Death of Aral Sea


Once the fourth largest lake, four years ago, NASA satellites take photos showing that the eastern basin of Aral Sea had for the first time completely dried up.

According to Philip Micklin, an Aral Sea expert and a geographer emeritus from Western Michigan University. “It is likely the first time it has completely dried up in 600 years since medieval desiccation associated with diversion of Amu Darya River to the Caspian Sea.

Aral Sea is actually a freshwater lake, which once had a surface area of 67,300 square kilometers. It had been long ringed with prosperous towns and supported a lucrative muskrat pelt industry and thriving fishery, providing 40,000 jobs and supplying the Soviet Union with a sixth of its fish catch. It was fed by two of Central Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya.

In the 1960’s, Soviet Engineers decided to build an enormous irrigation network, including 20,000 miles of canals, 45 dams, and more than 80 reservoirs, all to irrigate sprawling fields of cotton and wheat in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Some say, the system built was leaky and inefficient, causing the rivers drained to a trickle. In the couple of decades, the Aral Sea was reduced to a handful of small lakes, with a combined volume that was one-tenth of its original size.

Now, the Soviet Union is long dissolved.

In 2005, Kazakhstan took drastic measures. They used World Bank Funding to build a dam across what was once Aral Sea’s largest island, Kokaral Island, which become a peninsula, then an isthmus as the water level dropped. Water levels north of the dam, in what is today called “North Aral” or “Small Aral” Sea, have risen three meters.

Water streams through the dike during the wet season may be enough to bring some fish barns, but, 90% of the Aral Sea is gone forever.