Ice on Lake Balqash, Kazakhstan
Lake Balqash is located in southeastern Kazakhstan, about 341 m (about 1,120 ft) above sea level. Its maximum width is about 71 km (about 44 mi), and its area is 18,200 sq km (7,030 sq mi).
It has the shape of an irregular crescent, extending northeast for about one-third of the total length of 605 km (376 mi) and then in a generally eastern direction. Here, its central section is covered with ice, which is gradually breaking apart and melting as warmer weather arrives.
The Ili River, the principal affluent, enters Lake Balqash near its southern extremity. Here, the river can be seen discharging sediments into the lake, giving its waters a greenish hue.
Other affluents enter the lake from the southeast and from the northeast. The southern shores of the lake, which has no outlet, are labyrinths of islands, peninsulas, and strips of shallow water.
The narrow Uzun-Aral Strait joins the eastern and western halves of the lake, which are physically distinct. The eastern half is deeper and its waters are more saline than those of the western half.
Extending south from Lake Balqash is the Semirechye Plain. The land west of the lake consists of clay plains, which have been made fertile by irrigation and produces cotton, grapes, and a variety of other fruits.
The lake’s level has declined by more than 2 m (more than 6 ft) since 1970, when the Qapshaghay Dam on the Ili River was completed. This has caused pollution levels in the lake to increase, harming plants and wildlife. Environmentalists are concerned that Lake Balqash could experience shrinking problems similar to those of the Aral Sea.