The Aral Sea Drying Out. This NASA Time-Lapse Video Shows It from Space

The ongoing collapse of the Aral Sea ecosystem, located between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, shows up clearly in a NASA video.

The lake used to be full of water, thanks to runoff from mountains as well as annual rainfall. But after the 1960s, when the Soviet Union diverted two major rivers feeding the lake to serve agricultural needs, the sea quickly shrank from the fourth-largest body of water in the world to a shallow lake bed.

Some of the damage was mitigated after 2005, when a dam was built to reduce the flow from the northern basins to the southern basins. Satellite images show that the northern part of the sea is filling up again but the south remains barren. Fisheries have collapsed and regional dust storms are more frequent.

"The remaining water supply became increasingly salty and polluted with runoff from agricultural plots," NASA officials wrote in 2012 about the region. "Dust blowing from the exposed lake bed eventually degraded the soils, forcing further water-diversion efforts to revive them. On a larger scale, loss of the Aral Sea's water influenced regional climate, making the winters even colder and the summers much hotter. Fifty years later, the lake is virtually gone."

Last month, some people living in Uzbekistan began planting trees to stop desertification, according to multiple media sources, including Bloomberg. Local officials said they are also planning to create an education center, presumably to let students know how the disaster happened.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: