Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Aral Sea Is Gone

Via NASA's Earth Observatory, an image of the (former) Aral Sea, this August:

Near the dry harbor of Aral, Kazakhstan. Via Wikipedia.
The Aral Sea used to straddle the border between Uzbekistan and Kakakhstan as the world's fourth-largest saltwater lake. A Soviet industrialization program in the 1940s diverted most of its source water to irrigation projects for thirsty cotton farms in the desert. By the 1960s, most of the sea's water supplies had been diverted, and it began to shrink.

As the sea evaporated, a new desert, known locally as the Aralkum, took its place. The desert's soils consist of fine marine deposits mixed with highly polluted runoff from the former industrial cotton farms that used to surround it. Massive dust storms have blown this soil and its pollutants all over the world. The disappearance of the Sea has also removed a tempering influence on the regional climate: winters are now colder, summers are hotter, and there's less rainfall. Ironically, these problems haven't helped the industrial cotton farms that continue to divert water from the former sea's source rivers.

The Aral Sea seen from space in 1985. Via Wikipedia.
At the same time, as the lake shrank, its waters became increasingly saline. The water that remains in the disappearing southern lagoon is now three times saltier than typical ocean water.

The Kazakh government has undertaken a number of projects to restore the northern part of the sea, where water levels have recently stabilized and a fishing industry has even been able to re-establish itself. But the much larger southern portion has been written off as a lost cause, and continues to shrink at rapid rates.

Pretty amazing: in roughly half a century, a sea that was once the size of Missouri has essentially disappeared.

So long, Aral Sea.
We hardly knew ye.


Anonymous said...
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Corey Templeton said...

Pretty amazing stuff indeed and powerful images from high above.

On another note, I thought you would find this interesting, I've never heard of this before: