A series of NASA satellite images has revealed the shocking decline of water levels in the Aral Sea, a massive environmental disaster dubbed “the quiet Chernobyl.”
NASA’s Terra satellite began capturing the images in 2000, when the vast central Asian lake known as the Aral Sea was already a fraction of its 1960 size (as shown by the black line in the images).
“It shows the power of long-term satellite observation from space,” a NASA spokesman told FoxNews.com, noting that the Terra satellite will have been in space for 15 years in December.
The victim of a Soviet era water diversion project in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world, but now holds less than 10% of its original water volume.
By 2000 the body of water had already separated into Northern and Southern Aral Seas, also known the Small and Large Seas. As the satellite image taken in 2000 shows, the Southern Sea was split into tenuously-connected eastern and western ‘lobes,’ or basins.
Within 12 months, however, the southern part of the connection had been lost, and the shallower eastern basin began to quickly retreat over the subsequent years. Dry conditions in 2014 caused the basin to completely dry up for the first time in modern times, according to NASA.
“As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed,” said NASA, in a statement accompanying the satellite images, adding that the increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides.
NASA also noted that the blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard. “The loss of the moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier,” it added.
A dam built by Kazakhstan’s in 2005 was a last-ditch attempt to save parts of the lake, but was effectively “a death sentence” for the Southern Aral Sea, according to NASA.
Launched on December 18, 1999, the Terra satellite studies the earth’s atmosphere, lands, oceans and energy.