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ARAL (AHR-uhl)

An inland sea of Central Asia

Common clues: Shrinking Asian body of water; Uzbekistan's ___ Sea; Dying sea of Asia; Sea east of the Caspian; Asia's ___ Sea; Disappearing sea

Crossword puzzle frequency: 9 times a year

Frequency in English language: 61345 / 86800

Video: Aral Sea Before and After 2010: Exclusive Video

Animation: The shrinking Aral Sea – 1960 till now

The Aral Sea is an endorheic inland sea in Central Asia; it lies between Kazakhstan in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, in the south. Since the 1960s, the Aral Sea has been shrinking, as the rivers that feed it were diverted by the USSR for irrigation. The Aral Sea is badly polluted, largely as the result of weapons testing, industrial projects, and fertilizer runoff before the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Map of Kazakhstan (CIA Factbook)

The major ecological problem is that diversion of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers for irrigation has shrunk the Aral Sea dramatically; the Aral Sea has been drying up for about 40 years. This has brought about a number of ecological problems both for the sea and for the surrounding area.

Used with permission: Rainer Ressl, Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt

The Soviet Union decided in 1918 that the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea—the Amu Darya in the south and the Syr Darya in the northeast—would be diverted for irrigating the desert in order to grow rice, melons, cereal, and, above all, cotton; this was part of the Soviet plan for cotton, or "white gold," to become a major export. (This did eventually end up becoming the case, and even today Uzbekistan is one of the world's biggest exporters of cotton.)

The sea's surface area has now shrunk by approximately 60 percent, and its volume by almost 80 percent. Over the same time period, the salinity of the Aral Sea has increased from about 10 g/l to about 45 g/l.

The ecosystem of the Aral Sea and the river deltas feeding into it has been nearly destroyed, not least because of the much higher salinity. The land around the Aral Sea is also heavily polluted, and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water, as well as from a number of other health problems—the receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals, which are picked up, carried away by the wind as toxic dust, and spread to the surrounding area; the population around the Aral Sea now shows high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases, as well as other diseases. Crops in the region are also destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. The town of Moynaq in Uzbekistan had at one point a thriving harbor and fishing industry employing approximately 60,000 people; now the town lies miles from the shore. Fishing boats lie scattered on dry land that was once covered by water; many of them have been there for 20 years.

Work is being done to restore in part the North Aral Sea. Irrigation works on the Syr Darya have been repaired and improved to increase its water flow, and in October 2003, the Kazakh government announced a plan to build a concrete dam (Dike Kokaral) separating the two halves of the Aral Sea. Work on this dam was completed in August 2005; since then the water level of the North Aral has risen, and its salinity has decreased. As of 2006, some recovery of sea level has been recorded, sooner than expected. "The dam has caused the small Aral's sea level to rise swiftly to 38 m (125 feet), from a low of less than 30 m (98 feet), with 42 m (138 feet) considered the level of viability." Economically significant stocks of fish have returned, and observers who had written off the North Aral Sea as an environmental catastrophe were surprised by unexpected reports that in 2006 its returning waters were already partly reviving the fishing industry and producing catches for export as far as Ukraine. The restoration reportedly gave rise to long absent rain clouds and possible microclimate changes, bringing tentative hope to an agricultural sector swallowed by a regional dustbowl, and some expansion of the shrunken sea. "The sea, which had receded almost 100 km south of the port-city of Aralsk, is now a mere 25 km away." There are plans to build a new canal to reconnect Aralsk with the sea. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009, by which time it is hoped the distance to be covered will be only 6 km. A new dam is to be built based on a World Bank loan to Kazakhstan, with the start of construction also slated for 2009.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License ( It uses material from the

ARAL (481) 37 We- >1 06 Asia's ___ Sea

33 Mo+ >1 07 Asian sea

30 We- >1 05 Sea east of the Caspian

26 Tu >1 07 Shrinking Asian sea

23 Tu >1 07 Asian inland sea

21 We+ >1 08 Shrinking sea

16 We >1 05 Inland sea

11 We- >1 99 Russian sea AZOV

11 We- >1 08 Sea near the Caspian

11 We >1 97 Uzbekistan's ___ Sea

10 >1 05 Inland sea of Asia

9 Tu >1 02 Inland Asian sea

8 Th- >1 05 Shrinking sea of Asia

8 We- >1 90 Soviet sea

7 We- >1 98 Russian inland sea

7 Th- >1 07 Sea that's a lake

7 Tu >1 03 Shrinking inland sea

6 We- >1 07 Kazakhstan border sea

6 >1 02 Soviet salt lake

6 We- >1 05 Word on a map of Uzbekistan

5 Tu+ >1 05 Asia's shrinking ___ Sea

02 Saltwater lake of Asia

4 Th >1 08 Amu Darya's outflow

4 We >1 02 Asian lake

4 Tu- >1 00 Fast-shrinking sea