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Dust storm Turkmenistan Central Asia
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Dust storm, Turkmenistan, Central Asia

January 5, 2009
This west-looking astronaut photograph, taken with a short focal length lens from the International Space Station, spans a wide swath of central Asia—from Afghanistan, along the length of Turkmenistan, and beyond to the Caspian Sea. Winds blowing down the largest river valley in the region, the Amudarya, were strong enough to raise a large dust storm. Dust appears as a light brown mass extending into the center of the image from the lower right. Diffuse dust from prior windy weather appears over much of the area making a regional haze that hides landscape details. The haze partly obscures the irrigated agriculture in Turkmenistan and entirely obscures the Caspian Sea.

Numerous rivers rise in the Hindu Kush range (lower left). The Band-i Amir River is a major tributary of the main regional river, the Amudarya, which it reaches via a deep canyon. The Amudarya River was the major historical contributor of water to the Aral Sea, but today extensive diversion of river water for agricultural purposes has led to desiccation of the sea bed. The exposed sea bed is a major source of saline dusts contaminated with agricultural chemicals, and it poses a significant environmental and human health hazard to central Asia. To a lesser extent, dusts are also mobilized from sediments along the Amudarya River channel.

The Paropamisus Range and the Amudarya (also known as the Oxus River) are mentioned in histories of Alexander the Great's famous military expedition from Greece to India. His horsemen are described as having made a fast side excursion from near the Caspian Sea (image top right) as far as the Amudarya (image lower right).