Aral Sea

A large inland sea in southwestern Kazakhstan
and northwest Uzbekistan, east of the Caspian Sea. The Aral
Sea is fed by the Syr Darya and Amu Darya Rivers that flow
from the Hindu Kush and Tien Shan Mountains to the south
and is very shallow, attaining a maximum depth of only 220
feet (70 m). In the latter half of the 20th century, the Soviet
government diverted much of the water from the Syr Darya
and Amu Darya Rivers for irrigation, which has had dramatic
effects on the inland sea. In the 1970s the Aral was the
fourth largest lake, covering 26,569 square miles (68,000
km2). It had an average depth of 52.5 feet (16 m) and was the
source of about 45,000 tons of carp, perch, and pike fish
each year. Since the diversion of the rivers, the Aral has
shrunk dramatically, retreating more than 31 miles (50 km)
from its previous shore, lowering the average depth to less
than 30 feet (9 m), reducing its area to less than 15,376
square miles (40,000 km2), and destroying the fishing industry
in the entire region. Furthermore, since the lake bottom
has been exposed, winds have been blowing the salts from
the evaporated water around the region, destroying the local
farming. The loss of evaporation from the sea has even
changed the local climate, reducing rainfall and increasing the
temperatures, all of which exacerbate the problems in the
region. Disease and famine have followed, devastating the
entire central Asian region.
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