Once the fourth largest inland sea in the world, Central Asia’s Aral Sea is drying up rapidly and is likely to all but disappear in as few as 15 years, according to a new study by Moscow’s Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. Since the 1960s, the sea has been depleted by the damming of the main rivers that feed it; it is now just a quarter of the size it was a half-century ago and has broken into two parts, the North Aral Sea and the South Aral Sea. The latter has been basically abandoned, because the cost of restoring it is considered prohibitive. Both parts also suffer from rising salinity, and the receding sea has exposed huge salt plains that cause dust storms and spread disease. Every day, 200,000 metric tons of salt and sand from the uncovered seabed are blown onto neighboring farmland, severely damaging agriculture.
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