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Grades 9-12
As the Aral Sea recedes, the region's residents are forced to deal with the ensuing changes to this important freshwater habitat . While most people are adversely impacted by changes to the sea, their reactions differ depending on their occupations and roles. Students will research the situation in the Aral Sea region; explain how health, agriculture, fishing, and ecosystems are affected; and determine how specific individuals might be impacted. They will conclude by pretending to be specialists called in to help, and listing the things they think need to be done to help.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, earth science, environmental studies
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 14: "How human actions modify the physical environment"
Standard 15: "How physical systems affect human systems"
Three to four hours

Materials Required:
  • Computer with Internet access
Students will
  • compare satellite images of the Aral Sea at different times;
  • visit Web sites about the Aral Sea and complete a chart explaining how health, agriculture, fishing, and ecosystems are being affected by the sea's recession;
  • answer questions about how the situation in the Aral Sea region affects the lives of specific individuals; and
  • pretend they are experts who have been called in to help solve the problems in the Aral Sea region, and list the things they think would need to be done.
Geographic Skills:

Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
Have students look at satellite images of the Aral Sea. Ask them to read the text at this site and look at the images for evidence of the Aral Sea's shrinking. Have them discuss the changes they notice.
Ask a student to point out the Aral Sea on a world wall map so everyone knows where it is located.

Have students learn more about the situation in the Aral Sea region by going to the following Web sites:

German Aerospace Center: The Aral Sea Homepage
UNEP: Vital Water Graphics—Will the Aral Sea Disappear Forever?
USGS: Earthshots—Aral Sea
WWF: Living Waters Programme

As they conduct their research, ask them to consider how the following are affected by changes in the Aral Sea:

  • Human health
  • Agriculture
  • Fishing insdustry
  • Ecosystems
Next, divide the class into eight groups. Assign each group one of the following roles:
  • University biologist
  • Uzbek scientist who is an expert on the Aral Sea
  • Local fisherman
  • Local doctor
  • Local mother of two small children
  • Local cotton farmer
  • Politician from the town of Muynak
  • Kazak government official
Have students brainstorm answers to the following questions in their groups and write down their responses:
  • How does the current situation in the Aral Sea region affect your daily life (as a biologist, fisherman, etc.)?
  • What power, if any, do you have to improve conditions in the Aral Sea region?
  • Do you want to improve conditions in the Aral Sea region? Why or why not?

In a class discussion, have groups describe their roles and the answers to the above questions. As they listen to the other groups, have them take notes on how each of the eight people is affected.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Ask students to imagine that they are experts who have been called in to the Aral Sea region to help find solutions to the problems there. Have them, either individually or in their groups, list the things that they think would need to be done to help. Their lists should take into consideration what each of the eight characters has said about how the Aral Sea situation is affecting them.

As an option, have students carefully assess their lists and write paragraphs answering the question "Do you think there is any hope for the Aral Sea and its people? Why or why not?"

Extending the Lesson:
Have students conduct research on Mono Lake in Northern California to find out why this lake has been threatened for several decades. They might want to begin their research at the Mono Lake Web Site .

Ask them to make two lists: one stating the reasons why the lake is endangered, and one stating what would happen to people, animals, and plants if Mono Lake were to continue shrinking. Then have them list the similarities and differences between the situations in Mono Lake and the Aral Sea and write paragraphs answering these questions: Could a situation similar to the one in the Aral Sea region happen in the United States? Why or why not? In what ways would the disappearance of Mono Lake resemble and differ from the disappearance of the Aral Sea?

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