These are photographs of Maracaibo taken from earth orbit. These photographs range from shots taken from both manned and unmanned flights. Some of them are quite spectacular, and I've decided to include them here with the thought that others might find them interesting as well.

Note that a few of the enlarged views are quite large as they are posted with little or no compression to maintain high resolution.

Tablazo Bay & Lake Maracaibo

Entrance to Lake Maracaibo from Tablazo Bay, image taken in 1985.

Just above center of the image, a plume of sediment spreads from the delta of the Catatumbo River, the chief supplier of fresh water to the lake. Dredging of the navigation channel through Tablazo Strait has resulted in increased salinity of the lake; eutrophication due to the discharge of sewage and industrial waste has degraded the water quality of the lake, as has pollution from oil exploration and production activities.



A good view of Tablazo Bay at the entrance to the lake in an image taken in the Fall of 1997.

The Gulf of Venezuela, with a heavy load of sediment, occupies most of the left portion of this near-vertical-looking view. An inlet of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf is a major shipping lane for Venezuelan oil. The oil is shipped from ports in Maracaibo (upper right) and the new city of Tablazo across the Bay of Tablazo from Maracaibo. The bay is constantly dredged to allow the passage of large oil tankers to and from the ports of Maracaibo and Tablazo and other ports in the northeastern part of Lake Maracaibo (not visible on image).

If you click on the enlarged view, the Gral. Rafael Urdaneta Bridge can be seen quite clearly as a white line in the upper right of the photograph.

This south-southwest-looking, low-oblique photograph shows the Bay of Tablazo and the city of Maracaibo at the entrance into Lake Maracaibo.

Image was taken in February of 1996.



This satellite view of the Tia Juana area was meticulously stitched together by Steve Sleightholm. It's a great view of the area, and those of you who lived in Tia Juana can use it to identify the area where you used to live - assuming it's still there. If it isn't, then one can view the changes that have taken place since the years that you were there.

Note that the enlargement you get by clicking on the image below is full-sized, so please give it time to download if you're on a slower connection.

Many thanks to Steve for his hard work in putting this image together & allowing us to share it here


Cabimas - La Salina Composition
Camps & Production Area - La Salina
Lagunillas Area Composition
Zulima Camp, Production Area & Harbor - Lagunillas
These three satellite images, stitched together from recent multiple satellite images by Steve Sleightholm, encompass the areas of Cabimas and Lagunillas as they look today. Descriptions of each area are provided within the images themselves. Considerable time & effort was put into these images by Steve to make them appear seamless.
Note that, in order to maintain the highest resolution of the enlargements, they have not been decreased in size or resolution from the originals. So each enlargement that you get when you click on the images may take some time to download depending upon the speed of your Internet connection. But this will allow you to closely examine each area when you review the enlarged images.

Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo presents a complicated surface to interpret. The area is the largest oil producing region in the western hemisphere. Oil platforms and other infrastructure supporting the oil industry can be seen in the lake and along the coast. Oil slicks (very bright streaks) are common. Heavy ship traffic produces linear ship wakes. The vivid green streaks and swirls are patches of duck weed growth that has thrived on the lake this summer. The duck weed problem is so extensive that the Venezuelan government launched a massive campaign to remove it.
This image was taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station on August 23, 2004. Sunglint—sun light reflecting off the relatively smooth water surface—produces patterns that highlights water surface features and movements. Sunglint reflects brightly off oil slicks, ship wakes and water roughened variably by wind in this image. Rough surfaces like floating vegetation (duck weed) stand out against the smooth water.
Astronaut photograph ISS009-E-19682 was acquired August 23, 2004, with a Kodak K760C digital camera with an 180-mm lens, and is provided by the Earth Observations Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.
This false-color (near-infrared, red, green) image of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, has been processed to emphasize details on the lake’s surface. The scene shows oil slicks (the various dark patches) in the southeastern portion of the lake on January 20, 2003. The slicks come from leaks in the various oil production and storage platforms located on Lake Maracaibo. Venezuela is the largest oil producing nation in the Western Hemisphere.
This image was produced using data from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite. The scene uses the sensor’s near-infrared, red, and green bands (3, 2, and 1), which were then “stretched” to highlight the contrast of the oil slicks with the unpolluted water. The water and land components of this scene were processed and stretched separately and then “stitched” back together into one image; this stitching is evident along the shoreline in the high-resolution version of this image. On land, the red color indicates vegetated areas, the bluish areas show paved surfaces, and the browns are bare land. At full resolution, this scene is 15 meters per pixel and spans an area of 900 square km.
Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.


20 MAY 2005: European Space Agency (ESA) - This Envisat multitemporal radar composite shows the port of Maracaibo, positioned on the west side of the narrow strait that links oil-rich Lake Maracaibo - the largest water body in South America - with the Gulf of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea.
Its once pristine waters have been heavily polluted: oil spills, along with sewage and river run-off, have caused runaway blooms of duckweed or lemma, an aquatic plant.
The port of Maracaibo, located on the west side of the strait, is the second city of Venezuela after Caracas and the capital of Zulia state. With a 1990 population of 1.29 million, it is the country's oil capital and a commercial and industrial centre. Bright points visible off its coast are individual ships.
The General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge connects the city to the eastern side of the strait. At eight kilometres in length it is one of the longest bridges in the world. It is just visible at the centre of the image as a reddish line contrasting with the surrounding greenish waters. On the eastern side to the south is the city of Cabimas.
Radar images measure surface texture rather than reflected light. The colour in the image comes from the fact that this is actually a combination of three Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) images, and works to highlight changes occurring between acquisitions. A colour is assigned to each date of acquisition: red for 8 September 2004, green for 26 February 2004 and blue for 17 June 2004.
TIn particular, signs of seasonal cultivation can be seen in the patchwork fields on the eastern side of the strait.
The view was acquired in ASAR Image Mode Precision, with pixel sampling of 12.5 metres. It covers an area of 62 km x 70 km.


June, 2005: The first three satellite images were taken using a subscription program called KEYHOLE. Actually, GOOGLE just purchased this company & its software a few weeks ago, so it's now been renamed GOOGLE EARTH PLUS although, as of this date, many aspects of the program still retain the former name. It's an amazing program that allows one to “fly” & zoom to any address in the United States, & many overseas cities, by just typing in an address, from which one then can zoom in for more detail. Tilting, panning, & revolving the images to obtain a better view angle is also possible.
As many parts of the world are not adequately mapped in high resolution, some cities show considerably more detail than others. Unfortunately, Venezuelan cities show only low to moderate resolution, so one can't zoom in to a particular address yet. But the resolution is good enough to at least give a good view of the cities from a distance.
To see some amazing shots of what is available today, download the free demo program by clicking here, install it, and then go to the KEYHOLE/GOOGLE Community Forums website to see some of the amazing images that people have found using this program. You may even find it compelling enough to subscribe to, as I did some time ago.
View of the 'new' airport “La Chinita” which replaced the old “Grano de Oro” airport, and its relationship to the city, situated to the west of Maracaibo.
A closer view of La Chinita.
View of the old Grano de Oro” airport, and its relationship to the city.
View showing the relationship between the location of the new airport & the old airport.
Close-up of the old Grano de Oro” showing the location of the old main runway.
Map of the old Grano de Oro airport showing the former layout of the airport for comparison with the image on the left. Inset taken from map originally contributed by Doug Becker.
(Since all of us have landed and taken off from Maiquetia at least once during our years in Venezuela, I decided to include a satellite photo of it as well.)


Hurricane Ivan & Lake Maracaibo, 2004
A satellite image of Hurricane Ivan over the Caribbean Sea taken at 0845EDT (1245GMT) September 9, 2004, with Lake Maracaibo lower right of center.
Another satellite image from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Ivan taken at 3:45 p.m. EDT on September 9, 2004.
Third satellite view released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of Hurricane Ivan over the Caribbean region, date & time unknown, but later than those above by about 12 hours, on September 10, 2004.

Low-oblique photo of the Bay of Tablazo, entrance to Lake Maracaibo, and the city of Maracaibo. Date unknown.

Lake Maracaibo, taken with infrared film. Date Unknown.


Lake Maracaibo from high altitude taken from the SeaWiFS satellite sometime after 1997, launch date of SeaWiFS. The islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire are visible just off the northern coast.

Maracaibo with the General Rafael Urdaneta bridge circled. This shot is extremely rare as lighting conditions have to be just right to be able to see the bridge from space. Date unknown.

Lake Maracaibo, taken in 1992.
Entrance to Lake Maracaibo, taken in 1992. Shot looks to the southwest.
Lake Maracaibo taken from the Space Shuttle on flight STS 59, taken in 1994.
Lake Maracaibo taken from the Space Shuttle on flight STS 73, taken in 1995.

Lake Maracaibo taken from the Space Shuttle on flight STS 109 from 305 nautical miles high, taken in 2002 with a Hasselblad on Kodak Elite 100S film, 10% cloud cover.


Several oil slicks occurred on Lake Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela between December 2002 and January 2003, and were observed by various satellite instruments. Dark areas show surface slick, best seen in the middle image.

High altitude, high resolution shot of Lake Maracaibo and surrounding area including Colombia and down through the Andes. Date unknown, but fairly recent. The red highlighted areas show fires in Venezuela & Colombia.


Paraguaná Peninsula, Golfete de Coro (angular patch of muddy water). The Golfete de Coro is cross-cut by faults of the Caribbean plate boundary system, hence the sharp, straight shorelines. South of the gulf, details of other faults and structures are clearly seen. Taken from the Space Shuttle on flight STS 109 from 305 nautical miles high, 2002.


Taken 7 March 2003 by the ESA's MEris satellite, the area covers the Lago de Maracaibo and the Guajira and Paraguaná peninsulas, with the islands of Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire clearly visible in the Caribbean. The Lake is surrounded on either side by mountain chains, to the east the Cordillera de Mérida and to the west the Sierra de Perijá. The most interesting things in this image, however, are the forest fires that can be observed on the forest plains extending out from the mountainous regions to the left and the right of the image. Particularly looking at the bottom right we see smoke plumes from these fires spreading from the northeast to the southwest. These fires are likely to be controlled fires for forest clearing for agriculture; such de-forestation is at its peak in this area in March. 300 meter resolution.



A spectacular view of Maracaibo and the entrance to the lake clearly showing the General Rafael Urdaneta bridge. Perfect shadowing of the bridge and the reflectivity of the water combine to make this impressive view possible. Shot looks to the southwest, with the bridge circled in red. Taken in early 2000 from the Space Shuttle, mission STS099.


2nd photo taken in early 2000 from the Space Shuttle, Mission STS099, except that this adjacent image has been rotated 180° to more accurately orient the image to show Maracaibo on the western side of the lake. Also, the photo was shifted more to the southwest. The General Rafael Urdaneta bridge is also visible in this image, but not as clearly as in the 1st image. Taken with a Hasselblad camera with a 250mm lens.
3rd photo taken in early 2000 from the Space Shuttle, Mission STS099, and this adjacent image has also been rotated 180° to show Maracaibo on the western side of the lake. This photo was shifted more to the northeast, clearly showing the dredged channel entry to the lake from the Golfo de Venezuela & the Carribbean Sea. The General Rafael Urdaneta bridge is not visible in this image because of a change in the lighting. Also taken with a Hasselblad camera with a 250mm lens.



BEFORE - 17 DEC 2003
AFTER - 26 JUN 2004
Duckweed Invasion in Lake Maracaibo

Green swirls of duckweed dominate the center of Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo in this Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on June 26, 2004. The Venezuelan government declared a state of emergency in mid-June to remove the fast-growing weed, spending about $2 million per month on clean-up efforts. Duckweed, more formally known as Lemna obscura, is not native to Venezuela and this is the first time that officials have had to deal with the plant.

There is some mystery as to how the foreign interloper came to reside in the waters of Lake Maracaibo—South America’s largest lake. “This type of Lemna is from Florida and Texas. We believed that it was transported by a ship,” says Dr. Nola Fernandez Acosta, a researcher from the Department of Environmental Engineering at the University of Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela. It is also possible that someone brought the plant to the lake.

Regardless of how the plant arrived, it is thriving on the lake. In the above image, duckweed covers 18 percent of the 13,280-square-kilometer lake, according to Acosta’s analysis. The only way to remove the weed is to pull it out of the lake physically, says Acosta. No chemical or biological method has been found to treat the weed. The removal process has proven to be particularly difficult in the center of the lake where a specially equipped ship may be needed to pull the weed off the lake. So far, efforts to remove the weed are barely keeping pace with its growth. In the conditions prevalent in Lake Maracaibo, duckweed can double in size in two days.

The duckweed invasion points to other problems in Lake Maracaibo. The lake basin hosts Venezuela’s largest oil fields and, ironically, dispersants used to clean up oil spills on the lake contributed to the current crisis. Acosta reports finding high concentrations of biodegradable dispersants that contain phosphorous and poliaspartic acid—a chemical used to increase nutrient uptake in crops. The dispersants combined with fertilizers flowing into the lake through agricultural run-off to provide a veritable feast for the duckweed. Interestingly, the plant’s growth follows the same swirling pattern as the oil slicks seen on the lake in satellite images in December 2002 and January 2003.

Acosta says the weed probably began growing on Lake Maracaibo in early February 2004, but was not recognized until April. Duckweed is not toxic to fish, but some scientists are concerned that it could suck oxygen out of the lake as it decays, asphyxiating large numbers of fish. Though officials say the weed hasn't harmed fish yet, it is putting a dent in the local fishing industry. The pesky plant clogs the motors of small boats, making it impossible for fishers to launch their vessels. Duckweed further threatens the local ecosystem by choking out native plants as it shades large portions of the lake. In certain conditions, the weed may concentrate heavy metals and bacteria such as salmonella and Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera. Despite these problems, the weed may yet have some positive use; Acosta says duckweed can be treated to be fed to poultry or to make paper.

The above image shows Lake Maracaibo at 250 meters per pixel, MODIS’ maximum spatial resolution. The image is available in additional resolutions. On December 17, 2003, before the duckweed invasion, MODIS onboard the Aqua satellite captured another image of Lake Maracaibo in which the green swirls that are so notable in the above image are missing.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption information courtesy Dr. Nola Fernandez Acosta, the Department of Environmental Engineering, University of Zulia in Maracaibo, Venezuela.