LONDON — Prior to 1960, the Aral Sea in Central Asia had been one of the four largest lakes in the world.
Now, a series of NASA satellite images reveals how the once impressive body of water has been depleted to just 10% of its original size.
Using the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on its Terra satellite to document the changes, NASA's images show the dramatic consequences of the Soviet Union's 1960 water diversion project to irrigate the arid earth in the nearby plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. You can watch the sea diminish from 2000 to 2016 in the GIF, below.
Image: facebook / nasa earth
Two of the region's rivers, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya, were diverted away from the sea to bring water to desert farms. While crops such as cotton were then able to thrive, the creeping demise of the lake bred new problems.
Image: Getty Images / Leisa Tyler
The disintegration of sea-dependent industries such as fishing caused widespread unemployment and economic hardship in local communities. Additionally, a host of new environmental issues introduced public health concerns brought on by climate change. The loss of the lake's moderating presence prompted hotter summers and colder winters, and dust from the exposed lakebed carries high concentrations of salt and agricultural chemicals, contaminating the air and nearby soil.
Efforts to save parts of the sea have been implemented, but it is unlikely that the vast wasteland of salt and sand will ever return to its former glory. To learn more about NASA's satellite images and the Aral Sea, click here.