One of the world’s largest lakes dries up, turns into toxic desert

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Considered once as the world’s fourth-largest lake, the Aral Sea which used to occupy the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has now become a vast toxic desert.

The once-vast Aral Sea has dried up drastically over a period of 14 years. NASA has released images showing the lake’s recession from year 2000 to 2014.

In 2000 (left), Asia's Aral Sea had already shrunk to a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). Further irrigation and dry conditions in 2014 (right) caused the sea's eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in 600 years. (Photo credit: National Geographic)
In 2000 (left), Asia’s Aral Sea had already shrunk to a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). Further irrigation and dry conditions in 2014 (right) caused the sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time in 600 years. (Photo credit: National Geographic)

The damage started in 1960, when the Soviet Union diverted the water from rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which used to flow down the Aral Sea. The water was used to supply agriculture in the region.

The irrigation helped in crop plantation in the region, but it slowly destroyed the Aral Sea. By  year 2000, the lake was already divided into the Northern Aral Sea (sometimes referred to as the Small Aral Sea) and the Southern Aral Sea (referred to as the Large Aral Sea).

According to the NASA Earth Observatory, the loss of water resulted to an increase in the lake’s salinity levels. Contaminated soil also reached the surrounding croplands as the lake bed became exposed, affecting the fertility of the land.

In a statement that was released along with the satellite images, NASA said, “As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed.”

The drying up of the lake affected the local climate as well. The absence of the lake water results to colder winters and hotter summers because there is nothing to moderate temperatures.

NASA added that fertilizers and pesticides polluted the increasingly salty water of the lake.

In 2005, Kazakhstan built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea in an attempt to save parts of the lake. But it was judged to be beyond saving, according to the Earth Observatory.

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