Boats in the Aral Sea

The Aral Sea?Lake? Desert.

As most everyone knows California is currently experiencing its worst drought in recorded history. This has put a lot of people on their heels trying to resolve the issue. In fact in recent days it’s gotten so bad that the state is starting to implement laws which they hope will scale back water usage and, over time, reverse the problem. To be honest, while people are still washing their cars twice a month and watering dead baseball fields I don’t see much of a resolution in site. However, most everyone can say were handling the situation better than Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have handled their largest water crisis with the Aral Sea.

In its hay-day the Aral Sea covered nearly 27,000 square miles, making it the fourth largest lake in the world. It even housed its own Russian navy in 1847 which would patrol the waters and dock on many of the sea’s 1,000 islands. Needless to say the Aral Sea was a behemoth of a lake that gave its precious lifeblood to a multitude of lifeforms all across the area, including humans. The Aral Sea gave birth to bustling fishing communities like Kaukey Kayen, Zhalanash, and Muynak that thrived on the vast amounts of fish that could be found in the sea. A quick Google search of these cities today yields nothing but rust laden skeletons of towns lost to the sands of time. What could cause such a thriving area to fail so miserably, so quickly? Well, the story starts during the American Civil War.

Satellite images of the Aral Sea. Top left is the sea in 1964, bottom right is the sea in 2014.

Satellite images of the Aral Sea. Top left is the sea in 1964, bottom right is the sea in 2014.

While the Confederates were fighting, they were looking for ways to gain international aid from the United Kingdoms and France. At the time, cotton was the South’s largest asset and export worldwide. To coerce Europe into taking the Confederates side, the Confederates implemented a cotton trade embargo on the UK and pretty much all of Europe. They believed that since the European economy relied so heavily on their export of cotton that they would be forced to side with the Confederates. Unfortunately for the Confederates that didn’t work, instead it just strained their income. However, the confederates were right that Europe needed cotton, as such they started looking elsewhere for their cotton. European countries looked to Egypt for most of their cotton, at least until the American Civil war was over then they turned back to America for its cotton which, ironically, resulted in Egypt declaring bankruptcy in 1876. Despite having America export cotton, demand was still high and by 1937 the Soviet Union decided to dip their toes into the water, specifically, the water from the Aral Sea.

The Soviet Union (Uzbekistan) quickly became one of the world’s largest cotton exporters and undertook a large irrigation project to boost their cotton output. The irrigation plan was to divert the Aral Sea’s two main intake sources, the Syr Darya River and the Amu Darya River, to provide water for the crops. This worked out well for the Soviet Union initially as it had little effects on the Aral Sea in its first year. As time went on, and demand went up more dams were made along the rivers to divert water to fields, often times poorly built dams caused leakage and an overall waste of water. The water that did make it to the fields was never quite enough and, over time, the Aral Sea began to shrink.

This rapid shrinking of the sea resulted in nearly every town/city on its shores to, much like the sea, dry up and disappear. This rapid shrinking of the sea resulted in nearly every vessel that once floated on the sea to become nothing more than a beached hulk providing shade for desert animals. Currently the Aral Sea has shrunken to a meager 6,000 square miles across 4 smaller lakes as opposed to one vast sea. The entire Eastern basin has all but disappeared and the desert left in its wake has officially been named Aralkum. The future of the Aral Sea looks fairly grim the only hope in sight is a partial restoration as its said that the Southern and Eastern sections of the Aral sea are irreparable now. Only time will tell what the fate of the Aral Sea may be.


I'm Dustin and I'm fond of learning new things. Be it about the inner workings of a clock to the reason the sun rises; I'd love to hear about it. If you're like me give some of my articles a read.

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