The World’s Fourth-Largest Lake Has Nearly Disappeared

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The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth-largest freshwater lake, is down to just 10% of its peak capacity. NASA released dramatic photos showing its rapid disintegration over the past 14 years, as the lakebed has given way to cracked soil and rusted, stranded boats.

A new paper in science journal Nature, published Wednesday, found that the nations that straddle the Aral Sea, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, have some of the highest per capita water use of anywhere in the world

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This holds true for other Central Asian nations, including Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, according to the study. Such high water use is largely to blame for the rapid disappearance of the massive inland sea, as seen in this animation showing satellite images from the year 2000 through 2014:

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