The puddle that was once a sea

This image, just released from NASA’s Earth Observatory, is both scary and beautiful

aral_sea.jpg

This is – or was – the Aral Sea*. 50 years ago, it was a substantial body of water. Then, the rivers that fed it were diverted for irrigation, meaning that the amount of water flowing into the lake fell below the amount of water being lost by evaporation. As a result of this imbalance, the Aral Sea began to dry up, and is now but a shadow of its former self.
If you’re looking for a powerful illustration of how quickly – and visibly – human activity can change the face of the planet, look no further.
*even though, as my hydro-coblogger** would be quick to point out, it’s actually a lake (or not – see comments below).
**who will hopefully forgive me for invading her disciplinary territory.
Categories: environment, geology, photos
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Comments (9)

  1. Greg Laden says:

    Holy crap. Looks like Lake Chad. Or, for that matter, Australia.

  2. John says:

    Wow…I wonder how this affects air pollution in surrounding areas. Both from wind carried particulate matter and contaminants that may be adsorbed onto those.

  3. Lassi Hippel?┬žinen says:

    The air is seriously polluted. Wind distributes salt and all kinds of poisons that were poured to the lake over decades. Also local climate has warmed, now that there is no water to cool it.
    There are many links to choose from, e.g. this:
    http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/uu14re/uu14re0a.htm

  4. Thanks for posting this Chris. It caught my eye too, but I’m up to my neck in grant proposals.
    But, you are wrong about me calling it a lake. According to the “Concise Oxford English Dictionary of Earth Sciences” the first definition of sea is a “large body of usually saline water which is smaller in size than an ocean.” In the case of the Aral Sea, though, your title is pretty accurate these days.
    NASA’s Earth Observatory has a nice feature showing yearly images of the Aral Sea for the past decade. If you press “play” below the picture, you can see the sea dry up in front of your very eyes.

  5. andy says:

    Just to add to the highly amusing situation, you’ve also got the still-dangerous relics of a Soviet bioweapons programme on Vozrozhdeniya Island to contend with. It isn’t an island anymore when the water goes away…

  6. TokyoTom says:

    Another tragedy of government planning, in the absence of any ability by those adversely affected to stop the government. As quoted at Wikipedia:
    The disappearance of the lake was no surprise to the Soviets; they expected it to happen long before. As early as in 1964, Aleksandr Asarin at the Hydroproject Institute pointed out that the lake was doomed explaining, “It was part of the five-year plans, approved by the council of ministers and the Politburo. Nobody on a lower level would dare to say a word contradicting those plans, even if it was the fate of the Aral Sea.”
    Note should be made that the Kazakhs are celebrating and extending successful efforts to restore the northern part of the sea that lies entirely in their territory; the commercial fishery and rain clouds have returned. The poorer Uzbeks have not evidenced the political will to make any significant restoration of streamflows, which the Soviets diverted (via extremely leaky canal systems) into deserts that are now irrigated for the production of export cotton.
    http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav042409.shtml
    http://unimaps.com/aral-sea/index.html
    http://www.worldbank.org.kz/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/ECAEXT/KAZAKHSTANEXTN/0,,contentMDK:20976904~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:361869,00.html

  7. llewelly says:

    Just to add to the highly amusing situation, you’ve also got the still-dangerous relics of a Soviet bioweapons programme on Vozrozhdeniya Island to contend with. It isn’t an island anymore when the water goes away…

    Your tense is wrong. It became a peninsula in 2002.

  8. Zuska says:

    I had heard of the plight of the Aral Sea – perhaps on NPR??? – but seeing this is horribly depressing. Anne, that link and the “play” button is even worse. Oh, this poor planet.

  9. Yoga online says:

    It’s really scary.