Aral Sea (False Color) • Aral Sea (False Color)

This false-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image taken on May 29, 2003 clearly shows the changing shoreline of the Aral Sea. Located in southern Kazakhstan and northern Uzbekistan, the Sea has been steadily shrinking as water is diverted from the rivers that feed it. A web of green to the south of the sea shows agricultural development. Water in this image is inky blue, vegetation is bright green, clouds are light blue, and the bare earth of the surrounding desert is pinkish tan.

Formerly the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of 68,000 km2 (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects. By 1997, it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes: the North Aral Sea, the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea, and one smaller intermediate lake. By 2009, the southeastern lake had disappeared and the southwestern lake had retreated to a thin strip at the western edge of the former southern sea; in subsequent years, occasional water flows have led to the southeastern lake sometimes being replenished to a small degree. Satellite images taken by NASA in August 2014 revealed that for the first time in modern history the eastern basin of the Aral Sea had completely dried up.The eastern basin is now called the Aralkum Desert.

Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

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