Дата публикации: 31 марта 2016
Автор: Alexey Schetnikov →
Публикатор: А. Комиссаров
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) →
Источник: (c) The Times of Central Asia, 08-30-2001 →
Номер публикации: №1459448968 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!
Alexey Schetnikov, (c)
Throughout its history, Central Asia has always been short of water, which has always been the source of life in this landlocked region. Great ancient cities and civilizations appeared along water sources, and caravan routes passed through these oases. Presently, these places have become popular tourist destinations, attracting tourists with ancient cities, medieval Islamic architecture, Zoroastrian and Buddhist sanctuaries, and ancient nomads' graves.
Following these water sources, some cities relocated for several miles, as happened to Turkmenistan's Merv, one of the most ancient cities in Central Asia. The Aral Sea, one of the largest water basins in the region, is shrinking quickly, which is posing serious problems to Central Asian countries. At the same time it is giving much work to scholars, as the shrinking sea is spawning new information and unraveling mysteries that were originally guarded by the depth of the sea. Of course, the Aral Sea is not an attractive tourist destination - it has lifeless landscapes, which are dull and empty. On the other hand, its fertile soil has explorers coming here to solve its mysteries.
In Turkic, Aral means "island". This "island" lies amid an ocean of sand baked by the sun during six hot months of the year. The east the Aral Sea, whose level was higher than that of world oceans by 53 meters 35 years ago, borders the Aral Karamum desert. In the southeast and south - the Aral Sea borders the Kyzylkum desert, in the west - the 60-120 meter high Ustyurt plateau, and in the north - the endless sand dunes of Bolshiye Barsuki desert.
Over the past 35 years the surface of the Aral Sea shrunk by 30% and its water volume reduced by 70%. The level of the sea has dropped 16 meters - the height of a 6-story building. A dam that formerly protected the city of Muinak from destructive winter storms now stands in the desert. Local ship cemeteries are the final resting-places for dozens of vessels, many of which are really huge. Once the largest port in Central Asia - Aralsk - is now a large ship cemetery. Many foreigners want to travel to Aral Sea to watch this by their own eyes.
The sea continues to shrink, and only two islands - Barkelmes and Vozrozhdeniya - have remained here out of several thousand large and small islands. Scholars think in some five years these two islands will merge with the desert as well. What is the reason for Aral's shrinking?
Geologically, the Aral Sea is relatively young - it appeared some 10,000-20,000 years ago at the crossroads of two great Central Asian rivers - Amudarya and Syrdarya. In ancient times Amudarya flowed into the Caspian Sea. But, for unknown reasons, the river changed its route and turned to the north. As a result, there appeared the Aral Sea, since Syrdarya alone was unable to fill such a huge bowl of the sea. Aral initially was a freshwater sea, but has turned salty as its water is constantly evaporating.
Some recent archaeological finds suggest that the Aral Sea shrunk in the past. As a result, scholars of the Kazakhstan Archaeology Institute and the Kzylorda State University discovered the remnants of an ancient mausoleum on the recently exposed bottom of the sea. The mausoleum contained a grave with a well-preserved skeleton of a man who stood more than two meters high.
The skeleton is well preserved because large stone plates of the grave were put very close to each other to protect the body from water and grave plunderers. The man was buried about 600 years ago. He was about 35-40 years old and had two plaits, a beard and moustache. His luxurious clothes testified to his high social status. The man was a warlord, proven by a fracture in his skull, inflicted by a heavy weapon, probably during a battle. Numerous knitted rib fractures from different periods in his life testify to his exemplary military feats.
Archaeologists think these findings are proof that the Aral Sea shrunk in the past and that the same occurs regularly, after different periods of time. Uzbekistan tour sends tourists to this area already 10 years.
Over the past few decades, the intense economic activity along the rivers that flow into the Aral has broken the already fragile ecological balance of the sea. Over the past 20 years, the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers have been flowing into the Aral Sea only on paper. Most of their water ends up in fields, used to irrigate cotton crops and rice plantations. That water never reaches the Aral Sea, even after irrigation. This water contains a high concentration of salts and chemicals and is not allowed to return back to the rivers. Instead, the water accumulates in hollows, becoming dead salty lakes.
The tragedy of Aral goes back decades. The sea began to shrink quickly in the mid- 1960s. The local fishing industry died in the 1970s as local freshwater fish died because of their inability to adapt to salt water. At that time the salt concentration in Aral rose by 2.5 times and has continued to grow ever since. Today, Aral's water is more saline than the water of the Black Sea.
As of today, the shrinking of Aral Sea is out of control. At the recent CIS summit, experts suggested rerouting some Siberian rivers to Central Asia to save the Aral Sea. No decision has been made on that project, however. The project's authors wish to kill two birds with one stone - to irrigate cotton plantation and stop the Aral Sea from shrinking. However, this project may not be implemented because it may ruin the already fragile ecological balance in the region.
At the same time, some people think it unnecessary to save the Aral Sea. It is not a big problem if we have one more desert in Central Asia, they think. Rivers rolling down from mountain glaciers will continue to irrigate cotton fields, and the useless sea will simply die without any consequences. Such ideas can be inconclusive, and time has proven that.
Опубликовано 31 марта 2016 года
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