The Aral Sea used to be the world’s fourth-largest lake, but it has been reduced to two relative puddles.
NASA shared a time-lapse video on Thursday that shows the original Aral Sea shrinking, starting in the year 2000. It has become two separate, much smaller bodies of water: the North and South Aral Seas.
The lake has suffered since the 1960s, when the Soviet Union diverted two major rivers that supported the lake — the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya — to irrigate agricultural fields in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
The aftermath, as described by NASA, was nothing short of devastating:
As the Aral Sea has dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard. The salty dust blew off the lakebed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil. Croplands had to be flushed with larger and larger volumes of river water. The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier.
In July, Al-Jazeera reported on a small bright spot in the efforts to restore the North Aral Sea. The 2005 Kokaral dam construction project, financed by the World Bank, had led to 15 kinds of fish returning to the waters. A second phase of the dam project is slated to keep restoring the North Aral.