Once upon a time, Aral sea was one of the four largest lakes on the planet. But this vast expanse of water has now almost completely dried up. Images captured by NASA’s Terra satellite show the alarming decline of water levels in the Aral sea. Scientists have dubbed this huge environmental disaster as “the quiet Chernobyl.”
Aral sea now holds less than 10% of its original water volume
Situated in Central Asia, Aral sea has been shrinking consistently since 1960s when the former Soviet Union diverted the two major rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, to irrigate farmland. NASA’s latest images reveal that the Aral sea’s eastern basin has completely dried up. Terra satellite had captured these images on August 19, 2014. The satellite was launched in 1999 to study out planet’s lands, oceans, atmosphere and energy.
The satellite started taking images in 2000, when the vast lake had already shrunk to a fraction of its size in 1960s. Today it is estimated to hold less than 10% of its original water volume. Philip Micklin, a geographer at the Western Michigan University, said it is the first time in 600 years that the Aral sea has completely dried up.
What caused desiccation of Aral Sea this year?
By 2000, the water body of Aral sea had separated into North Aral sea in Kazakhstan and South Aral sea in Uzbekistan. The North one was smaller while the South one covered a large part. The Southern sea was further split into eastern and western basins. The eastern lobe had almost dried in 2009, but witnessed a rebound in the following year.
Micklin says that this year’s desiccation occurred due to less rain and snow in the watershed that starts in the Pamir Mountains. It has dramatically reduced the flow of water on the Amu Darya. Moreover, river water is continuously withdrawn for irrigation. Lack of water in the Aral sea spells disaster for nearby communities that depend on it. Worse, its water has become too polluted and salty to support native fish populations.