PE&RS May 2020 Public - page 264

May 2020
Publisher ASPRS
Editor-In-Chief Alper Yilmaz
Assistant Editor Jie Shan
Assistant Director — Publications Rae Kelley
Electronic Publications Manager/Graphic Artist
Matthew Austin
Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing
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Surrounded by lush vegetation and rare butterflies, the San Rafael Waterfall
was one of the most captivating landscapes in Ecuador. With water dropping
150 meters (490 feet), the river and falls cut through a thick patch of cloud
forest at the intersection of the Andes Mountains and the Amazon Basin. As
the country’s tallest waterfall, it attracted tens of thousands of visitors per year.
But now, the cascade has disappeared. It stopped flowing on February 2, 2020.
The images above show the falls and the surrounding river basin while water still
flowed on August 4, 2014 (left) and after it stopped on March 15, 2020 (right).
These images were acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8.
The image below shows a photograph of the falls on November 28, 2012.
According to media reports, a huge sinkhole appeared in the Coca River a few
meters before the falls and diverted the watercourse. Now, the water falls in
three separate sections and at a less steep slope, which cannot be seen from
viewing stations located around the original waterfall. Researchers believe the
three streams could cause erosion at the channel’s origin and create a river
upstream, which might change the topography of the valley.
The cause of the sinkhole is under investigation. Some geologists think the
deformation occurred naturally, while other researchers suspect it may be tied
to the new construction of the country’s largest hydroelectric plant. No matter
the cause, Ecuador’s tourism ministry does not plan to reconstruct the riverbed
or restore San Rafael. The waterfall is now part of history.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from
the U.S. Geological Survey. Photograph courtesy of Ecuador Ministry of Tourism
via CC BY-SA 2.0. Story by Kasha Patel.
For more information, visit
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