The disappearance of the Aral Sea
Table of Contents
The Aral Sea once supported a vibrant fishing and agricultural community along its borders in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. But in the early 21st century, the Soviet Union diverted the sea’s primary freshwater sources, the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers, to irrigate their cotton fields. As a result, the sea has shrunk to two bodies of water — the North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the South Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The disappearance of the sea has far-reaching impacts on the communities that rely on it for its natural resources.
History of Aral Sea
The North Aral Sea was formed when the Kyzyl Kum Canal was built in the Soviet era to divert water from the Amu Darya River into the south. This created a gap in water levels between the North and South Aral Sea, eventually leading to widespread ecological degradation and desertification.
Kazakhstan built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea in a last-ditch effort to save some of the lakes. The Kok-Aral Dike and dam, finished in 2005, separates the two water bodies and prevents flow from the North Aral into the lower-elevation South Aral. Between 2005 and 2006, water levels in the North Aral rebounded significantly, and very small increases were visible throughout the rest of the period.
The Aral Sea is an inland body of water located in Central Asia. It is an endorheic lake, meaning it does not receive any precipitation or discharge water into any oceans or seas. The sea is fed by three major rivers: the Syr Darya, the Amu Darya, and the Zerafshan River. In its heyday, these rivers provided abundant freshwater flows to support a rich ecosystem and diverse wildlife populations. However, over time, as demand for irrigated crops increased due to rapid industrialization and urbanization in both countries, these rivers were redirected for agricultural production. As a result, salinity levels in the sea have increased significantly, and its ability to support aquatic life has decreased dramatically.
The diversion of these rivers caused significant ecological damage to the surrounding land. As fresh water was withdrawn from the sea, saltwater intruded into underlying aquifers, and soils began to erode due to sustained evaporation.
The Problem: why did Aral see disappear
The Aral Sea was an important water source for agriculture in the region during the 1960s and 1970s. However, the construction of several large-scale upstream irrigation schemes led to rapid river system drainage and massive evaporation. By 1987, 27,000 km2 of former sea bottom had become dry land, about 60% of volume had been lost, its depth had declined by 14 m, and its salt concentration had doubled. Today, about 200,000 tonnes of salt and sand are carried by the Aral Sea region wind daily and dumped within a 300 km radius. This process has caused widespread desertification and a significant decline in fish stocks. A combination of climate change and the drastic re-direction of water caused the Aral Sea to change from the fourth largest inland lake to two bodies of water a tenth of its original size.
This drastic environmental change forced farmers and coastal fishing communities to leave the Aral Sea basin and seek employment opportunities elsewhere, evaporating the local economy faster than the water. The loss of these resources has significantly impacted local ecosystems and economies, leading to decreased food security, increased migration, and reduced livelihoods for those living in the basin. In addition to these broader ecological impacts, the disappearance of the Aral Sea also has significant implications for human health by affecting water quality, evaporation rates, and fish stocks.
The salt content of dissolved solids in water is expressed as a percentage, with 1% being the standard. The salt content of water can affect its quality and usefulness for many purposes, such as agricultural irrigation, drinking, and industrial processing.
Ultimately, it is likely that the Aral Sea will continue to decline unless new measures are taken to control runoff from surrounding areas, or global climate change reverses course.
Efforts to recover and replenish the South Aral Sea in Uzbekistan have been a complete failure. The North Aral Sea, on the other hand, is being revived. The project constructed a 7.5-mile-long dyke that connects the North and South Areal Seas to reduce the amount of water flow between them. This conservation effort could be a model for other rapidly drying lakes worldwide.
While the recent improvements are promising, climate change will make sustaining the local economy and surrounding communities increasingly difficult. Without increased attention to climate change, environmental disasters, like the disappearance of the Aral Sea, will only grow, potentially causing further economic challenges. A greater emphasis must be made on the seriousness of these environmental calamities. As the planet heats up, extreme weather patterns become more frequent and severe, threatening existing infrastructure and driving away global economic actors. The impacts of climate change cannot be underestimated, and there needs to be a concerted effort from governments and individuals to address this global threat.
What was the Aral Sea?
The Aral Sea was once a large lake between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
Why did the Aral Sea shrink?
The Aral Sea began to shrink due to the excessive water usage for irrigation purposes from the two rivers that fed it, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya.
How big was the Aral Sea before it disappeared?
The Aral Sea was once one of the largest lakes in the world, covering an area of 68,000 square kilometres.
What were the consequences of the disappearance of the Aral Sea?
The disappearance of the Aral Sea caused a significant decline in fishing industries, increased desertification, and had serious health impacts on the local population due to the spread of dust and salt from the lake bed.
When did the disappearance of the Aral Sea begin?
The shrinking of the Aral Sea began in the 1960s when the Soviet Union began to divert water from the rivers for irrigation purposes.
What has been done to restore the Aral Sea?
In recent years, efforts have been made to restore the Aral Sea by constructing a dam between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has helped to increase the water level in the northern part of the lake.
Is it possible to restore the Aral Sea to its original size?
It is unlikely that the Aral Sea will ever be restored to its original size, as the water sources that fed it are now being used for irrigation and are no longer available.
How has the disappearance of the Aral Sea impacted the local population?
The disappearance of the Aral Sea has significantly impacted the local population, including a decline in fishing industries, increased health problems due to the spread of dust and salt, and decreased economic opportunities.
How has the disappearance of the Aral Sea affected the environment?
The disappearance of the Aral Sea has had serious environmental consequences, including increased desertification, declining biodiversity, and changes in regional climate patterns.
Are there any plans to prevent further shrinkage of the Aral Sea?
Yes, there are ongoing efforts to prevent further shrinkage of the Aral Sea, including the construction of dams to regulate the flow of water and the implementation of sustainable irrigation practices.