An anonymous reader writes: In 2000, NASA began taking satellite images of the Aral Sea in central Asia, which was once the fourth-largest inland lake in the world. At that time, there was an expansive eastern basin, and smaller basins to the north and west. In images recorded just last week, we see that the eastern basin is completely gone, and the western basin just a thin strip of water. The local fishing industry has been devastated, old ship graveyards now rest on dry ground, and salt-heavy sand is being blown around the region, causing health issues. Most of the lake's decline is attributable to human intervention: "In the 1950s, two of the region's major rivers – the Amu Darya and and the Syr Darya – were diverted by the Soviet government to provide irrigation for cotton production in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, starving the Aral. It has been diminishing ever since, with the sea level dropping 16 meters between 1960 and 1996, according to the World Bank. Water levels are believed to be down to less than 10 per cent of what they were five decades ago." Low levels of rain and snow didn't help.
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