This beautiful satellite image of the Aral Sea belies the destruction it reveals: Once the world’s fourth-largest inland body of water, it has lost nearly 90% of its water volume in the last 50 years. The reason is due to irrigation projects that have effectively destroyed the region’s fishing industry and wrought economic hardship on the locals.
The Aral Sea was once 26,000 square miles (67,300 square kilometers) and supplied the Soviet Union with a sixth of its fish catch, according to National Geographic. In the 1960s, this all changed as 20,000 miles of canals, dozens of dams, and more than 80 reservoirs were built to irrigate vast fields of cotton and wheat.
To make things even worse, the system was inefficient and leaked. As a result, millions of fish died and locals were plagued by violent sandstorms that contained chemicals from former weapons testing, industrial projects, and fertilizer runoff, according the European Space Agency (ESA).
The image above is composed of three radar scans from Sentinel-1A. The colors are each assigned a date. Colors other than those listed below represent changes between the acquisitions.
Red: October 17, 2014
Green: December 28, 2014
Blue: February 14, 2015
As described by ESA: “In the lower right, the red, yellow and green boomerang shape shows where water flows into the dry seabed from a river, and colors show how the area covered in water increased over time. Along the left side of the image, the large dark area shows where water is still present. Colors along the water’s edge show water-level changes between acquisitions. Red shows a lower level than blue, so the water level was lower on 17 October 2014 than on 14 February 2015.”
Below is another example of the desiccation of the Aral Sea. These images were taken from 2000 to 2014.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
[Hat Tip: Live Science]