The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00466: Return of the Aral Sea

Key concepts:
Aral Sea, environmental restoration
Attention Conservation Notice:
Better news than anyone expected about a situation that was long a very byword for enviro hopelessness.

Worldchanging is having a design competition, in order to convince thinking people that the "debate" about climate change is "over."

It ties into this worthy "The Debate is Over" effort:

I suspect that this is like hoping that the "debate" about Darwin is over. In other words, there's no actual grounds for debate whatsoever. We've slid right past the point of reason to climate identity- politics. Henceforth we'll be seeing bizarre Lysenkoist effusions such as creation-science meteorology, richly fueled by oil companies with their backs to the wall. The new denial party-line will sound something like this: "There just can't be anything wrong with our weather because God made the sky. So there." Muslim fundamentalism in a world of climate change ought to be especially productive of this approach. Nevertheless, hey, a design contest is always good fun.

The Surreal Botanists' Association. C'mon, who can't like a little whimsy in today's circumstances.

Not so much as a lamp as a platform for lamp instantiation. Man, that is some way-out Tech Nouveau blobjectified designer goodness there.

Weird new plastic pulls fog right out of the sky, turns it into drinking water with no energy expended.

Lyrical pics of crazed American storm violence here, for those who take a certain amount of schadenfreude in watching heartland Americans really catching it from irrational American climate policies.

Check out this nifty "strawjet." Can adobe blobjects be far behind?

There are bears in Austria – well, one bear in Austria – for the first time in 170 years.

Source: The Independent, London

By Geoffrey Lean
29 May 2006 13:44

"The dead sea that sprang to life

"The Aral Sea was one of the world's biggest inland bodies of water – until Soviet engineers destroyed it in the 1960s. Now, thanks to a new dam, it's coming back.

Geoffrey Lean reports
Published:‰28 May 2006

"Fresh fish are on sale cheaply again in markets near the world's most desiccated sea. Cold green water is creeping back towards dozens of long-abandoned harbours, and for the first time in a generation, fishermen are launching their boats where recently there were only waves of sand.

"Life is returning astonishingly quickly to the North Aral Sea in Central Asia, partially reversing one of the world's greatest environmental disasters. Just months after the completion of a dam to conserve its waters, the sea has largely recovered – confounding experts who said it was beyond rescue.

(((I'b be guessing that the Aral Sea was indeed "beyond rescue" and we're now seeing a brand-new sea that might as well be called the "Aral.")))

"Since April the level of the sea has risen by more than 3m, flooding over 800 sq km of dried-out seabed, and bringing hope to a part of the world bereft of it since Soviet engineers stole the waters in the 1960s. The drying up of the Aral Sea – once the world's fourth largest inland water body, covering an area the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined – has long been one of the biggest man-made catastrophes in history, bringing poverty, disease and death to the 3.5 million people living around it.
(((Aw c'mon, Belgium, Netherlands, who
would miss those.)))

"You would never know it, however, by looking at an atlas. Most still show it as it was, a squarish 66,000 sq km blue blob, east of the much larger Caspian, fed by two giant rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, perhaps better known as the Oxus and the Jaxartes of classical times. (((How fast will people have to change atlases as the seas rise? Maybe denialists will just leave the maps in place and pretend that New Orleans is still there.)))

"But the maps are harking back to long-gone days, when the sea was filled to the brim with more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of pristine water, and its beaches, busy ports and abundant fish were famed throughout the region. During the second half of the 20th century the water receded to a 10th of its natural volume, and the sea's area fell by three-quarters. The water retreated – up to 150km from the former southern port of Muynak – leaving hundreds of fishing boats apparently beached in the middle of a desert.

"It happened because the two great rivers died – or rather were murdered. The Soviet Union, deciding that the Aral Sea was 'nature's error,' diverted almost their entire flow to grow cotton in the surrounding desert. By 1980, enough canals to stretch three times to the moon had been dug to run the sea's lifeblood off into the sand.

"By 1990 the falling waters cut the North, or 'Small,' Aral Sea off from the bigger southern part. In 2001 the island of Vozrozdeniya – once so isolated that it was used for biological weapons research – joined the mainland, turning the southern sea into the shape of two collapsing lungs. (((That's some fine writing there, folks.)))

"And two years later, the Northern Sea itself was chopped in two. The remaining water became ever saltier, killing off the sea's 24 species of freshwater fish and ruining its fishermen. Once-thriving communities died.

"Worse, the shrinking sea brought disease and death to the local people. Every year some 70 million tons of dust from the dried-out sea bed – contaminated by salt and pesticides such as DDT long ago washed there off farmland – is blown over the surrounding land. And the wells that provide drinking water have turned salty too.

"Over the past 15 years chronic bronchitis has increased by 3,000 per cent in the area, arthritic diseases by 6,000 per cent. (((Lose a lake, get arthritis. Go figure.))) Oral Antaniyazova – a local doctor whose campaigning on the issue has won her a Goldman Prize, the world's foremost award for grass- roots environmental activists – (((I wonder why I've never heard of it))) says that up to 99 per cent of women of reproductive age on the southern shore of the sea have anaemia, and that 87 per cent of their babies are born with the condition. (((Lose a lake, get anemia.))) Cancers, allergies, miscarriages and kidney and liver diseases have all increased, she says, and life expectancy has slumped from 64 years to 51. (((Lose a lake, get cancers, allergies, miscarriages, kidney problems, etc.)))

"To add insult to injury, the irrigation has poisoned the cotton fields with salt, causing production to fall. For decades experts came to study the unfolding disaster, but with little effect. Locals joked that there were so many of them that they would have solved the problem – if only each had brought a bucket of water. (((Soviet-style political jokes always pretty much cut to the chase.)))

"But after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the new state of Kazakhstan, home of the North Aral Sea, decided to try to rescue it, first by building a dam across its narrow connection with the southern sea and then trying to fill it. Two attempts failed, but the World Bank eventually agreed to help. (((Due to fossil fuel exports, Kazakhstan is booming and can afford Dubai-style infrastructure stunts.))) By the time the new dam in the Berg Strait was completed last year, work had also been done to rescue the Syr Darya river, which flows into the northern sea, and its flow was doubled.

"Even optimists thought it would take years for the small sea to recover; pessimists said it could never happen. But it has now filled up to the top of the dam, and the waters are flowing back towards Aralsk, the main port in the north, having previously retreated as far as 80km. Fishermen in the surrounding villages are going to sea again, and there are plans to release 30 million young fish into its waters to restock the North Aral. (((What kind of fish, one wonders, and what do they have to do with the previous and presumably extinct ecology? Given climate change, a brand-new sea with a wrecked ecology may be a fine harbinger for a "planet of weeds" scenario.))) Link:

"There are seven wonders in the world and the eighth is the dam on the Aral Sea," says Kolbai Danabayev, vice-mayor of Aralsk. There are now plans to raise it further, swelling the sea over the next five years. As it is, water is now spilling over the dam into the southern sea, but there is no sign of a similar recovery there. It is much bigger, the problems are much greater, and Uzbekistan, which controls much of it – and most of the Amu Darya river – shows little interest.

"In the south, journalist Fred Pearce says in a ground- breaking book, When the Rivers Run Dry, even the local International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea is increasing diversion of the water away from it. But the recovery of the north, which has the potential to be the greatest environmental comeback ever, shows all need not be lost."

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