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Tis Issat Falls on the Blue Nile River below Lake Tana, November 2003
Photo credit: L. Borre

General Information

Description Lake Tana is the largest lake in Ethiopia and is the source of the Blue Nile, which flows to Khartoum, Sudan and beyond. There are 37 islands in the lake, upon which some 20 monasteries from the 16th and 17th century exist.
Country Ethiopia
Latitude 12° 10' 0" (12.1667)
Longitude 37° 20' 0" (37.3333)
River Basin Nile


 Tana global index map (LakeNet Explorer)
 Tana locator map
 Lakes of Ethiopia
 Africa Lake Biodiversity Conservation Priorities 2003
 USAID-supported Lake Basin Management and Biodiversity Conservation Technical Assistance 2003-2004 (LakeNet Explorer)

Physical Characteristics

Description Although it is relatively small in comparison with the three “great lakes” of East Africa--Lake Victoria is approximately 20 times larger--Lake Tana is very important to Ethiopia as a permanent source of both water and hydroelectricity in the drought-prone region. The lake is situated in the northern highlands at an altitude of approximately 1800 meters. Four perennial rivers and numerous seasonal streams feed the lake, depends heavily on the local climate. Rainfall averages 1315 mm/year, but evaporation is higher, about 1800 mm/year. With a mean depth of 8 only meters, the alternating dry and rainy seasons result in an average difference of 1.5 to 2 meters between the lowest (May-June) and highest (October-November) lake levels.

Lake Tana was formed by a volcanic blockage that reversed the previously north-flowing Blue Nile and created one of Africa’s greatest waterfalls, known as Tis Abay or Tis Isat. The falls isolated the lake, in which 18 species of barbus fish evolved, the only extended cyprinid species flock in Africa and the only intact flock in the world. The only other known flock, in Lake Lanao, in the Philippines, has been decimated by introduced species.

Volume 28.00 km3
Surface Area 3,600.00 km2
Depth Mean depth: 9.0 m
Maximum depth: 14.0 m
Residence Time 1.5 years
Origin Volcanic
Trophic State Mesotrophic
Type Fresh
Catchment Catchment size: 16,500.00 km2
Catchment/surface area ratio: 5:1


Economic Value The Lake Tana Basin significantly contributes to the livelihoods of tens of millions of people in the lower Nile River basin. The fish resource potential of the Lake Tana itself is over 10,000 metric tons per year. The lake is also a natural reservoir for the eighty-megawatt runoff power station at Tis Abay.

The largest city on the lake shore, Bahir Dar, has a population of over 200,000, and at least 15,000 people are said to live on the islands in the lake. Bahir Dar is the capital of the Amhara Province and is home to Bahir Dar University (BDU), which was established in the 1990s by the Ministry of Education, by amalgamating agricultural and teacher training institutions.

Major Cities Bahir Dar
Population 806,545 (1980)

Watershed Management

Description A Lake Tana Resource Management Research Center has been established at Bahir Dar University which plans to investigate water quality, land use, and biodiversity in the lake basin. They are currently planning a National Lake Symposium (2003).
Other Issues Erosion
Biodiversity Conservation
Lake Levels (water quantity)
Nutrient pollution
Point source pollution
Polluted runoff
Cultural Heritage
Sand mining
Watershed habitat alteration
Specific Contaminants Pesticides

Biodiversity Conservation

Designations LakeNet Biodiversity Priority
WWF Global 200
Species of Concern


Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program
Lake Tana Resource Management Research Center

LakeNet Programs

USAID-funded Technical Assistance
Ethiopia: Lake Tana Watershed Management


LakeNet News, Winter 2003-2004 (PDF)  Newsletter. Final. English. 12/20/2003.


Biodiversity Conservation of the World's Lakes: A Preliminary Framework for Identifying Priorities
Crop Explorer - Global Reservoir and Lake Elevation Monitoring
Crop Explorer - Lake Level Variations from TOPEX/POSEIDON and Jason-1 Altimetry for Lake Tana
Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program, Integrated Development of the Eastern Nile (IDEN)
ILEC Database
Lake Tana and Gonder
Limnology in Developing Countries Volume 3
Nile River Basin map & information
Profile on Ethiopia
Tis Abay II Hyrdroelectric Project


3/31/2004 - The African Development To Finance The Eastern Nile Power Trade Program Study
12/17/2003 - Stealing the Nile: famous falls no more
8/15/2003 - Ancient history rules in Ethiopia

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
Duker, L. and L. Borre. 2001. Biodiversity conservation of the world's lakes: a preliminary framework for identifying priorities. LakeNet Report Series Number 2. Annapolis, Maryland USA.
International Lake Environment Committee, the United Nations Environment Program and Environment Agency, Government of Japan. 1997. World Lakes Database.

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