The Great Bitter Lake is one of several lakes located along the Suez Canal, which connects the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas. As the canal is built only to allow ships to travel in a single lane, the Great Bitter Lake is a location where ships can change their position in line (like the passing lane on the highway) before proceeding to either Port Said to the north, or the port of Suez to the south. The lake also provides an intermediate harbor for ships traversing the Canal—a journey that typically takes 14 hours end to end. Several ships, some under power and some anchored, are visible at image right.
Prior to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Great Bitter Lake was a large salt flat; in the arid climate, basins rarely accumulate enough water to become true lakes. Large expanses of white and tan sandy sediments at image left and top attest to the desert conditions surrounding the lake. Located at the approximate midpoint of the Suez Canal, Great Bitter Lake is now filled with water derived from both the Red and Mediterranean Seas, and this steady influx of water balances the water lost to evaporation. The town of Fayid (also spelled as Fayed), visible along the western shore of the lake (bottom) is a tourist destination for residents of Cairo, particularly in the summer months.
Astronaut photograph ISS020-E-45018 was acquired on October 2, 2009, with a Nikon D3 digital camera fitted with an 800 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 20 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.
Ships line up to pass each other in the Suez Canal’s Great Bitter Lake in this astronaut photo from October 2, 2009.