Archive for February 3rd, 2011

Posted by: ahowland | 3rd Feb, 2011

The Tragic Tale of the Aral Sea

The Shrinking of the Aral Sea

This week in class, we have learned a lot of ways humans have degraded the environment and really, just plain completely messed it up. Take for instance the Aral Sea. The Aral Sea used to be the 4th largest sea in the entire world. Now it is completely dwarfed by the Caspian Sea and has lost 80% of its water. Why might you ask? The answer is simple: Humans. In the early 1960s when the Soviet Union owned the entire area, including the Aral Sea, the Soviet government decided to divert the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast. The diverted rivers were feed into the desert to irrigate it so the area could grow cash crops, particularly cotton (“white gold”) and rice. And it worked; today Uzbekistan is one of the world’s largest exporters of cotton. However, the price for the crops was steep. By the late 1960s, the Aral Sea began to shrink. In 1964, the sea received 50 km3 of water each year with 60,000 people working in fisheries and canning industries supported by the large fish population in the sea; by 1897, there was 0 flow into the sea and by 2000, there was 0 fish and 0 people making a living off the sea. It decimated people jobs and lives.

Another factor that resulted from the shrinking sea is that the sea receded, it exposed the dried lake bed underneath with sediment that contained chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. As the wind swept through the area, it picked up these chemicals and spread them throughout the entire area and also the globe. Chemicals from the Aral Sea’s dried up sea bed has been traced as far as Antarctica in penguin’s blood. Antarctica! Which is utterly shocking. We are harming poor penguin’s lives and not to mention countless other species.

A lot of Americans scoff this off, thinking it’s not going to affect us at all since we live in a powerful, developed country. But they should be worried because it is happening right here in America too. The Great Salt Lake in Utah as already shrunk some as well as Lake Mead in California. Water is going to become a very serious problem in the future, and its time we start fixing these problems and prepare for the future.
(Picture from:

Recent Posts