Photo: NASA GSFC, Diminishing Sea
NASA Earth Observatory: The Aral Sea is considered a freshwater lake, but is becoming increasingly saltier as water from the lake is diverted to irrigate crops. The Moderate Imaging spectroradiometers (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites have been watching the lake shrink since 2000, but the Aral Sea has been shrinking since the 1960s when water was first diverted to water cotton crops in the nearby steppe region. Satellite imagery has helped communicate the effects of diverting water in this region and has helped spark action. In 2005, Kazakhstan built the Kok-Aral dike and dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea. The dam separates the two water bodies and prevents flow out of the North Aral into the lower-elevation South Aral. The completion of the dam has helped fisheries in the North Aral to rebound.
The name roughly translates as “Sea of Islands”, referring to over 1,100 islands that had dotted its waters; in the Turkic languages and Mongolic languages aral means “island, archipelago.”