The sea formerly supported local fishing and was navigable from Moynaq (Muinak) to Aral. As the Aral has retreated from its former shores, due to the combined effects of evaporation and water diversion, major environmental problems resulted. The quality of the remaining water deteriorated as the concentration of salts and agricultural chemicals increased, increased salinity and toxicity killed the fish, and the health of those living along the shore suffered, in part from duststorms carrying contaminated former lakebed soil. Regional weather has been affected as well, becoming harsher as the sea's moderating climatic influence has diminished. Vozrozhdeniye, the site of a Soviet germ warfare waste dump, is a former island that is no longer isolated from the surrounding region; in 2002 the United States and Uzbekistan cleaned up the site.
Geologically separate from the Caspian Sea since the last Ice Age, the Aral Sea was once only slightly saline. Mentioned in Arab writings of the 10th cent., it was called the Khwarazm (or Khorezm) Sea by later Arab geographers. It was reached in the 17th cent. by Russians, who called it the Sinyeye More (Blue Sea). The United Nations has estimated that what remains of the sea will essentially disappear by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse its decline. The Kok-Aral Dam (completed 2005) was constructed to enclose the small northern section (in Kazakhstan), which has revived, but it is a fraction of the former sea. Portions of the former lakebed have been planted with salt-tolerant trees to stabilize the contaminated soil.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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