Amu Darya River Flowing Towards Aral Sea – August 24th, 201146.7N 61.6E
Once the fourth largest inland water body on earth in terms of surface area, at 26,000 square miles (67,300 square kilometers), the Aral Sea shrank to hold just one-tenth of its original volume, becoming a tragic shadow of itself.
Here, the remains of the sea can be observed at the upper left, now separated into three basins. These basins, the shallowest of which appears lime green, are surrounded by desert and salt flats where the waters receded.
The sea shrank because it was drained by the Soviet government to feed thirsty cotton fields planted in the inhospitable landscape surrounding it. As one can see here, a large area of desert is located south and southeast of the lake.
Crossing this arid area is the Amu Darya River. In the past, it twisted north through 1,500 miles of harsh steppe before fanning into a delta at the south end of the Aral Sea. However, the 1960s, reports National Geographic, the Soviet Union built huge farms in the perennially arid steppe, digging long canals to water them.
By 1965, the Amu Darya stretched across seven million acres (three million hectares) of wheat and cotton, two of the planet’s thirstiest crops. The river’s flow fell drastically, from 28,000 cubic feet per second (793 cubic meters) to just 5,500 cubic feet (156 cubic meters). Eventually, the Amu Darya receded from the Aral, and it now ends at a dam, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) away.