24 Mar 2022


Factors Causing Ecological Damage in Aral Sea

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 930

Pages: 3

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Aral Sea has been drying up rapidly since the 1960s losing its glorious status as one of the vast lakes in central Asia. By September 2009 the lake had separated into four different water bodies with a massive water level decline of up to 26 meters and the lake surface decreasing by 88% whereas he water volume decreased to 92%. Furthermore, the salinity of the lake increased twenty times more in the recent past. Before this recent recession, Aral Sea experienced a number of water level declines and recoveries over the past ten millennia. The changes until 1960s were influenced by the westward change of the main influent river known as Amu Dar’ya towards the Caspian Sea. These changes were both human and natural influenced. However, the changes happening after 1960 were mainly human related especially because they resulted from unstainable irrigation schemes. As such, there have been numerous negative ecological impacts from these changes. In addition to ecological challenges, economic and human welfare have also been impacted. It seems impossible to restore the Aral Sea, to its former glory especially that before 1960.howver, this does not mean that restoring the sea is a hopeless endeavor. In fact, partial restorations are currently undergoing with a project to refill the northern part of the sea having been completed in 2005. This move led to rise of the sea level by about two meters and reductions in salinity to levels similar to those of the 1960s. Restoring the entire southern lake, which is the largest part of the sea, is not economically viable because of how expensive it will be. However, the deep western basin is manageable making it a feasible restoration project.

Despite these efforts of restoration and management of the Sea, there is need to understand the beginning of the problem if we are to appreciate the process of recovery. Aral Sea is a closed basin whose water levels depends entirely on the inflows from two main influent rivers namely the AmuDarya and Syr Darya. Any changes affecting these inflows will affect the level of water in Aral Sea. The water levels prior to the 1960s remained at a variation of 4.5m, which meant that the water levels in the sea were very stable since the annual inflow and evaporation rates balanced water levels (Miklin, 2010).

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Unfortunately, these levels were not to be maintained after the 1960s. While certain natural activities such as the rivers changing course affected the water levels, human activities contributed significantly towards these negative alterations. The unsustainable irrigation activities were the main triggers of the Sea’s degradation. In fact, studies have shown that Aral Sea is among the few regions in the world that have had massive destruction due to human influences (Kotlyakov, 1991).It is disturbing how the sea that was once compared to the great lakes of North America has been shrinking over the past three decades. The sea is drying up at a fast rate due to the effects of irrigation as humans engage in agricultural activities. This has led to numerous consequences most of which are negative. Natural habitats have been disoriented; the hydrological cycle of the region has also changed significantly not to mention the negative influences on the local climate. The early development of irrigation systems in 1960s drew too much water from the rivers feeding the sea causing a significant de-stabilization in the levels of water because the rate of evaporation remained constant. By 1965, more than 4.5 million hectares of soviet land were irrigated. While this might have had significant positive impacts on the economic activities back then, it resulted in the usage of between 50 to 55 kilometers of water every year. 

With each passing year more lands were being irrigated meaning that, more water was used depriving the Aral Sea much needed water. The sharp decrease of inflow water into the Aral Sea had significant impacts on the sea water levels. By 1990, the levels of water in the sea had fallen by a sharp 14 meters from the level it was in the 1960s. In fact, the sea receded into two parts by 1989 forming the greater sea in the south and the lesser sea in the north.The greater sea is currently about 33,500 square kilometers with a volume of only 310 cubic kilometers and a salinity mean of 3.0. The lesser sea is only 3000 square kilometers with a 20cubic kilometers water volume and a varied salinity ranging from 1.8 to 3.5 percent. The trend is clear that the degradation is increasing for the worst. The reality is that if nothing is done soon the Aral Sea may turn into a miniature lake of not more than 4000km2 to 5000km2. The impacts of this degradation cannot be overemphasized. As discussed earlier, there are numerous ecological effects including changes in the weather and climate as well as the hydrological patterns. The habitat of most species has also been damaged and affected because of the changes in the Sea natural structure. The sea has lost most of its fish species especially considering that it had more than 20 fish species, 12 of which were game species. Also due to this exposure, the Aral Sea became a significant source of dust, which influences the health of human beings negatively. The challenges of getting clean water also continue to rise since the level of salinity in the Aral Sea is increasing with each water application and poor drainage. Humans had ignored the impacts that over use of water for irrigation could bring since they focused on the short term benefits. Fortunately as mentioned earlier, there are attempts to restore the lake meaning that not all hope is lost. However, these restoration projects can only be handled on small scales because of the expenses involved. I would suggested water management programs and diversification of economic activities. The dependence on irrigated farming should be minimized and other economic activities explored to reduce overuse of water.


Micklin, P. (2010). The past, present, and future Aral Sea. Lakes & Reservoirs: Research & Management, 15(3), 193-213. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1770.2010.00437.x

Kotlyakov, V. M. (1991). The Aral Sea Basin: A Critical Environmental Zone. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 33(1), 4-38. doi:10.1080/00139157.1991.9931365

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