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Ambio. 2007 Jun;36(4):323-7.

Aral Sea basin: a sea dies, a sea also rises.

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  • 1Center for Capacity Building, US National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boudler, CO 80307, USA.


The thesis of this article is quite different from many other theses of papers, books, and articles on the Aral Sea. It is meant to purposely highlight the reality of the situation in Central Asia: the Aral Sea that was once a thriving body of water is no more. That sea is dead. What does exist in its place are the Aral seas: there are in essence three bodies of water, one of which is being purposefully restored and its level is rising (the Little Aral), and two others which are still marginally connected, although they continue to decline in level (the Big Aral West and the Big Aral East). In 1960 the level of the sea was about 53 m above sea level. By 2006 the level had dropped by 23 m to 30 m above sea level. This was not a scenario generated by a computer model. It was a process of environmental degradation played out in real life in a matter of a few decades, primarily as a result of human activities. Despite wishes and words to the contrary, it will take a heroic global effort to save what remains of the Big Aral. It would also take a significant degree of sacrifice by people and governments in the region to restore the Big Aral to an acceptable level, given that the annual rate of flow reaching the Amudarya River delta is less than a 10th of what it was several decades ago. Conferring World Heritage status to the Aral Sea(s) could spark restoration efforts for the Big Aral.

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