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Aral Sea
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Aral Sea

October 1, 2013
The Aral Sea, once one the four largest lakes in the world, continued to shrink through September, 2013. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite documented the progressive disappearance of the Sea on September 22.

Prior to 1960, the lake’s area was reported at 68,800 km (26,300 sq mi). In that year, the Soviet Union put in place a water diversion project, sending some waters from the region’s two major rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, to irrigate agricultural fields. While the project was a success, in that parts of the desert have been converted to fertile farm fields, the diversion has had a major impact on the Aral Sea. Livelihoods, villages and ecosystems that relied on the lake have diminished along with the lake.

The waters of the Aral Sea once encompassed all of the waters seen in the image, except for Sarygamysh Lake in the southwest. The outline of the former boundaries lay near the western edge of the deep remnant western section of the South Aral, ran north of the Small (northern) Sea, and then along the edge of the faintly white desert sands far from the eastern section of the South Aral. The former eastern-most boundary of the Sea lay near where the black borderline between Kazakhstan (north) and Uzbekistan (south) appears broken in this image.

While the shrinkage of the Sea has been progressive, efforts have been made to preserve parts of the Sea. In fall, 2005, a project to raise the water level in the Small (northern) Sea was completed, and was reported as successful. The water level increased by 2 meters, the salinity was lowered to near-1960 levels, and the ecological recovery was dramatic. Improving the large (South Aral) lake has proven more difficult.

Credits: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC



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