In this south-looking view, the Aral Sea (blue) stands out against the surrounding arid Turanian plain (brown) in Kazakstan. Once the world's fourth largest lake, this inland body of water has been drastically shrinking since the 1960s due to upstream diversions of the two principal rivers feeding it: the Syr Darya to the north and the Amu Darya to the south (“darya” means river). The dark-colored croplands on the Amu Darya Delta in Uzbekistan (see close-up view in slide #29) are seen at the southern end of the Aral Sea (top, right of center). As the Aral Sea has been shrinking, its shoreline has been receding, exposing vast portions of the former seabed, which is sandy and white. This depletion is documented in this photograph in the form of the growth of a large island (white, right of center).
Because there is no outlet from the Aral Sea, all the fertilizer and pesticide contaminants carried to it by its two feeder rivers have been concentrated on the seabed, making it highly toxic. Winds blow toxic sediment back into populated agricultural regions. Coupled with this is the fact that the salinity of the water has increased fourfold as a result of reduced freshwater inflow. The fish that once occupied the Aral Sea, sustaining a vigorous fishing industry, are now gone. The environmental destruction of the Aral Sea has had direct adverse health and economic effects on the people in this region.
August 1997, image STS-85-503-119.