The Aral Sea use to be the forth-largest saline sea in the world, that is until in the 1960s. The former Soviet Union diverted the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea, to make water available to the surrounding cotton fields and other crop farming regions in the desert like area. Due to the diversion of the rivers, the Aral Sea has begun to evaporate into the Aral Sea we see today. Even though the irrigation of the desert did wonders to the farming industry, it has left the Aral Sea a complete disaster.
The Aral Sea is located in the northern part of Uzbekistan and the southern part of Kazakhstan, and primarily fed by the Amu-Darya River from the South and the Syr-Darya River from the North. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were part of the former Soviet Union during the 1960s, the time when they began to divert the rivers flow of water. This caused the surface level of the lake, which in the 1960s was 26,250 square miles, to shrink about 75% of that (ARAL SEA).
It has now been split into three smaller lakes. There is now a smaller northern lake and the larger southern lake that splits into two basins. The rivers flow has been so diverted over the past couple decades that the Amu-Darya River no longer feeds the lake in the southern area. Water now flows only into the northern part of the lake (Wiki). Many problems have come about since the shrinking of the large sea, including health issues.
There are four major environmental issues caused by the evaporation of the lake, these include desertification, health problems of the surrounding populations, dust/salt wind and climate change of the surrounding regions. “Desertification is the rapid depletion of plant life and the loss of topsoil at desert boundaries and in semiarid regions, usually caused by a combination of drought and the overexploitation of grasses and other vegetation by people” (Dictionary).
As the sea dried up so did the fisheries the surrounding community dependeds, “…while shipping and other water-related activities have declined; the associated economic changes have taken a heavy toll on agricultural production. Rising unemployment has led to a major exodus from the region…”(UNEP). This caused a major community movement. Many people left their homes due to unemployment and bad drinking water caused by the increase salinity on the lakes water. Not only is the water’s saltiness caused by the shrinking of the lake, it is also caused by the chemicals from runoff in the surrounding farming industry.
“The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard” (NASA). On top of the dust and salt winds producing health problems it would also degrade the surrounding soil found on the crop field that would produce cotton, Uzbekistan’s number one export today. Climate change is the last major environmental issue brought up by the shrinking of the lake. Studies have been done throughout the years and it has been proven that the shrinking has caused warming in the neighboring areas. “…the shrinking of the sea directly accounts for 50% to 66% –this proportion varies with pressure and seasons and remains high– of the warming trend…”(Columbia).
The biodiversity in the Aral Sea dramatically change with the ongoing shrinking of the inland lake. In the 1960s there was reportedly 24 native fish species living throughout the Aral Sea. With the receding shore lines and the abundance of salt, the fish became vulnerable to land predators and being unable to breathe in the high salt content. “Also, with the decreasing volume of animal life in the region more salient species were introduced in an attempt to preserve the 44,000 tonnes of fish per annum that the commercial fisheries of the region had procured prior to the 1960’s. The newly introduced fish proved brutal competitors for the already vulnerable native species” (Columbia). Soon the introduction of new fish left the sea barren of all fish, mentioning before closing down the fishing industry of the Aral Sea.
What is being done to help stop the complete disappearance of the sea you might ask? Well there are a few things being done to help, one of them is the building of the dam. The Kazakhstan’s government began the building of a dam that would separate the now northern and southern parts of the sea. “In 2005, thanks to an US$86 million loan from the World Bank, they were able to construct the Kok-Aral Dam, which now separates the North Aral, which is fed by the Syr Darya, from the larger, more polluted southern portions, which lie across the border in Uzbekistan” (ISN). Since the completion of the dam, the Northern Aral Sea has seen major improvements; it has grown in size by 40 percent. Down in Uzbekistan, little has been done to help save the remaining Southern Aral Sea.
The disappearance of the Aral Sea is one of the worst man-made ecological events to ever occur, and still occurring. With all the problems it has caused, the cleaning up of it has become a challenge. It has should show the human population what one mistake, of not looking into the future, can cause damage for times to come. One would think with the results like the disappearance of the Aral Sea, would teach the world to take care of our rivers, lakes, and seas. Just like what happened to the Aral Sea and the diversion of its rivers it is happening again with the Colorado River. No longer flowing to the Sea of Cortez it has and will cause many more environmental problems. With all the problems that have come about, the one that is lost forever was the great beauty of the fourth largest inland lake the Earth once produced for all to enjoy (Image from “Remote Sensing”)
“Aral Sea.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. “Aral Sea.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013. “Desertification.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2013. “Remote Sensing.” Dust in the Wind. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. “The Aral Sea Crisis.” Http://www.columbia.edu/. Columbia, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2013. “THE ARAL SEA.” ARAL SEA. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
“Vital Water Graphics.” The Disappearance of the Aral Sea -. UNEP, n.d. Web. 06 Jan. 2013. “World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea : Feature Articles.” World of Change: Shrinking Aral Sea : Feature Articles. NASA, n.d. Web. 04 Jan. 2013. Castillo, Adam C. “Detail / Articles / Digital Library / ISN.” Detail / Articles / Digital Library / ISN. Diplomatic Courier, 13 Oct. 2008. Web. 07 Jan. 2013.