Lake Van is one of the largest alkaline lakes on Earth, but today it has another superlative: Tournament Earth 2021 champion.
This year, readers, astronauts, and NASA staff chose 32 photos — shot by the astronauts from the International Space Station — to compete in our tournament. Lake Van was slotted as a #8 seed, but knocked out higher seeded fishing boat lights (#1 seed), Elba at night (#4), Typhoon Maysak (#2), the castellanus cloud tower (#6), and finally Stars in Motion (#3) to win the crown. Across the five rounds, more than 930,000 ballots were cast, a record in the history of our Tournament Earth competitions.
The winning image, showing a northeastern portion of the lake, was shot by astronaut Kate Rubins while orbiting on the space station in September 2016. Lake Van is an endorheic lake—it has no outlet, so its water disappears by evaporation—with a pH of 10 and high salinity levels. Turbidity plumes, which appear as swirls of light- and dark-toned water, are mostly comprised of calcium carbonate, detritus, and some organic matter. The lake is also the largest water body in Turkey.
Lake Van also has quirkier characteristics. According to legend, it is the home for a lake monster popularized in Turkish folklore. Akin to the Loch Ness monster, the Lake Van monster is rumored to look like an ancient marine reptile such as a plesiosaur. No monster-like creature has been confirmed, although archeologists have found parts of a 3,000-year-old castle buried under the lake’s waters.
The Lake Van region is also home to a special cat breed known as the Van cat. The felines have been seen swimming in Lake Van and are known for their almond-shaped eyes, often of different colors.
For the past five weeks, the competition has caught the eye of several Turkish news outlets, government officials, and Turkish citizens expressing love for their home. Other readers liked the photo due the simple beauty as a single photograph. The mayor of Van has since invited astronaut Rubins to visit.
The tournament may be over, but be sure to come back as we bring you a new view of our home planet every day of the year. If you really like astronaut photos, come back for a new one every weekend. To view other photos shot from the space station, visit the EO Astronaut Photography Collection and the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.
If you want to learn about the experience of observing the Earth from the International Space Station or about how astronauts are trained to observe our planet, watch our Picturing Earth video series above.
Thank you for voting in this year’s #TournamentEarth. We hope to bring you more competitions like this in future months and years.