The Largest Endorheic Lake in the World

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The largest endorheic lake also happens to be the largest overall lake in the world.  First, what is an endorheic lake? An endorheic lake is a lake that doesn’t drain towards the ocean. The word endorheic stems from Ancient Greek: ἔνδον, éndon, “within” and ῥεῖν, rheîn, “to flow”. These lakes are also known as terminal lakes or sink lakes.  The local topography prevents these lakes from eventually draining towards the ocean via rivers.  Endorheic lakes are typically found far inland and are most common in desert regions.  The main loss of water from these types of lakes occurs through evaporation and seepage.

The World’s Largest Lake

The largest endorheic lake is the Caspian Sea.  It is also the largest lake on Earth when calculating by both area and volume with a a surface area of 371,000 square kilometres (143,000 square miles). Its volume is 78,200 cubic kilometres (18,800 cubic miles). The Caspian Sea is also the largest saline water-body in the world that doesn’t have ocean access.

The Caspian Sea as captured by the International Space Station as it orbited overhead on June 21, 2018. Photo: iss056e032401, NASA.

The Caspian Sea as captured by the International Space Station as it orbited overhead on June 21, 2018. Photo: iss056e032401, NASA.

The Caspian Sea is oriented in a north-south direction, with a length of about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Kazakhstan to Iran.  The northern part of the lake is the shallowest with depths of around 5 to 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) deep.  The southern part of the lake is the deepest with depths of more than 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of the Caspian Sea on June 4, 2010

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image of the Caspian Sea on June 4, 2010. Image: NASA

Over 130 rivers empty into the Caspian Sea.  The Volga River, which flows through central Russia, is the largest source of water and flows into the Caspian Sea from the north. The Caspian Sea loses water only by evaporation.

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References

Waterbodies that don’t flow to the sea. (2008). Newsletter and Technical Publications United Nations Environ. Program.

Caspian Sea. (2010).  NASA Earth Observatory.

Huseynov, S. (2012).  Fate of the Caspian Sea.  Natural History Magazine.

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