Aral Sea could be rising from the dust

Image of the Month - July 1999

Sea level in both basins of the Aral Sea measured by Topex/Poseidon since 1992 (annual and semi-annual variations not included). (Credits Legos)

The Aral Sea has been drying up since the 1960s as a result of the large amounts of water diverted by cotton farmers from the two rivers feeding into it, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya. Indeed, the shoreline has receded by more than 120 kilometers in places and the Aral Sea has since split into two basins, the Big Aral and the Little Aral, each supplied by one of the rivers.

The water level in the Little Aral has been rising since 1996, probably due to the dike built between the two basins. The Big Aral, however, is still shrinking.

Oceanography satellites such as Topex/Poseidon measure sea level continuously over the long term and thus enable us to monitor variations in the Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea. The 1960 shoreline is in gray. The blue contour approximately marks the current shoreline; the red lines show the ground track of Topex/Poseidon. The Aral is a very shallow sea and its gradually sloping eastern basin means that even the smallest variation in sea level has a big impact on the shoreline.

See also:

  • Aral Sea (regularly updated level)

Websites on this subject:

  • Pictures of the Aral Sea
    Aral Sea ("Visualizing Earth" programme , University of California at San Diego)
  • Remote sensing data and maps
    Aral Sea by remote sensing (Remote sensing German Centre)