THE ARAL SEA
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REGIONAL OVERVIEW
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Click here for a map of Central Asia.  Note the countries of Central Asia and the location of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  Note also the location of the Amu Dar'ya and Syr Dar'ya Rivers.  The five countries that had been republics in the Soviet Union and gained independence with the fall of the USSR are: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. 
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These republics were repressed under the Soviet regime.  One of the situations inflicted upon them was the dictation of economic pursuits.  Although Uzbekistan is now one of the world's top producers of cotton, it comes at a very high price.
 
 Uzbek cotton workers

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The Aral Sea is a terminal lake located in Central Asia.  In the 1960s it was the fourth largest lake in the world.  Soviet agricultural leaders planned to cultivate Central Asia as the USSR's main cotton producer.  Water from the main rivers draining into the Aral Sea, the Amu Dar'ya and Syr Dar'ya Rivers, was diverted for vast irrigation projects.  By the 1990s, however, mismanagement of resources, a poor understanding of the fragile ecosystem, and general, extreme waste and abuse rendered the area a wasteland in places.  The Aral Sea itself has shrunk to less than half its former size and volume, and the Karakalpak Region at the delta of the Amu Dar'ya has been declared an ecological disaster zone. 

Royal Uzbek Sand Fleet

No.  Actually, the rapidity of the desiccation of the Aral Sea left ships stranded in sand dunes, sometimes hundreds of kilometers from water.
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This "cliff" is actually the former shore of the Aral Sea.

The reduction in the Aral Sea in area has had a pronounced effect on the overall local ecosystems.  One of the many serious and urgent problems associated with the environmental issues affecting the Aral Sea pertains to the phenomenon of salt and sand that are blown away from the exposed lake floor.  As the Aral Sea shrinks and exposes more of its floor, the unconsolidated sediment is redistributed by aeolian processes.  Dr. Philip Micklin, an expert on the Aral Sea crisis, estimates that total loss ranges from 40 x 106 tons to 150 x 106 tons per year.  Aral Sea sand has been found as far away as 500 km from its area of origin. 

Aral Sea, 1853

Aral Sea, 1988



Aral Sea, 1960 and 1992 


  Aral Sea satellite image, 1993
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  ...animation by U of Texas
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The result of the widespread distribution of these deposits causes a wide range of environmental problems.  Salt mixed with wind-deposited sediment has a deleterious effect on crops and salinizes the soil.  The concentration of sand and toxins, such as herbicides, increases as the Aral dries up.  As the water recedes, it leaves this chemical and salt residue on the sand in increasingly heavy concentrations.  The problem is not just a matter of a fixed amount of contamination that can be quantifiably associated with a certain volume of sand; rather, the degree of contamination is magnified as the sea shrinks. 

Salt-encrusted field
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The mobility of toxic sand poses a severe risk to plants and animals. Detrimental health conditions that have been linked to Aral Sea sand include the inhalation of sand, resulting in chronic respiratory problems, digestive tract disorders, and cancer.  In addition to the problems believed to be associated with issues of the Aral Sea, the region is plagued by poverty, poor health, inadequate living conditions, and other problems linked to third world communities. 

dust storm
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UZBEK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES KARAKALPAK OFFICIALS 
News sources: Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty      21 July 1997

Islam Karimov visited the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic in Uzbekistan on 17 July, Interfax reported. Karimov told an extraordinary session of the local parliament that the region's leadership is responsible for a "gigantic cash deficit." Karimov pointed out that gross income in Karakalpak fell by 16 percent and agricultural output by 22 percent during the past three years.
He added that targets for cotton and rice production have not been met. Karakalpak parliamentary speaker Ubaniez Ashirbekov was sacked and replaced by an official recommended by Karimov. Karakalpakia is likely the poorest region in Uzbekistan and suffers considerably from the ecological effects of the shrinking Aral Sea. 

Government pressure to produce worsens Karakalpak's plight (Karakalpakstan is the NW region in Uzbekistan; most affected by the ecological disaster).



REMOTE SENSING OF THE ARAL SEA AREA
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THE ARAL SEA INTERACTIVE MAP

ARAL SEA   LANDSAT MSS COMPARISON: 1973 & 1987
ARAL SEA   ARGON AND LANDSAT 5 COMPARISON: 1964 & 1987
ARAL SEA SHORELINE:   SPOT
LANDSAT TM 
NOAA 10 Channel 2- former shoreline 25/10/94
NOAA 10 Channel 3 - 1-3/08/1 True-color composition from NOAA 12 and NOAA 14 AVHRR Channel 3 data using images 
acquired at different times of a day.
NOAA 14: Ice in the Aral Sea

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The present size of the Aral Sea compared with the previous shore line (yellow line). Resurs-O1 satellite image. (Resurs -01is an Russian environmental monitoring satellite)

RESURS-01 IMAGE (AND TEXT)
Resurs image - also info on both Resurs-01 and the split of the Aral Sea
TAKEN FROM THE SPACE STATION MIR
IMAGES FROM MIR
SPACE SHUTTLE IMAGES
GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF IMAGES AND PHOTOGRAPHS
MORE PHOTOS


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LINKS
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 Interested in reading more about Central Asia and the Aral Sea?
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    - Dr. Philip Micklin: Desiccation of the Aral Sea - A Water Management Disaster in the Soviet Union
  - GIS of the Aral Sea
  - Encarta Virtual Globe: Aral Sea
  - The Aral Sea Homepage
  - University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Policy Paper #29
  - The Amicus Journal: Sea Change - Ten Years after glasnost, hope is drying up for the Aral Sea
  - Medicine without Borders
  - Mike Thurman's Chronology of the Aral Sea Problem
  - Links to more LINKS