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20 Interesting Aral Sea Facts

by Virupakshi
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aral sea facts

Aral Sea – many of us haven’t even heard of this sea. But, it exists. Not only does it exists but actually went through massive turmoil. Because of human intervention and exploitation, the sea reached the brink of extinction but recent efforts for its revival have shown some success. In this article about Aral Sea facts, we will take a look at how it was formed and what happened after Soviets intervened. Let’s start…

Interesting Aral Sea Facts: 1-5

1. Aral Sea is a Salt Lake, which is present between Kazakhstan (South-West) and Uzbekistan (North-West). It is present towards the east side of the Caspian Sea. Dry Ustyurt Plateau is to the north and Kyzyl Kum desert is towards the west side of this lake. It is completely packed from all sides.

2. It cannot drain its waters into some sea or river. It has internal drainage system i.e., it is an endorheic basin (any waterbody which doesn’t drain its water but uses evaporation method to maintain the water balance).

3. It got its name from Aral-denghiz – a Kyrgyz language word. Aral Sea literally means “Sea of islands” because it has around 1000 islands surrounding it. It has got other names too! Arabs call it as Khwarazm or Khorezm. Russians call it as Sinyeye More.

4. It receives its water from only two rivers, Syr Darya and Amu Darya. These two rivers are, like Aral Sea, endorheic basins.

5. Until 1970’s, it was the fourth largest lake with 67,300 square kilometers in area, 420 km in length and 280 kilometers in width. It is a bit shallow, reaching a depth of 180 feet or 58 meters.

Also Read: 25 Interesting Dead Sea Facts

Interesting Aral Sea Facts: 6-10

6. How did it originate? The place where there is Aral Sea now, was a big depression in the early Pleistocene Epoch and it started getting filled by water coming from the River Syr Darya and in the late Pleistocene Epoch, water from the River Amu Darya started filling the depression (earlier, River Amu Darya’s course was towards Caspian Sea and in late Pleistocene Epoch, the course of the river changed).

7. Because of the presence of continental climate (hot summers, colder winters and soil more or less like that of desert), and average rainfall of 100 mm in each year, life around the Aral Sea was difficult from the beginning.

8. During ancient period, it was very important as many ethnic cultures like Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tajiks etc. got settled and thrived near the sea.

9. From 1918, Soviet Union planned to grow cotton near the Aral Sea and acted on it in 1920’s. They drew water from the two rivers for irrigation and there was a steep decrease in the amount of inflow into the Aral Sea. This drawing of water from the rivers continued (amount of water drawn increased every year) till 1980’s.

10. Rainfall does very little to Aral Sea. It can supply roughly 1/5th of water that Aral Sea requires. The amount of inflow should be more or at least equal to maintain the water balance. When the inflow stopped and the water was being evaporated, it started to dry out.

Interesting Aral Sea Facts: 11-15

Aral sea satellite image 1989-2014

Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right)

11. The position has become so worse now that it is just 10% of what it originally was! UN has even predicted that Aral Sea wouldn’t be seen in future world maps by 2020 if no measures are taken to revive it.

12. In 1980’s, one big Aral Sea was divided into two small seas. One is the South’s “Greater Sea” and the other is North’s “Lesser Sea”. Unfortunately, in 2003, the south’s “Greater Sea” was further divided into “eastern” and “western” basins. Now, there are 3 parts of Aral Sea.

13. In 1990’s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the neighboring countries of Aral Sea like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc., initiated some projects to save the rest of the Aral Sea. In the same time frame, a canal was dug to connect north and south seas but it wasn’t successful.

14. In 2003, Kazakhstan government declared that it would build a concrete dam (the name of the dam is Kokaral dam) which would separate north and south seas. The project was completed in 2005 and since 2005, North Aral Sea is more or less on a reviving streak. Not only did it revive, fish started pouring in the North Aral Sea and fishing industry started and it is growing day by day.

15. There are other projects which, if successful, would ensure that the South Aral Sea also gets revived. Even WB (World Bank) is funding for projects.

Interesting Aral Sea Facts: 16-20

16. Did you know that the salinity level of this river was 10 gm per liter earlier and now it is 100 gm per liter? Can you even imagine that if you go for swimming in the Aral Sea, when you come out, a white powdery stuff forms over your skin? Fret not, it is just salt.

17. So, what is the fuss about Aral Sea? Why do we need it in the first place? What ecological problems were faced because of the sea drying up? We will answer your questions. First, when the sea dried up, many people who were completely dependent on Aral Sea (for fishing) lost their livelihoods and lives.

18. Soviet Union had set up a bioweapons lab in the middle of the Aral Sea in early 1990’s. Many of the microorganisms which cause deadly diseases were buried. Some of them (microorganisms) are found even now! It was abandoned after the collapse of Soviet Union. Luckily Kazakh Government (Kazakh Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Infections) assured that the areas where microorganisms were buried were decontaminated.

19. Adding to this, dust storms are very common there which have become hazardous to human population. Most of the people living in the region face health issues like eye, lung, kidney, digestive issues and some people suffer from cancer and tuberculosis which is drug resistant. But dust storms? Well, these dust storms come out from the dried seabed.

20. In a nutshell, the shrinking of Aral Sea is as devastating as it can get and many experts believe that Aral Sea would never be able to restore completely because of the half-hearted attempts by Uzbek Government.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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