The Aral Sea was a thriving body of water that covered over 26,000 miles before the 1960s. Now, the Inland Sea is nearly gone, covering only a tiny strip of it's western basin as revealed by the NASA photos. The entire eastern basin of the Aral Sea has disappeared, wrecking havoc on the local climate and the economy.
Located in the dry desert region of Kazazhstan, the Inland Sea once supported a major fishing industry that helped to sustain the local community around the the basin. Now that the Island Sea is nearly gone, there is little left but a ship graveyard and a myriad of problems for the more than 60 million people that inhabit the lands around the Aral Sea.
The Inland Sea, so called because of it's enormous size, was a massive salt water lake that formed over 5.5 million years ago as the remnants of the sea waters that had slowly receded, leaving the large lake behind. It was once fed by two important rivers. The Syr Darya river from the east and Amu Darya river in the south helped to make this inland sea one of the largest lakes in the world. It became important for a number of reasons, including housing a Russian naval presence in the mid 1800s.
In the 1960s however, the Soviet Union had different plans for the water that flowed from these rivers and chose to divert both of them to desert lands of what is now Uzbekistan in order to create a cotton empire and to grow other profitable crops such rice, cereals, and melons. This made Uzbekistan one of the world's largest cotton exporters, but in the process created a major economical and environmental disaster. The increase of global warming, combined with the lack of the new water provided by the now diverted rivers, spelled disaster for the inland sea.
Now that the inland sea is nearly gone, ships sit abandoned in the desert at what was once a thriving port and the salted sand that is left behind gets carried away by wind storms which have causing serious health problems for the area's inhabitants. The Aral Sea now has barely 10 percent of its water mass left and the loss of the lake has led to higher temperatures and a dryer climate for the region as well as colder, harsher winters.
With this loss of the eastern portion of the basin, the inland sea is nearly gone. There seems little hope in saving the Aral Sea and the future of the region remains unclear.
[Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons]