On the causes of the shrinking of Lake Chad Academic Article uri icon


  • Over the last 40 years, Lake Chad, once the sixth largest lake in the world, has decreased by more than 90% in area. In this study, we use a hydrological model coupled with a lake/wetland algorithm to simulate the effects of lake bathymetry, human water use, and decadal climate variability on the lake's level, surface area, and water storage. In addition to the effects of persistent droughts and increasing irrigation withdrawals on the shrinking, we find that the lake's unique bathymetry - which allows its division into two smaller lakes - has made it more vulnerable to water loss. Unfortunately the lake's split is favored by the 1952-2006 climatology. Failure of the lake to remerge with renewed rainfall in the 1990s following the drought years of the 1970s and 1980s is a consequence of irrigation withdrawals. Under current climate and water use, a full recovery of the lake is unlikely without an inter-basin water transfer. Breaching the barrier separating the north and south lakes would reduce the amount of supplemental water needed for recovery. 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd.

published proceedings

  • Environmental Research Letters

altmetric score

  • 93.144

author list (cited authors)

  • Gao, H., Bohn, T. J., Podest, E., McDonald, K. C., & Lettenmaier, D. P.

citation count

  • 124

complete list of authors

  • Gao, H||Bohn, TJ||Podest, E||McDonald, KC||Lettenmaier, DP

publication date

  • July 2011