The Aral Sea: A Story of Devastation and Partial Recovery of a Large Lake

Philip Micklin, Nikolai V. Aladin, Tetsuro Chida, Nikolaus Boroffka, Igor S. Plotnikov, Sergey Krivonogov, Kristopher White

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The Aral Sea was a huge brackish-water lake lying in a tectonic depression amidst the deserts of Central Asia. Water bodies of various dimensions have repeatedly filled this depression over the past several million years. Its modern incarnation is thought to be somewhat more than 20,000 years in age. In modern times, the sea supported a major fishery and functioned as a key regional transportation route. But since the 1960s, the Aral has undergone rapid desiccation and salinization, overwhelmingly the result of unsustainable expansion of irrigation that largely dried up its two tributary rivers, the Amu Dar’ya and Syr Dar’ya (dar’ya in the Turkic languages of Central Asia means river) before they reached the Aral Sea. The desiccation of the Aral Sea has had severe negative impacts, including, among others, the demise of commercial fishing, devastation of the floral and faunal biodiversity of the native ecosystems of the Syr and Amu Deltas, and increased frequency and strength of salt/dust storms. However, efforts have been and are being made to partially restore the sea’s hydrology along with its biodiversity, and economic value. The northern part of the Aral has been separated from the southern part by a dike and dam, leading to a level rise and lower salinity. This has allowed native fishes to return from the rivers and revitalized the fishing industry. Partial preservation of the Western Basin of the southern Aral Sea may be possible, but these plans need much further environmental and economic analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpringer Water
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-42254-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-42253-0
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameSpringer Water
ISSN (Print)2364-6934
ISSN (Electronic)2364-8198


  • Dust
  • Irrigation
  • Lake history
  • Lake level
  • Salt
  • Water diversion




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