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DISAPPEARING WATER: THE ARAL SEA OVER TIME, FROM 1973 TO 2001 A time series is a powerful illustrative tool. Where in the case of Las Vegas we see the direct effects of people on the land, in the case of the Aral Sea, separating the countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, we see indirect, but no less dramatic effects on a different part of the world. The Aral Sea is actually not a sea at all. It is an immense lake, a body of fresh water, although that particular description of its contents might now be more a figure of speech than practical fact. In the last thirty years, more than sixty percent of the lake has disappeared. As youll see in the visualization, the change over time is dramatic. In the 1970s, farmers and state offices opened significant diversions from the rivers supplying water to the lake, sending millions of gallons to irrigate cotton fields and rice paddies. So voluminous were these irrigation sluices that concentrations of salts and minerals began to rise in the shrinking body of water. That change in chemistry has led to staggering alterations in the lakes ecology, causing precipitous drops in the Arals fish population. A secondary effect of this reduction in the Aral Seas overall size is the rapid exposure of the lake bed. Powerful winds that blow across this part of Asia routinely pick up and deposit tens of thousands of tons of now exposed soil every year. This has not only contributed to significant reduction in breathable air quality for nearby residents, but also appreciably affected crop yields due to those heavily salt laden particles falling on arable land. In the following sequence of images, we see a series of Landsat scenes taken several years apart. As the years pass, we see the profound reduction in overall area covered by the Aral, and a commensurate increase in land area as the floor of the sea now lies exposed.
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