The Disappearance of Ecuador’s Tallest Waterfall

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 A newly formed sinkhole on the Coca River has diverted water originally headed toward the San Rafael Waterfall.

  • NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey 
  • Photograph of San Rafael Waterfall courtesy of Ecuador Ministry of Tourism 
  • Image of the Day story by Kasha Patel, NASA Earth Observatory:
  • Adaptation to ViewSpace by Margaret W. Carruthers and Dani Player
  • Music courtesy of Music for Nonprofits

Clouds from space.
Text, EarthWatch, Exploring the Blue Planet by Satellite
Aerial shot of the Coca River as it snakes through the deep green Ecuadorian jungle.
Text, EarthWatch, The Disappearance of Ecuador's Tallest Waterfall. Earth Observatory, earthobservatory dot nasa dot gov, Operational Land Imager, Landsat 8 Satellite. August 4, 2014. 

A satellite image captured by Landsat 8 in 2014 shows Ecuador's Coca River winding through lush forest where the Andes Mountains meet the Amazon Basin. 

With a drop of 150 meters (nearly 500 feet), the river's San Rafael Waterfall was one of the most captivating natural features in Ecuador, attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year. 

But on February 2, 2020, a huge sinkhole appeared, swallowing part of the Coca River and diverting the watercourse just upstream of the falls. 

The San Rafael cascade disappeared, replaced by three smaller waterfalls, none of which are easily visible from satellite. 

The cause of the sinkhole is under investigation. Some researchers think it formed naturally, while others suspect it may be related to the construction of a new hydroelectric plant. 

Ecuador's tourism ministry does not plan to reconstruct the riverbed or restore San Rafael. The San Rafael Waterfall is now part of history. 

To learn more, go to: earthobservatory dot nasa dot gov