Asphalt Lakes – A Natural Oddity

There may be nothing fascinating about the asphalt you drive your car on, but when it comes out of the earth, forming some of the strangest lakes in the world, asphalt turns into something worth seeing.


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Looking like something you would expect to see in films like Star Trek or Star Wars, asphalt lakes are the result of strange geological occurrences, in which bitumen from deep deposits within the Earth was forced to the surface. These lakes have fascinated scientists ever since they were discovered, and have become important travel destinations for tourists interested in the bizarre. Here are the world’s three most famous asphalt lakes in the world:

Pitch Lake – Trinidad

Discovered in 1595, by Sir Walter Raleigh, who used the asphalt to caulk his ship, Pitch Lake is the world’s largest natural source of asphalt. It is one of the island’s greatest tourist attractions, drawing over 20,000 curious travelers every year. The lake spreads on 40 ha and has a reported depth of around 75 meters.

Pitch Lake 2

Experts say the origin of Pitch Lake is connected to the subduction of deep faults under the Caribbean Plate that allowed oil deposits to leak out. But the local Chaima Indians have their own explanation. According to an old legend, their ancestors killed and ate the sacred hummingbirds on the island, so a winged god opened up the earth and created a lake of pitch to swallow their village. Archeologists uncovered early Amerindian pottery and remains of prehistoric wildlife, like mastodons and giant sloths.

the pitch lake

The Pitch Lake of Trinidad also plays a big role in the islands industry, with over 3$ million worth of asphalt being exported every year, for the construction of high-quality roads.

La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, California

The world famous cluster of tar pits is located in Hancock Park, right in the heart of Los Angeles. The La Brea Tar Pits have been around for tens of thousand of years and are one of LA’s most popular attractions, featured in several films, cartoons and TV shows.


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The many tar pits are covered by a layer of water that attracts wildlife and makes it even more fascinating. Ever since tar started seeping out of the earth, animals have been drawn to these small asphalt lakes. Fooled by the layer of fallen leaves and dust, they sunk into the tar, and their remains preserved for thousands of years. The George C. Page Museum, in Los Angeles, researches the La Brea Tar Pits and displays all the prehistoric specimens it uncovers.


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The bubbles on the surface of the pits, which make them appear like they are boiling, are caused by methane leaks. The gas is produced by some interesting forms of bacteria living in the asphalt.

Guanoco Lake – Venezuela

Although it is the largest asphalt lake in the world, covering a surface of 445 hectares, Guanoco Lake is not as well known as the others we’ve covered. It is located in the Orinoco Basin, Venezuela, close to Macaraibo Lake.

Unlike the Pitch Lake in Trinidad, Guanoco does not look like a giant dark ocean, spreading as far as the eye can see. Its entire surface is covered with grass, shrubs and palm groves that hide the precious construction material. Scientists say the lake was formed from an overflow of pitch from several springs that spread over a large area. Its depth only ranges between 4 and 9 feet, but because of its size, the amount of extractable asphalt amounts to 6 million tons.

Unlike the Pitch Lake or The La Brea Tar Pits, Guanoco Lake (also known as Bermudez Lake) isn’t a very popular tourist attraction, but the purer tar makes it a valuable resource for the construction industry.

3 Comments for "Asphalt Lakes – A Natural Oddity"

US Hotels says on June 11th, 2009 at 7:13 pm:

Export of Asphalt is very important part of economy in Trinidad and Tobago.

There are only a few known asphalt lakes worldwide:

* Pitch Lake at La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago
* La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles
* McKittrick, California near Bakersfield
* Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County, California
* Lake Bermudez in Venezuela

Charles says on July 29th, 2013 at 2:19 pm:

Problem is most scientists got the facts wrong. I still subscribe to the hydro-plate theory.


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