Water diversion stemming from the 1960s began lowering the water levels in the Aral Sea. A lack of rain and snow in the nearby Pamir Mountains exacerbated the situation this year, and has left the once fourth largest lake in the world nearly dry.

Back in the 1960s, the Soviet government diverted the flow of two major rivers in the region – the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The water diversion helped fuel cotton production and other crops in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Before this diversion, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya flowed from the mountains and emptied in the lower part of the Aral Sea basin.

You can see the drastic changes in the images below. The first image shows the Aral Sea in 2000. The black line surrounding it is the shoreline of the sea prior to the 1960 water diversion. The second image shows the Aral Sea this year. Nearly all of it has dried up.

Aral Sea 200

Aral Sea this year

The disappearing Aral Sea has wreaked havoc on local fisheries and communities. They collapsed as the lake dried up. Beyond the economics, the environmental impact has been massive. “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,” according to NASA.

Kazakhstan tried to save a portion of the lake back in 2005. They built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea. The southern portion of the lake was deemed not savable, and the dam was built to preserve the northern portion of the lake.

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NASA says this attempt appears to be working with water levels in the northern part of the lake on the rebound.

Much has been made about the impact of global warming on the environment. Seems like we do a pretty good job of messing it up ourselves.

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