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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-17-2010, 01:19 AM Thread Starter
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Aral Sea

Dispatch: Geopolitics of the Aral Sea | STRATFOR

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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-17-2010, 02:13 AM
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Its a huge ecological disaster. The German Spiegel magazine had a report on it.
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-17-2010, 02:30 AM Thread Starter
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I knew it was bad but not this bad.

This was an ill advised water diversion of a similar magnitude to Saddam's draining of the marshes.

This is why modern ag and water projects worry me. We don't have anything that bad going on in the US (I think) but we have dams yielding warming rivers that don't support life like they once did.

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-18-2010, 06:54 AM
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It was rated the world's #1 ecological disaster until about fifty days ago.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-18-2010, 12:06 PM Thread Starter
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It's probably still #1 in terms of the sheer volume of people who will either be displaced or starve.

I was thinking Thank God we don't have anything that bad here but then it dawned on me that a breech of the dikes on the Sacramento delta system could be a serious problem. Vast stretches of the inland Central Valley are at or under sea level. Worst case scenario would be a major flooding with ocean water spilling over inland ag areas, and shutting down much of the fresh water infrastructure that provides water for, I forget, about 40% of the state.
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-18-2010, 12:15 PM
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it's amazing, isn't ? A few weeks ago, we could point at the Aral Sea as the kind of thing that only happens in those backward countries, because we're all American Exceptionalists and all that. Turns out we are just as much a bunch of fuck ups as they are.

We have the same potential for catastrophe in Houston. The nightmare scenario here is a hurricane taking a path thru Galveston Bay and up the ship channel, causing release of massive amounts of petrochemicals into a storm surge. Millions of people would be effected.

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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-20-2010, 11:37 PM Thread Starter
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I believe it. I've read references to Houston's storage tanks before.

We know that our damns in the US have a warming effect on rivers but it doesn't restrain the pro damning crowd. Hydroelectric looks attractive in many ways but it has a downside.

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-21-2010, 02:36 PM
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And it's good night from the Aral Sea

Pictures with captions Aral Sea Ecological Disaster - Uzbekistan


The Economist
Aral Sea, ecological disaster: And it's good night from the Aral Sea | The Economist

Asian politics
Banyan's notebook
Aral Sea, ecological disaster

And it's good night from the Aral Sea

May 14th 2010, 11:36

I HAVE been in Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s most populous and in many ways most crucial state. Every day I’ve been struck by the contrast between an exuberant young population and a mirthless Soviet-era regime. I hope to write about that once I’m out of the country.

For now, I’ll touch on the Aral Sea. Nineteenth-century travellers pinched themselves when on the horizon they saw wooden schooners gliding across the steppe, Russian ships on the Aral Sea. One of my regrets was not being able to gaze upon the more modern fishing boats of the Aral Sea, or at rather upon the boats cresting the sand dunes where the sea used to be. Short of billing my editor for a day’s helicopter charter, I didn’t have the chance this time to make the long journey out to investigate.

Still, the ghost of the Aral Sea has hung over many a conversation in the capital, Tashkent. Once the world’s fourth largest inland sea, king cotton and the command economy have done for it in a few short decades, with its volume falling by more than three-quarters.

Two rivers once fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya (the Oxus of the Ancient Greeks) and the Syr Darya (named after one of the four rivers of paradise). Now these run into the sands before reaching it. The Uzbek shore has fled some 200 kilometres (125 miles) north. By 2007 the Aral Sea had divided into three diminished and saline lakes. Last year the south-eastern lake vanished. A fishing industry that once employed 40,000 has vanished too, along with the fish and indeed an entire flora and fauna.

Every year five Central Asian states meet to discuss how to rescue the Aral Sea. In 2000 UNESCO produced a “water-related vision” for reviving the sea. The World Bank has restoration projects. But one development expert I spoke to in Tashkent, who has a deep attachment to the Aral Sea and Uzbekistan’s adjacent region of Karakalpakstan, says the sea is “beyond redemption”. If the Amu Darya ran at full flow, he says, it would take 75 years for the sea to refill.

As it is, both rivers continue to be diverted, constricted, bled, channelled and forced into a surrounding desert ripped up to make way for cotton fields. The tragedy is that Uzbekistan’s agriculture still runs on Soviet lines, and cotton is approved as Karakalpakstan’s saviour.

The reality is that the region has no future at all. The Aral Sea’s disappearance has led to drier summers and harsher winters. Soils grow ever more saline, and cotton yields only fall. An island once used by the Soviet Union for testing biological and chemical weapons is now a peninsula. Sandstorms whip up toxic dusts that poison locals and that have been deposited as far away as the East China Sea.

Uzbekistan’s 400,000-odd Karakalpaks (literally, Black Hats), a Turkic people that traditionally herded and fished, once had a striking culture. They are now the poorest group in Uzbekistan, and many are destitute. Children are sent out to pick the cotton at harvest time.

Aid donors and NGOs, which the regime tolerates in this part of the country more than elsewhere, attempt to improve the Karakalpaks’ plight. But the development expert I spoke to in Tashkent says that such plans, like those for saving the Aral Sea itself, were doomed to failure, so ruined is the land. If you had $50m, he says, it would be better to spend it moving the Karakalpaks to a more salubrious place, even at the cost of destroying an ancient and remarkable people’s links to their land. Karakalpakstan, however much was spent on the region, “will be on life support for ever.”

Most journalists covering development are brought up to think in terms of “solutions”—The Economist would hardly be in business if it didn’t have prescriptions. So it comes as a shock to be persuaded that human folly and hubris on this monstrous a scale has, in just my lifetime, devastated such a big chunk of Asia. Now only nature and time, probably on a geological scale, have any hope of redeeming it.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-21-2010, 03:49 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Teutone View Post
Most journalists covering development are brought up to think in terms of “solutions”—The Economist would hardly be in business if it didn’t have prescriptions. So it comes as a shock to be persuaded that human folly and hubris on this monstrous a scale has, in just my lifetime, devastated such a big chunk of Asia. Now only nature and time, probably on a geological scale, have any hope of redeeming it.
Strong piece. Good pictures. One that particularly interested me was the one of the current Aral Sea in the distance. What an odd part of the earth, especially in its day - what, 140 x 180 miles of a relatively fresh water sea in the midst of desert?

It is hard to accept that nothing can be done, or would be done. I read that the northern remainder is being nursed back to health. There is now an ongoing effort in Kazakhstan to save and replenish the North Aral Sea. As part of this effort, a dam project was completed in 2005; in 2008, the water level in this lake had risen by 12 metres (39 ft) from its lowest level in 2003. Salinity has dropped, and fish are again found in sufficient numbers for some fishing to be viable. - Wiki

But the south will be flocked as Uzbekistan is supposedly big on continued cotton planting. Not so ironically, one of the crops that diverted Sacramento River water irrigates is cotton (and alfalfa). Growing thirsty crops in the desert. What could go wrong?

I found this bit on Wikipedia about an early reclamation scheme:

The reaction to the predictions varied. Some Soviet experts apparently considered the Aral to be "nature's error", and a Soviet engineer said in 1968 that "it is obvious to everyone that the evaporation of the Aral Sea is inevitable." On the other hand, starting in the 1960s, a large scale project was proposed to redirect part of the flow of the rivers of the Ob basin to Central Asia over a gigantic canal system. Refilling of the Aral Sea was considered as one of the project's main goals. However, due to its staggering costs and the negative public opinion in Russia proper, the federal authorities abandoned the project by 1986.

I found the Ob in my atlas and it's a long ways north, around 800 to 1,000 miles north. It drains into the swampy part of Siberia, at least the atlases show it as swamp/tundra for large swaths, lightly populated so it does seem attractive to divert some of that. But there have to be huge natural barriers.

Won't be long before the faction that sneers at vahrnmentalists begins to get testy on hearing about the Aral Sea again. This is a huge cautionary tale.

Amazing that some people think we're going to terraform Mars, just create a water system out of crashed asteroids and comets, and yet we can't bring the Aral Sea back, here where we have the benefit of oxygen and relatively large amounts of water not that far away.






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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-21-2010, 04:05 PM
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I knew it was bad but not this bad.

This was an ill advised water diversion of a similar magnitude to Saddam's draining of the marshes.

This is why modern ag and water projects worry me. We don't have anything that bad going on in the US (I think) but we have dams yielding warming rivers that don't support life like they once did.
Saddam did it with the intention of subjugation of the rebellious marsh Arabs. It worked like a charm.

In 2003 a couple of colleagues and I proposed a restoration project for the area and it was turned down by State -- their experts didn't think it could be done without massive landforming -- a billion dollar budget kind of thing (my guess for the price tag, but we never got far enough to actually work on a budget). We wanted to do it in a fashion similar to the politically sensitive issue of restoring Louisiana's marsh. Just restore the natural hydrology and the life will find its own way back.

Anyway, the marsh Arabs got tired of being told to be patient and they did it themselves without permission. They destroyed Saddam's diversion projects and water went back into the system, dormant seeds germinated and birds and animals returned. At no expense to any taxpayer anywhere. The same could be done for Louisiana's marshes. Wont happen.



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