Talk about a sea change: From 2006 (bottom) to 2009, Central Asia's vast Aral Sea dramatically retreated, with its eastern section losing about 80 percent of its water in just four years. The sea level of this already-shallow lake dropped about 16 meters (52.5 feet), while its shoreline receded up to 120 kilometers (75 miles).
The immense body of water, which straddles Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, was once the world's fourth-largest lake. But in the past 30 years, 60 percent of the lake and the Amu Darya (the river that traditionally feeds the lake) have been diverted to irrigate cotton crops, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.
The Aral Sea was always a saline lake, but it has become much saltier as its waters have receded. In some places in the eastern seabed, salt flats spread for more than 100 kilometers (62 miles). Winds pick up the salt and deposit it over agricultural lands, spoiling some of the fertilized, irrigated soil. More than 40 million metric tons of dried salt have been swept into agricultural lands.
This satellite imagery, from the European Space Agency, dramatically illustrates the Aral Sea's disappearance. With little government attention, it's likely that at least part of the sea may be gone for good, experts say.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry agriculture Noun
the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).
Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture crop Noun
Encyclopedic Entry: crop divert Verb
to direct away from a familiar path.
system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.
body of water surrounded by land.
(acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration) U.S. agency responsible for space research and systems.
to retreat or withdraw.
large stream of flowing fresh water.
Encyclopedic Entry: river saline Adjective
salt flat Noun
large, flat expanse of earth covered by a thick layer of salt left by an evaporated saline lake or pond. Also called a playa, sink, or salt pan.
satellite imagery Noun
photographs of a planet taken by or from a satellite.
large part of the ocean enclosed or partly enclosed by land.
Encyclopedic Entry: sea sea level Noun
base level for measuring elevations. Sea level is determined by measurements taken over a 19-year cycle.
Encyclopedic Entry: sea level shore Noun