NASA’s Disturbing Images Show How The World’s Fourth Largest Sea Disappeared In Just 14 Years…

The landlocked Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth largest sea — a huge lake in the middle of the Kyzylkum Desert, between Kazakhstan in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, in the south. However, as you will see in the disturbing timelapse image below, the sea is now a shadow of its former self and this year it dried up completely for the first time.

It all began in the 1960s, when the Soviet Union undertook a massive water diversion project to take water to the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major rivers — the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya — whose source is in faraway mountains, were used to turn the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. Before the project, the two rivers pooled together in the lowest part of the basin to create the Aral Sea, then the fourth largest in the world. Irrigation did change the desert, but at the cost of devastating the Aral Sea.

The shocking images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite have captured the transformation. In 2000, when MODIS started taking the images, the Aral Sea was already a small fraction of its 1960 extent (black line). The Northern Aral Sea (also called the Small Aral Sea) had already separated from the Southern (or Large) Aral Sea. The Southern Aral Sea had, in turn, split into an eastern and western half which were still connected at both ends. Over the next few years, however, both connections had been severed.

Particularly big retreats in the eastern lobe of the Southern Sea seem to have taken place between 2005 and 2009, when drought cut off the flow of the Amu Darya. Between 2009 and 2014, water levels fluctuated annually in dry and wet years. Finally, drought in 2014 caused the Southern Sea’s eastern lobe to completely dry up for the first time ever.

According to NASA, the loss of the Aral Sea water’s moderating influence on the region has also led to more extreme temperatures, making winters colder and summers hotter and drier. Now here is the visual record. (Scroll down for the video.)

1. Before the project, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers flowed down from the mountains, cut northwest through the Kyzylkum Desert, and finally pooled together in the lowest part of the basin.

NASA's Disturbing Images Show How The World's Fourth Largest Sea Disappeared In Just 14 Years...

2. The following two images show the incredible changes in the region. This one is taken on August 15th 2001.

NASA's Disturbing Images Show How The World's Fourth Largest Sea Disappeared In Just 14 Years...

3. And this one is taken in August 19th 2014; it shows the entire central area has dried up.

NASA's Disturbing Images Show How The World's Fourth Largest Sea Disappeared In Just 14 Years...

And here is the video:

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