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October 15, 2008

World's 4th-largest lake almost gone

Posted: 11:35 AM ET

The latest satellite image of the Aral Sea shows a disappearing body of water. What was the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake is almost gone due to an engineering project gone wrong, despite a last-ditch effort to save it.

The Aral Sea straddles the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the former Soviet Union. Its water was mainly supplied by two rivers, the Syr Darya (the Persian word for sea) and the Amu Darya. In 1960, the sea covered 25,600 square miles, about 10 percent larger than Lake Michigan.

An October 2008 NASA image, showing the Aral with about 10 percent of its original water volume.

On the left: A 1987 USGS image of the Aral Sea. On the right: An October 2008 NASA image, showing the Aral with about 10% of its original water volume.

Under a Stalin-era plan, the Aral started to shrink as the former Soviet Union drastically diverted the two feeding rivers for irrigation of cotton and other crops. Today, the lake’s water is about 10 percent of its original volume and its surface area has shrunk by 74 percent, according to a report published in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences in 2007. And the lake’s salinity has increased tenfold.

In 2001, the Kazakh government initiated a rehabilitation plan for the lake, improving the flood levees and building a dam to divide the smaller northern Aral Sea from its larger and more polluted southern portion. By the time the 6 mile-long Kok-Aral Dam was completed in 2005, the surface areas of the northern Aral grew by 30 percent and the water depth increased by about 20 percent.

Deane McKinney, a professor at the University of Texas who led a water research program in the Aral Sea area five years ago, said: “I suspect that it (the northern Aral) may slightly increase in size over the coming years, but that will depend on the climatic conditions of those years.”

But the latest satellite image still found that the main body of the Aral Sea, the much larger southern portion that mostly sits in Uzbekistan, has been shrinking non-stop.

The Uzbeks have announced no plans to reverse this. According to Professor McKinney, the volume of water necessary to refill the Southern Aral Sea is simply so large that “it would require these countries to relinquish their use of the water for other purposes for decades.”

“This is just not economically viable at the present time,” he added.

The Uzbek government, instead, has announced plans to explore the drained Aral seabed for oil. Whether that will change the welfare of local people is unknown, but the consequences of leaving the Aral Sea to die are obvious.

The interruption of the Aral ecosystem has led to many serious problems. The local fishery collapsed. Respiratory and other diseases began to spread. And increased salt and dust storms have taken their toll on both people and property.

Another potential threat may come from Vozrozhdenie (rebirth), which was once a large island in the center of the Aral Sea. Vozrozhdenie was a Soviet germ-warfare facility during the Cold War. The island is now physically connected to the land, increasing security risks and enabling easier transmission of any possible biological hazards on this island to a larger environment.

–Chong Wu, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: environment

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Wisdom   October 15th, 2008 12:29 pm ET


To eat or to drink.... that is the question

Chris   October 15th, 2008 12:35 pm ET

This is what happens when the interest of a few could be the disaster of many!

sean   October 15th, 2008 1:43 pm ET

Why aren't the 1987 and 2008 pictures using the same scale?

Looking at the features on the western edge of the sea, it would seem that the 2008 shot is zoomed out by about 2X.

Janice   October 15th, 2008 2:00 pm ET

Many of the Great Lakes in North America are shrinking also.

Anton   October 15th, 2008 2:47 pm ET

Yet another example of Stalin's carelessness, lack of judgement, and disregard for the concept of cause-and-effect. It's amazing how much of what he did resulted in absolute unquestionable failure.

Tony   October 15th, 2008 2:54 pm ET

"not economically viable"
"The Uzbek government, instead, has announced plans to explore the drained Aral seabed for oil"

Do you see the problems here? The similarities to American government attitudes? If something it's economically viable, it's perfectly fine to let it die, spread disease, or create problems for the local populace.

At least the people in government far removed from it will make their money!

I seriously hope that we lose about 1/2 of the world's population sometime soon. We have too many people, too many needs, and are destroying this planet to accomplish those needs. And why? So we can create MORE PEOPLE. But if this trend continues, the planet won't be too habitable by people anyways...

Franko   October 15th, 2008 4:06 pm ET

"I seriously hope that we lose about 1/2 of the world’s population "

We, the Nepharin, are on our way, to make Tony's dream come true
Starting 2012. Kill – Kill – Kill. On a few left as domesticated human slaves
A special position for the human leaders, Those are the chosen ones, by Tony

Larian LeQuella   October 15th, 2008 4:26 pm ET

Quoting still doesn't pass the Turing Test Franko. 😛

There was a really in depth article in Scientific American this spring on this particular environmental disaster. If you want more info, read this:

Tony, as for the world population... I have some thoughts on why we are as irresponsible in that regard when we have the capacity not to be so, but I don't think those views would be too popular. Suffice it to say, that religious mindsets play into it. 😉

Tony   October 15th, 2008 4:28 pm ET

"We, the Nepharin, are on our way, to make Tony’s dream come true
Starting 2012. Kill – Kill – Kill. On a few left as domesticated human slaves
A special position for the human leaders, Those are the chosen ones, by Tony"

Our "leaders" are usually the worst and most corrupt amongst us. Well that's probably not true... the little peons just don't have the power/means to be corrupt, lol

Tony   October 15th, 2008 4:34 pm ET

Personally, I think it's because we think on a local level. We think of selves first, family second, and then friends/associations third.

We don't think globally, and rarely do we even think about our community.

So we have large families... 4... 5... 6... children. Sure, it's fine for MY family. But when it's done to a BILLION families, global things happen.

Same can be said with pollution, waste, consumption, resource usage. This article more than anything to me says that those in power are more concerned about making money/providing stable economy than they are about the welfare of the people they have power over.

S Callahan   October 15th, 2008 4:34 pm ET


anliuahelituahetgiu   October 15th, 2008 4:35 pm ET


James in Nebraska   October 15th, 2008 4:39 pm ET

I have to agree with Tony. As harsh as it is to say, there needs to be a zombie outbreak or something to thin out the worlds population. We have to many with to many needs. Having wars over energy is a good sign of this.

I have to admit this article kind of disturbed me a bit. "It makes money, so its ok." I guess I can kinda understand, but some of the results of this sea draining...

To go off topic a bit, it seems that we should begining our first steps in terraforming Mars. If we're draining a sea to accommodate our needs, what else are we going to need to do? There are plenty examples of this though.

Jeff Berkowitz   October 15th, 2008 6:11 pm ET

It doesn't look nearly this bad in Google Maps. Their pictures are usually fairly recent. I wonder why (not) ?,59.974365&spn=6.188007,9.887695&t=h&z=7

DRe   October 15th, 2008 8:22 pm ET

Tony, why don't we start "thinning out " the population with you?

Would you like to be the first one to go?

All this sounds too much like the Eugenics project and the Hitler's final solution.

You suggest we become blood-thirsty vampires for the sake of the swamp?

david   October 15th, 2008 9:45 pm ET

i agree 100% with Tony, earth can't handle anymore humans on it, we are just too many, unfortunately the poorest and least educated are the ones procreating the most. i think something is gonna happen soon that will wipe out large amounts of people, i just hope whoever stays don't make the same mistake as the rest.

Mouth to Source » » World’s 4th-largest lake almost gone   October 15th, 2008 9:59 pm ET

[...] Read article and see the dramatic photographs... [...]

Franko   October 15th, 2008 10:05 pm ET

Just a matter of transporting water.
From water finders and drinkers; Evolving to planetery plumbers.
"By contrast, the water level of the Caspian Sea has been rising steadily -- the coastal city of Atyrau, eighty-eight other population centers, and many of Kazakhstan's Caspian oil fields could be submerged by 2020."

Just like Mars ? Good place to practice;
"known to carry as far away as the Himalaya Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Deposition of this heavily saline soil on nearby fields effectively sterilizes them. "

Stig Eriksen   October 16th, 2008 5:29 am ET

They really should do everything possible to refill that sea, but from what I've read about this crisis, there seem to be a lack of real initiative from the two governments. The amount of clean fresh water in this world is declining, and that is a problem that needs worldwide attention.

on the other hand (a bit off-topic)

There is enough water and food produced in the world for everyone to have what they need of those basics.

The problem is the division of theese basics. The consumer mentality of the western world is what ruins the earth. We usually eat more then we need, and then have leftovers we throw away. Every family has at least one car, (and if you don't see what that has to do with consumer mentality, or the division of basics, don't bother comment on it.)

It's true that if we kill off half the worlds populace we'd perhaps be better off, and I'm a bit scared to see that there are several people commenting here that are willing to have their husband/wife (or themselves) and one of their two children killed... (or are they just talking about OTHER people)

Niki   October 16th, 2008 6:11 am ET

While I agree with the growing population problem, I would like to see some more humane ideas then killing off half of the population. How about required education and more incentives to practice birth control.

For the water issues, yes, I am gravely concerned, I've seen reports on the declining drinkable water. Surely, with all of our technology, we can harness an idea on how to clean the water of the oceans and turn that into something that is more usable.

A bit off the original subject perhaps, but for countries that suffer due to lack of water in their habitat, could they not use the ocean water and make some sort of underground piping system that could carry water to bring vegitation to these areas. I'm not sure if there is a problem with using salt water to grow plants or not, I'm just so sad of seeing entire families die from starvation because they live in the middle of a desert and have so little food available to them.

I believe that if we work together, teach each other, and help everyone, there is no limit on what we could accomplish.

Franko   October 16th, 2008 7:06 am ET

The desire for power, to dominate others, inherited by the EcoCommies
Best for them, optimized comfort, paid for by the exterminated billions

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, All head ideals.
You really think EcoCommies are different ?

Bob   October 16th, 2008 8:24 am ET

Do not take what these "experts" say as the gospel. Use you heads for more than hat-racks. A quick check of google maps you will show that the lake is actually not the size shown in the second picture....

This is a lie and fear mongering!!!!

TONY G.   October 16th, 2008 8:34 am ET


Jeff B   October 16th, 2008 9:15 am ET

"The desire for power, to dominate others, inherited by the EcoCommies
Best for them, optimized comfort, paid for by the exterminated billions

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, All head ideals.
You really think EcoCommies are different ?"

The "commies" were not environmentalists Franko. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe wreaked havoc on the environment just as the capitalist economies have.

Judging by your comments I suspect you think draining the rest of this lake for oil is great idea. Drill baby drill! Right?!

Incidentally, Hitler was not a "communist"–he was a fascist like Mussolini. You guys on the right have tried to redefine Nazism so you can pretend that being on the extreme right is a good thing.

Rudi Merom   October 16th, 2008 9:28 am ET

Human ,human,human…………is killing yourself and others out of stupidty a crim ?

Jack   October 16th, 2008 9:46 am ET

Foolish Franko, I'll take the troll bait. Environmentalists are Blood and Soil volk. That makes us Fascists. Not communists. Get it right.

Franko   October 16th, 2008 11:05 am ET

That is a deception, or the crafted lie of a serial killer ?
Charming, hypnotizing, like an Osama, to motivate a suicide bomber ?

rex Howard   October 16th, 2008 1:18 pm ET

Where is the common sense regarding conservation? Stewards of our environment, where are you Now!! Protection of our MOST precious
commodity: Drinking Water, must take priority over drilling for oil.
Look at the World mess starting already: Build Condos over prime farm land because it's level and saves excavation cost. Keep building condos and strip malls till there is No Farm land to feed our people. Makes No sense. Electronic people should your Love of this world and join together to buy back the resources for humanity, that makes sense to me.

Franko   October 16th, 2008 4:50 pm ET

EcoHitlerCommies have been sharpening their knives
Distracting others with cries of "global disaster"
The sky is falling, being alive, you caused it !
Your punishment for being alive, the original sin,
Is a knife in the back

Cheryl   October 16th, 2008 8:27 pm ET

A couple of lessons we have learned-albeit too late for some, a country that has no solid infrastucture does not have the capitol to try to correct what it's best experts can point out. This is why we should keep an eye on impoverished Nations and try to help. It's all connected. We have turned rivers around here. Dammed them up, and in the case of the Kissemmee River in Florida-Learned just how connected things are-when we realized that it was adversly affecting the Everglades, so we are trying to put it back the way it was-kindof. There are alot of communities now living on the margins of where the original Everglades once flowed.

Franko   October 16th, 2008 10:38 pm ET

Commies designed and sloppily implemented, combined with climate shifting water to the Caspian Sea -

As Cheryl points out, optimized local, but what effects downstream ?
There are ways to remedy, Pump the sand, occasionally, aroumd the dam ?
Eat your fish and have it too ? Like a fish ladder, but designed for the stilt ?

Think - Think - Think Gedanken Experiment - Thoughts are free
Very good, giant project plummers, can humans be ?

Corinne M   October 17th, 2008 11:56 am ET

I think that it's kind of ironic that after the Uzbek government said that it will hurt the economy to help the lake, the lake's scarceness hurt the fisheries, which would hurt the economy.
I also think that even though the Kazakh government tried to help the lake, that was in 2001, and there should be more effort than there is to help save the lake.
The government should have thought about its actions before using the lake as an irrigation source. It made the lake disappear, and it should have had some responsiblity.

Franko   October 19th, 2008 1:17 am ET

"The best-laid plans of mice and men/often go awry,"
Was not planned well, and the climate shifted the precipitation

"Got lemons, make Lemonaide"
That is the cycle of; Endless lemonaide stands.

endpoint   October 20th, 2008 10:33 am ET

"heaven rules"

trent   October 20th, 2008 11:16 am ET

What a crock – f'n CNN science my butt. The lake looks to be 80% to me according to Google maps. Either a good photoshop by self-serving enviro-commies to scare people, or someone pulled the drain plug and it's down to 10% between the time of Google's last satellite pic and now. Geesh.

RJ   October 20th, 2008 12:49 pm ET

The recently declassified Corona program of high-res reconnaissance photography got several images of the Aral Sea in the early 60's. The difference in the surface area from 1987 is astonishing, although it's difficult to see. (I'm sure someone could digitally enhance the image ...)

Franko   October 20th, 2008 2:40 pm ET

“heaven rules”
Hell occupants, have invaded, mismanaged the climate, up above.
Now, Heaven is hot as Hell, Radiaing, evaporating lakes on Earth below.

Time for Nepharin of a prayer.
Star Wars curse missile, aimed at the Devil Heat of Heaven, to save Earth.

SS   October 22nd, 2008 3:08 pm ET

What the hell is wrong with the people wanting to kill half of the earth's population?!

You people don't appreciate life so you can die first. Why would anyone talk about killing billions and billions of people?

Top Posts «   October 22nd, 2008 8:15 pm ET

[...] World's 4th-largest lake almost gone The latest satellite image of the Aral Sea shows a disappearing body of water. What was the world’s fourth-largest [...] [...]

Wise Golden   October 23rd, 2008 1:56 pm ET

Several thoughts:

1. Indeed the two photos are of different scale as has been mentioned by many throughout the comments. I can only assume that this suited the authors purpose.
2. Google Maps does indeed show a different degree of recession around the lake. The Google photos display a better condition than is seen in the CNN photos. I wonder if the lake goes through normal drought flood cycles like most lakes do. I also wonder if the author chose the most dramatic photo that could be found as the Media would never trust us to form an opinion based on real evidence.
3. That said, it’s a serious situation that the local government will regret not having fixed. The idea that oil is worth more than fresh water will soon be turned on it’s head as industrialized nations find alternatives to oil, and smaller nations need more water.
4. Lastly, the idea that our world is not capable of supporting our population is clearly false based on the simple observation that, indeed, we are all here. Furthermore, the vastness of our planet is not nearly tapped.

LucidThought   October 23rd, 2008 10:34 pm ET

All these predictions of doom have been made before... and never have they been accurate. Who wants to thin the herd? Who's ready to decide where, when and to whom genocide is appropriate? In the meantime, the social services we've decided our governments are obligated to provide only pencil out if our population continues to grow, so it would seem that the answer must be to simply... stop taking care of people, and let the process of natural selection sort it out, eh? Genius...

Jarrod   October 26th, 2008 11:30 am ET

Some good posts here, and a valid topic. How do we balance the needs of people, the enviornment, and the economy? I do believe EDUCATION is key. If people make informed decisions about the use of thier land, informed decisions about the size of a family they can sustain(and maybe a 2 child limit would be good), then I think there would be less problems.
As it stands , the earth has been used as a quick cash cow for decades, and the problems are all being handed down to my generation. When the Baby boomers who got rich off extracting every ounce of sellable material from the planet are all gone, thier children are going to have to figure out what to do with the burnt out husk of a planet they left us. Better start now.

igh   October 26th, 2008 1:51 pm ET

Satan has put in your head that the welfare of the world is in your hands, but it is in God's hands.

Do not believe propaganda about 'killing off' people so others can survive. This is such an evil thing and you don't even give it a second thought. Would you want someone to come to your home and say:
"Sorry the world has to many people, you have been chosen to die so the rest can live." Is this what you really want?
Do you want self-appointed murderers roaming the world killing?
Think about it.

Now God can and does take care of his own. He cares about every single person. And has provided everything we need to care for one another, the problem isnt resources, its the very nature of man.

Repent and come to the Lord Jesus, and you will see. He will never turn you away.

2Timothy 3:1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2Ti 3:2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
2Ti 3:3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
2Ti 3:4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
2Ti 3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

Jeff -   October 26th, 2008 7:02 pm ET

Very scary – people are going to be really surprised in a few decades when the price of fresh water skyrockets. Wish more people were paying attention...

Justin   October 27th, 2008 2:12 pm ET

WOW...they drain the lake then start looking for oil how much damage to the can they do?

Scooby Doo   October 27th, 2008 3:22 pm ET

dear humanoids,

you people tie me up all day in this squelching heat, despite your advancements in weather related technologies... u leave me with one friggin bowl of water all day why you guys pollute and destroy lakes... you leave me in a barbaric state where i can't even enjoy the basic necessities in life – while you guys destroy our ozones and kill our beautiful lakes. thanks alot morons.


Scooby Doo
"Dogs United for Dead Humanoids"

asdf   October 28th, 2008 12:32 pm ET

"What a crock – f’n CNN science my butt. The lake looks to be 80% to me according to Google maps. Either a good photoshop by self-serving enviro-commies to scare people, or someone pulled the drain plug and it’s down to 10% between the time of Google’s last satellite pic and now. Geesh."

Surface area != volume

Wow, this is a really unfortunate comment. It's not a photoshop by self-serving enviro-commies here. I believe the only "Commie" in play here is Josef Stalin, who put the plan that drained the lake into play sixty years ago.

Brian   October 28th, 2008 1:29 pm ET

EDUCATION...really people....we are educated about aids...people still have unprotected sex...we are educated about smoking...still happaning....we are educated about the pain of divorce....check that.....we are educated about how to steel money....Enron...we are educated on how to make our balance sheets look good...current financial crises....anybody seen prenatal surgery....still support abortions? really think education is the key? Knowedge puffs up and makes us arrogant to the point that we THINK we actually know what is wise. That's all!.....most of those poor uneducated baby producing people everyone is complaining about....they probably have a much more content, clear view of this life...than half the people posting here including me!

Phil Stooke   October 28th, 2008 2:25 pm ET

Please, people – Google Maps is not up to date! The newest images are not part of Google Maps yet. The new image is correct, and at some point in the future it will presumably be added to GM. You can see the same lack of contemporary images in your own location if you check it out. There's always a time lag.

Joe Staley   October 28th, 2008 6:28 pm ET

Killing off half the people is not the answer. Helping them live better in an evironmentally responsible manner is the answer. We can do it!

Calvin   October 28th, 2008 9:07 pm ET

For those of you who don't believe this article you might try looking at a more current satalite image. Look at Microsoft Virtual Earth and you'll get a more de-pleated lake. Google's maps aren't that current. In fact the house I built two years ago still appears as some bushes and trees using Google Maps. So before we get all in arms about scare mongering. I would suggest that you check your sources first then check again.

Rich   October 29th, 2008 9:34 am ET

MS could have avoided a lot of controversy by just not providing patches, hotfixes and the like to pirated copies. Few car thieves return to dealers for warranty work.
Not letting MS off the hook, their OS's are extremely overpriced and Bill Gates wants unlimited H-1B's to replace American workers. All this got us was Vista...

Justin Val   November 30th, 2008 1:44 pm ET

The folks in charge in Uzbekistan clearly need a little yellow bus to shuttle them about.

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