Jaw-dropping satellite images show how Lake Mead water levels continue to plunge
Before-and-after images show that the critically important reservoir now looks like a shadow of its former self compared to satellite images taken just two decades ago.
Lake Mead, Nevada, is drying up amid a heat wave and drought in the United States.
Lake Mead, which is critical to both the supply of water and electricity across the southwestern United States, has shrunk dramatically over the past 20 years, jaw-dropping new satellite images from NASA show.
The lake, which is also the largest reservoir in the U.S. and supplies water to Americans across seven states, tribal lands and even northern Mexico, is at its lowest point since April 1937, when the reservoir was being filled for the first time.
A formerly sunken boat sits on cracked earth hundreds of feet from what is now the shoreline on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Monday, May 9, 2022, near Boulder City, Nevada. (AP Photo/John Locher)
An ongoing megadrought, which may be the worst drought the West has seen since the fall of the Holy Roman Empire more than 1,000 years ago, is to blame for the ongoing shrinkage of Lake Mead.
As of July 18, the lake was just 1,041.30 feet above sea level at Hoover Dam, where the water level must stay above 1,000 feet to maintain consistent electrical generation. At the same time in July 2000, the water level was 1,199.97 feet, which is still below the maximum water level of 1,200 feet.
Satellite images from NASA show how Lake Mead has dramatically shrunk, both in terms of its width and its depth. (NASA)
Satellite images clearly show the decrease in the lake's surface area, with the deep blue lake turning a much lighter shade of blue as the lake constricts. On the lake's northern end, what used to be a vast reservoir has been reduced to just a trickle that, in some spots, one might not even be able to identify as a lake.
The lake's shrinkage is bad for recreational purposes, too. Many boaters are in need of new places to take their watercraft as all but one of the lake's six boat launching points are closed as of July 22, according to the National Park Service.
Lake Mead has dried dramatically from 2000 to 2022, new satellite images from NASA show. (NASA)
“Declining water levels due to climate change and 20 years of ongoing drought have reshaped the park’s shorelines,” the park service said on its website. “As Lake Mead continues to recede, extending launch ramps becomes more difficult and more expensive due to the topography and projected decline in water levels.”
As the lake dries, several items that had long been submerged have returned to the surface. Several formerly sunken boats have made their way back into the public eye, as have two sets of human remains.
A formerly sunken boat sits upright into the air with its stern stuck in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Friday, June 10, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev. Lake Mead water has dropped to levels it hasn't been since the lake initially filled over 80 years ago. (AP Photo/John Locher)
"I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains," Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Homicide Lieutenant Ray Spencer told KLAS-TV.
In late April, one of Lake Mead's water intake valves appeared above the water line for the first time, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which manages the water supply for the Las Vegas area. That valve had been operational since 1971, but until water levels return to normal, it will be unable to take in water.
Water levels have plunged in Lake Mead over the past 22 years, with the key reservoir now at its lowest level since it was first filled in 1937. (NASA)
With the lake set to continue to shrink, NASA's Landsat satellites will continue to take before-and-after photos of the reservoir and other spots around the world. The satellite program, which has been operational for 50 years, is celebrated for its stunning before-and-after photos.
The most recent Landsat satellite, Landsat 9, was successfully launched in September 2021 and joined Landsat 8 in orbit above the Earth's atmosphere.
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