NASA has published these two images of the Aral Sea, which used to be the fourth biggest lake in the world before the Soviet Union plugged into the rivers that fed it to irrigate massive agricultural areas. The photo on the right was taken in 2000. On the left you can see its current state.

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region's two major rivers, fed by snowmelt and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. Before the project, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers flowed down from the mountains, cut northwest through the Kyzylkum Desert, and finally pooled together in the lowest part of the basin. The lake they made, the Aral Sea, was once the fourth largest in the world.

Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea. This series of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra satellite documents the changes. At the start of the series in 2000, the lake was already a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). The Northern Aral Sea (sometimes called the Small Aral Sea) had separated from the Southern (Large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had split into eastern and western lobes that remained tenuously connected at both ends.

Here's the lake prior to the Russian stupidity:

You can read more about this environmental crime here.


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