After going dry in 2018, Laguna de Aculeo has begun to refill. NASA satellites began to detect water pooling in the parched lake in late-August, after an intense winter storm dropped as much as 370 millimeters (15 inches) of rain on some parts of central Chile. The storm was fueled by an atmospheric river and exacerbated by the rugged terrain in central Chile.
When the Operational Land Imager-2 (OLI-2) on Landsat 9 acquired this image (right) on September 7, 2023, Laguna de Aculeo covered about 5 square kilometers (2 square miles) to a depth of roughly 1 meter (3 feet). The other image (left) shows the dried water body on May 18, 2023, before the wet winter weather arrived. Although it has refilled somewhat, water spans only half the area it did up to 2010 and contains a quarter of the water volume, explained René Garreaud, an Earth scientist at the University of Chile. Seasonal changes and the influx of water have led to widespread greening of the landscape around the lake.
Researchers have assessed that ongoing development and water use in the nearby community of Paine, increasing water use by farmers and in homes and pools, as well as several years of drought, likely contributed to the drawdown of the lake. Annual rainfall deficits that averaged 38 percent between 2010 and 2018 likely played a large role, according to one analysis from a team of researchers from the University of Chile.
Before 2010, the shallow water body was a popular haven for boaters, swimmers, and water skiers, but the water hasn’t yet pooled up enough for swimmers or boaters to return. It is also unclear how long the new water in Aculeo will persist. “Atmospheric rivers in June and August delivered substantial precipitation along the high terrain and foothills that have given us a welcome interruption to the drought,” Garreaud said. “But Aculeo is a small, shallow lagoon that can fill up rapidly, and it's only partly filled. Bigger reservoirs and aquifers will take much longer to recover.”
NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Story by Adam Voiland.