December 28, 2000
This photo of the Aral Sea was taken in the spring of 1994 from the US Space Shuttle - it looks toward the northeast. The Aral Sea serves as a border to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. As can be seen by the ice cover, it can get cold enough to freeze, despite its high concentrations of salts. The Aral Sea has lost more than one-half of its water surface since 1960 because streams that previously fed the sea have been diverted for irrigation - cotton is the primary agricultural product. A body of water with no outlet, the Aral Sea is fed by two large rivers, the Amu Darya from the south and the Syr Darya from the east. The Amu Dara River can be seen here flowing northward into the southern end of the partially ice-covered Aral Sea.
In 1960 the Aral Sea was fourth among the world's largest lakes (in terms of surface area), with an area including islands, of 66,458 sq km (25,660 sq mi). Its salinity averaged about ten parts dissolved salts per thousand parts water, or slightly less than a third the salinity of the ocean. By the end of 1996 the Aral's total area had decreased by 57 percent to 31,220 sq km (12,050 sq mi - 9th largest), and its water volume had decreased by 80 percent. Salinity approached that of the ocean, or about 35 parts per thousand. The resulting environmental changes pose a serious threat to the local ecology and human health.