Abandoned boats now rest on sandy scrubland that was once the basin of the world's fourth largest lake.
In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook major water diversion projects on the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, capturing water that once fed into the Aral Sea. Irrigation projects made the desert bloom, but they spelled doom for the natural freshwater lake. As the Aral Sea dried up, fisheries collapsed, as did the communities that depended on them. The remaining water supply became increasingly salty and polluted with runoff from agricultural plots. Dust blowing from the exposed lakebed eventually degraded the soils, forcing further water diversion efforts to revive them. On a larger scale, loss of the Aral Sea's water influenced regional climate, making the winters even colder and the summers much hotter. Fifty years later, the lake is virtually gone. View the dramatic changes that took place over decades in this collection of satellite images.