Shrinking Aral Sea

  • Released Thursday, October 17, 2013

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The lake they made, the Aral Sea, was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea.

At the start of the series in 2000, the lake was already a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). The Northern Aral Sea (small) had separated from the Southern (large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had split into an eastern and a western lobe that remained tenuously connected at both ends. By 2001, the southern connection had been severed, and the shallower eastern part retreated rapidly over the next several years. After Kazakhstan built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea, all of the water flowing into the desert basin from the Syr Darya stayed in the Northern Aral Sea. The differences in water color are due to changes in sediment.

Images acquired from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite

Reference: NASA’s Earth Observatory

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NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Thursday, October 17, 2013.
This page was last updated on Monday, July 15, 2024 at 12:14 AM EDT.


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