Over one hundred ships are mysteriously abandoned in this desert in central Asia. You rub your eyes, but it’s not an optical illusion; no water as far as the eye can see. This desert is like any other, aside from the empty landlocked fishing ports, rusted ships frozen in sand, and former island with abandoned biological weapon facility (does your desert not have that?)

Actually, fifty years ago this “desert” wasn’t a desert at all. It was the fourth-largest lake in the world and supported a fishing industry that produced 50,000 tons of catch and fed over 100,000 people across nine countries. But after five decades of abuse, the ecosystem collapsed and the water retreated. Entire cities watched their economies vanish as the ships ran aground. Then the residents fled.

Today the Aral Sea has lost 85% of its volume. In its place: A toxic and unforgiving new desert.

By 2000, the lake had separated into the North (Small) Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the South (Large) Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The South Aral had further split into western and eastern lobes. The eastern lobe of the South Aral nearly dried up in 2009 but rebounded in 2010 after more rain.

According to Micklin, the recent desiccation is due to continued withdrawals from the rivers for irrigation and less rain and snow in the Pamir Mountains, whose runoff feeds the Amu Darya.

In 2005, a World Bank‒funded dam and restoration project began in Kazakhstan with the goal of improving the health of the Syr Darya and increasing the flow into the North Aral Sea. Since then the water level has risen there and salinity has decreased.

But Micklin said he expects cyclical drying will “continue for some time” in the eastern basin.

Info and pictures courtesy of: Sometimes Interesting

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