Aral Sea, once world’s 4th largest lake, dries up


Aral Sea in 2000 and in 2014

Satellite photos of the Aral Sea in 2000 and in 2014

The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake, has dried up.  NASA satellite photographs show what has happened.

Once the Aral Sea supported 24 species of fish, according recent articles in The Guardian, and was surrounded by fishing villages and lush woodlands and wetlands.

In the 1950s, the Soviet government began to divert water from the two main rivers feeding the Aral Sea to irrigate cotton crops in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and the water level began to fall.  Uzbekistan still uses large amounts of irrigation water for its cotton crops.  NASA scientists see little hope that sea levels would recover in any case.  Lack of rain and snowfall, possibly related to global climate change, also are a factor.

Although the rivers feeding the Aral Sea are fresh water, the Aral Sea itself is salt water.  The Guardian reported that the drying up of the Aral Sea exposed the bottom, which is covered with salts and with fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide residues that were washed into it over the years.

The fishing villages have disappeared, and people in the vicinity reportedly suffer serious health problems from wind-borne toxic dust from the lake bottom.

Kazakhstan built a dam in 2005 which evidently has saved a tiny portion in the north.

All this is an example of what happens when you tamper with natural systems—or any complex system—without considering the consequences.


Satellite images show Aral Sea basin ‘completely dried’ by Enjoli Liston for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to Oidin)

Cotton production linked to images of dried up Aral Sea by Tansy Hoskins for The Guardian

The Aral Sea and the rivers that feed it

The Aral Sea and the rivers that feed it

Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest is now going on.  Human rights activists have called for a boycott of Uzbek cotton goods because the cotton is picked with forced and child labor.

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4 Responses to “Aral Sea, once world’s 4th largest lake, dries up”

  1. djgarcia94 Says:

    Uzbekistan is a good country to boycott period. Not a big fan of regimes that boil people alive. Granted I’m not aware of any Uzbek goods that are available in the US anyway.

    Anyway about the Aral Sea, that truly is tragic. Even if it was refilled there’s probably no way the ecosystem could return. RIP Aral Sea and hello Aral Basin.


  2. philebersole Says:

    Uzbek cotton is exported to China, Bangladesh and other countries, where it is woven into garments, including high fashion apparel. Russia also imports a lot of Uzbek cotton to be made into yarn.

    The Cotton Campaign, which is organizing a boycott of Uzbek cotton, says that 130 companies, mainly in Europe, have pledged not to sell garments made with Uzbek cotton.

    These links are my sources of information on this point.

    Like you, I don’t know of any specific brands made with Uzbek cotton that are sold in the USA.


    • djgarcia94 Says:

      Thanks for the link. If its imported to China and Bangladesh then its quite possible it makes its way onto American backs. Cotton does have a long history of unethical production.


  3. Chico Says:

    The US dammed the Columbia River, beginning with the Coulee Dam in the 30’s and also affected the livelihoods and settlements of Indians. The Colville Tribes in turn sued the feds and have received hundreds of millions in settlements. Too bad the people in the former fishing villages around the Aral Sea couldn’t do the same.


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