(Aral Sea: left 2014 and right 2000, 1960 extent black line)
In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major rivers, fed by snowmelt and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. Before the project, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers flowed down from the mountains, cut northwest through the Kyzylkum Desert, and finally pooled together in the lowest part of the basin. The lake they made, the Aral Sea, was once the fourth largest in the world.
Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea. This series of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite documents the changes. At the start of the series in 2000, the lake was already a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). The Northern Aral Sea (sometimes called the Small Aral Sea) had separated from the Southern (Large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had split into eastern and western lobes 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. Especially large retreats in the eastern lobe of the Southern Sea appear to have occurred between 2005 and 2009, when drought limited and then cut off the flow of the Amu Darya. Water levels then fluctuated annually between 2009 and 2014 in alternately dry and wet years. Dry conditions in 2014 caused the Southern Sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in modern times. Continue reading: 1.usa.gov/1nLX9Ku
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Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
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