Where Has All the Water Gone?


Once the fourth-largest lake in the world, Central Asia’s shrinking Aral Sea has reached a new low, thanks to decades-old water diversions and a more recent drought. (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to better understand this ongoing environmental catastrophe.

The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest lake. Image by NASA (left) and NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Level 1 and Atmospheres Active Distribution System (LAADS)
The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth-largest lake.
Image by NASA (left) and NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using data from the Level 1 and Atmospheres Active Distribution System (LAADS)

Discussion Ideas

  • According to our media spotlight “Disappearing Lake,” the Aral Sea has always been a saline (salty) lake, but it has become much saltier as its waters have receded. Why? Are there other examples of this phenomenon?
    • Water evaporates, salt doesn’t. As water evaporates into the atmosphere, heavy minerals such as salts are left on the ground (creating salt flats) or in the remaining water. In the Aral Sea, this process has been augmented by human activity—incoming water has been prevented from actually reaching the sea, leaving literally tons of salt. As a result, the remaining water is saltier.
    • This phenomenon is very common. It happens as saline lakes form in endorheic basins. Endorheic basins, such as the Aral Sea, don’t drain to a stream, lake, or ocean. The water that flows into these types of basins evaporates or seeps into the ground. Read more about endorheic basins here.


  • Water flowing to the Aral Sea was diverted to irrigate crops in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. So why are some fertilized, agricultural areas actually suffering as a result of the diversion? Read through our media spotlight “Disappearing Lake” for some help.
    • The disappearing lake has left salt flats in its wake. “In some places in the eastern seabed,” the spotlight says, “salt flats spread for more than 100 kilometers (62 miles). Winds pick up the salt and deposit it over agricultural lands, spoiling some of the fertilized, irrigated soil. More than 40 million metric tons of dried salt have been swept into agricultural lands.”


  • Have other bodies of water been “dried up” due to human impact?




NG Article: Aral Sea’s Eastern Basin Is Dry for First Time in 600 Years

NG Media Spotlight: Disappearing Lake

NG Encyclopedic Entry: basin (page 2: endorheic basin)

Wikipedia article: Salar de Uyuni (salt flat)

NG Photo: Dead Sea

NG Photo Gallery: 8 Mighty Rivers Run Dry From Overuse

USGS Photo Gallery: Lake Chad, West Africa

The Guardian article: Cotton production linked to images of the dried up Aral Sea basin

4 thoughts on “Where Has All the Water Gone?

  1. We are experiencing the same problem here in Central Texas,I’m 35 yrs of age ,and in just that short time are two lakes here have both subsided to a new 2 yr. Low at least 40ft.below the old level of a few years ago.the countrys of this great earth need to put their differences aside and focus on the land around and beneath use that make up all living things and start working together and how to fix all the problems at hand.I believe that maybe we should slowly try to start collecting more rain water by catching it on a metal roof and filtering it in tanks on are below are home’s and have the filters made from a solar boiling filtering system are a carbon filtering system ,even try to implement solar energy system on ure home,it would not only save use money but also save this great plant the stress we have and continue to cause it.We have to find a way are mother nature will fix the problem that are causing the problem ,she has before she will again I promise you that ,let’s try working together and stead of fighting over this problem ,I bet we can resolve the problems ,research historical civilization they had a good idea about this problem.good luck to everyone

  2. Aral sea was considered among the Wold’s biggest lakes, then how come between 14-15 years it dried completely, and what has the salt to do in that, I am still confused, it looks like there is some other reason behind this. Its really shocking.

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