
  8. ^ a b Molly Porter (2006-05-02). "Earth's New Lightning Capital Revealed". NASA. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  9. ^ a b c d Agnieszka Gautier (2021-04-19). "The Maracaibo beacon". NASA. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  10. ^ a b Nola Fernandez Acosta (2004-06-23). "Duckweed Invasion in Lake Maracaibo". NASA. Retrieved 2022-04-22.
  11. ^ a b c "Maracaibo, Lake". Columbia Encyclopedia (第六版 ed.). ISBN 0-7876-5015-3. Retrieved 2006-12-02.
  12. ^ a b "Maracaibo, Venezuela". britannica. 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2022-04-19.
  13. ^ a b c Michael Carlowicz (2021-09-25). "Troubled Waters". NASA. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  14. ^ a b Helle Askgaard; Per Nielsen. "Maracaibo". denstoredanske (in Danish). Retrieved 2022-04-26.
  15. ^ a b "Bassin de Maracaibo". universalis (in French). Retrieved 2022-04-21.


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