Lake Titicaca-Poopo


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The Lake Titicaca-Poopo Basin is part of / comprises: · Latin America and Caribbean · South America ·
Countries sharing the Lake Titicaca-Poopo Basin: · Bolivia · Chile · Peru ·
Facts & Figures edit
Catchment AreaA 193,090 km3
Neighbouring BasinsA Amazon, Cancoso-Lauca, La Plata
PopulationA 2,180,000
Population DensityA 19 /km2
DischargeA 30 km3/yr
Surface Area m3
Average Depth m
Water Volume m2
Water Stress 14100 m3/person/year
Average Precipitation mm/yr
Evaporation mm/yr
Runoff 10400 mm/yr
Land Use
Irrigated Area km2
Irrigable Area km2
No. of DamsA 1
Dam Density 0.5 dams/km2
Total Water Withdrawals km3
  For Agricultural Use
  For Domestic Use
  For Industrial Use
Renewable Water Available (m3/yr/pers)
References & Remarks
A Transboundary Freshwater Spatial Database, Oregon University

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Water Basin Profile: Physical and Hydrological Characteristics

(Source: UNESCO-IHP, PCCP Series Publication: Co-operation on the Lake Titicaca)


The Lake Titicaca Basin is located in South America, in the south of Peru and northwest of Bolivia, between 14° 05 y 16° 50 longitude North and 68° 10 y 71° 05 longitude West. It has an area of 56,270 square kilometres (km2).

Main physical characteristics

The basin is bordered by the eastern mountain range to the east and by the western range to the west. Altitudes vary from 6,421 metres above sea level (masl) at the snow-covered Illampu peak to 3,810 masl average of the mirror surface of Lake Titicaca. Topography is abrupt in the zone of the hills and plain in the Altiplano (high plateau).

The most important factors determining the basins climate are the following:

  • The geographical and astronomic position, determining the angle of incidence of solar rays on the Earths surface, creates typical tropical climate conditions, with moderate thermal seasons.
  • The relief is determined by the altitude, form and orientation of the mountain masses. The main characteristic of the system is its high altitude, generally higher than 3,800 metres, which makes for a cold climate.
  • The atmospheric circulation in the zone determines to a great extent the spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation. The South-American continent, and within it the Lake Titicaca Basin, is under the influence of three semi-permanent high-pressure systems and a low pressure one.

The described atmospheric circulation explains the annual rain regime. Moreover, the northern part of Lake Titicaca receives greater rainfall, whereas the south – more subject to anti-cyclonic winds – is dry, thus generating a north-south precipitation gradient.

Main climate elements


The spatial distribution of the average annual precipitation has a decreasing north-south pattern, which generally varies from 200 to 1,400 mm, with highs (from 800 and 1,400 mm) over Lake Titicaca. The highest rainfall outside the lake area occurs in the northern extreme of the basin (at the heads of the Coata and Ramis Rivers), where rainfalls attain between 800 and 1,000 mm, followed by a gradual decrease starting in the Altiplano region down to 400 mm in the Mauri River Sector. In close relation, the number of days of rainfall per year decreases from 131 to 153 mm at the heads of the Coata River, down to 80 to 100 mm at the banks of Lake Titicaca. (See Figure 2. Average annual precipitation map [Annex, page 82] in PCCP publication)

Rainfall regime

The temporal distribution of rainfall is quite similar along and across the basin: wet summers and dry winters. It is a typically single-mode regime, with a rainfall period from December to March (maximum in January) and the dry period from May to August (minimum in June-July), the remaining months being transitional.

Air temperature

The air temperature depends on various factors, namely latitude (the south is colder than the north, due to the latters proximity to the Equator); longitude (the east warmer than the west, due to the influence of wet air masses from the Amazon; altitude (temperatures decrease with altitude); and the thermal-regulating effect of Lake Titicaca.

Thermal regime

The region has moderate thermic seasons, the highest temperatures occurring between December and March and the lowest between June and August. The thermal spectrum of average monthly temperatures varies from 5.8 – 6.5 degrees Celsius in the north, up to 7.8 – 10.6 degrees Celsius in the south. The coldest month is generally July and the warmest one is December.

Surface winds

Surface winds result mainly from the local relief patterns. They tend to channel wind in specific directions. In the Lake Titicaca zone there is also a lake-land-lake circulation, resulting from the temperature differences between the land and the water surface. During the day, winds blow from the lake towards the shores. Since the land becomes warmer than the lake, a zone of lower pressure over the land is generated. At night the circulation is reversed, for the land gets cooler than the lake, subsequently the lower pressure occurs over the lake.

Regarding speed and direction of the wind, the situation is similar throughout the year:

  • In the north (heads of the Coata and Ramis Rivers), calm winds predominate, with values frequently 50% higher, and speeds can reach 4.8 m/s. In winter, the wind speed tends to be 1m /s higher than in summer.
  • In the Lake Titicaca zone, the dominant winds blow mainly from the lake. Speeds vary from 2 to 4 m/s. Nevertheless “calm” winds can reach fairly high speeds locally.

Relative humidity

The relative humidity in the Lake Titicaca Basin is low in general. The annual average is 54%, even if it varies from 42-47% in the dry southern region to 62-65% at the shores of Lake Titicaca. Whereas from June to October, the air humidity in general is equal to or lower than 50% in the entire region, in the rainy season (December to March) it can reach up to 70%.

Average atmospheric pressure

Atmospheric pressure values are very similar throughout the whole system and vary principally with altitude. In the Altiplano, the pressure reaches 645 mb in the north at Juliaca in Chacaltaya, and in the mountains north of La Paz it is 536 mb.

Radiation and insulation

Overall solar radiation is between 462 cal/cm2/day in Puno (north of the basin) and 518 cal/cm2/day in Patacamaya (south). Nevertheless, it changes significantly during the year. Thus, in Puno, it goes from 390 in July up to 549 in November; and in Patacamaya from 457 in June to 596 in November.

Closely related to radiation, insulation is 3,005.1 hours of sun per year in Puno and 2,751.5 in Patacamaya, with an yearly distribution equally contrasting between summer and winter. In Puno, the average daily number of hours of sun changes from 9.6 in July to 6.0 in January; and in Patacamaya it varies between 8.8 and 5.4 during the same period.

Potential evapotranspiration

Potential evapotranspiration (PET), or the loss of water from a natural surface (by evaporation from the soil or the water surfaces and by plant transpiration), is a function of humidity at the level of that surface and a function of the energy available (radioactive energy, if the energy comes from the sun, and advective, if energy is provided by the moving air mass). Even though there are various procedures for measuring PET, in this case reference is made to results obtained by means of the Penman formula.

The PET varies approximately between 1,000 and 1,800 mm along the entire basin of Lake Titicaca.

Climate classification

According to the Thornthwaite climate classification system and using PET estimations in the framework of the Binational Global Master Plan, the following climate types can be found in the Lake Titicaca Basin:

BF: Rainy and polar
B(o,i,p)D: Rainy and semi-frigid, with dry fall, winter and spring
B(o,i,p)C: Rainy and cold, with dry fall, winter and spring
C(o,i,p)C: Semi-rainy and cold, with dry fall, winter and spring
C(d)C: Semi-rainy and cold, with all seasons dry
D(d)C: Semi-arid and cold, with all seasons dry

(See Figure 3. Climate classification map [Annex, page 83] in PCCP publication)

Rainy and polar climate

It is found at altitudes greater than 5,000 metres in every area covered with snow and ice during most of the year. The average annual temperature is lower than 0 degrees Celsius and precipitation, either liquid or solid, is over 600 mm. The area is not agriculturally productive.

Rainy and semi-frigid climate, with dry fall, winter and spring

This climate is found in the upper basins of the Suchez, Ramis and Coata Rivers, at altitudes between 4,400 and 5,000 metres. Average annual temperature varies from 5 to 2 degrees Celsius and the minimum averages are lower than -4 degrees Celsius. The frequency of freezes exceeds 150 days. Precipitation varies from 700 to 1,000 mm, thus determining its rainy nature. However, the low temperatures severely limit the use of soil for agricultural purposes.

Rainy and cold climate, with dry fall, winter and spring

This climate characterizes the zone that surrounds the lake, the medium basins of the Súchez, Ramis and Coata Rivers (approximately 4,200 masl) and the medium and low basin of the Llave River. The average annual temperature varies from 6 to 8 degrees Celsius and average minimum temperatures exceed 0 degrees Celsius in the area surrounding the lake, where the frequency of freezes is lower than 150 days per year (in the middle basins it exceeds 150 days). Precipitation varies between 700 and 1,000 mm per year, of which 73% occurs in summer (December-March).

Semi-rainy and cold climate, with dry fall, winter and spring

This is the climate of the lowest portion of the Ramis and Hancané River basins and of the southern sector of Lake Titicaca, between Pizacoma in Peru and Irpa Chico in Bolivia. The average annual temperature varies between 7 and 8 degrees Celsius, and the average minimum temperature is higher than 0 degrees Celsius, since the thermoregulating influence of the lake cannot yet be felt. The number of frost or freezing days is lower than 150 and precipitation varies between 600 and 800 mm per year.

Semi-rainy and cold climate, with all seasons dry

This climate occurs in a narrow strip in the central and southeastern portion of the System. It constitutes the transition into the semi-arid climates of the south. The average annual temperatures in this zone are estimated at between 5 and 6 degrees Celsius, with average minimums from 0 to –4 degrees Celsius. Therefore, frosts or freezes take place almost all year long (between 180 and 300 days).

Water Basin Profile: Socio-Economic and Environmental Issues

Water Basin Profile: Transboundary Political and Institutional Setting

Water Basin Profile: Emerging Challenges and Opportunities for the Future


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