The shrinking of the Aral Sea is an excellent example of the terrible destruction caused by mankind in just a few decades. We cause damage to the environment without understanding the irreversible and unpredictable consequences of any artificial intervention in the balance and order of nature. The decay of the Aral Sea has become the greatest, human induced, ecological disaster of our age and an example of negligent water management as well as the severe consequences of climate change.

The first expeditions
The Chinese mentioned the Aral Sea in their documents in the 2nd Century BC, referring to it as the North Sea. The ancient Greeks and Romans described it as a marshland and Arab geographers called it the Horezmi Lake in their maps in the 10th -12th Centuries. After the Arabs, no one mentioned the lake for a long time until, finally, it re-appeared again in documents from the Khanate of Khiva in the 17th Century. The western world was totally unaware of the Aral Sea until the Russians conquered central Asia and the lake first appeared on European maps as the Aral Sea in the 18th Century. The first scientific expedition took place in 1715. Tsar Peter I. assigned Russian military officer Bekovich-Cherkassy to explore the Aral Sea and its surrounding area. In 1716 Cherkassy led a new expedition to the lake but never returned as they were massacred by the troops of the Khanate of Khiva. Then Colonel F. F. Berg visited its western shore in 1825, and was followed by some research conducted by zoologist E.A Eversman in 1830, which is still significant today. Navy officer Alexei Ivanovich Butakov was the first to discover the lake by ship. He began his first expedition in 1848, measuring the shore of the lake, the islands and the lake bed exactly. He examined the movement and the currents and found the deepest point in the lake; which then was 69 metres. A famous Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, who was in exile at the time, and accompanied Butakov, turned out to be of great assistance because not only was he a master of words, he was also good with a paintbrush. With his assistance the first accurate map of the Aral Sea was drawn. Naturally, Butakov’s expedition was followed by others after the Russians actually took control over the surrounding khanates; merging them into the Russian Empire. During Soviet times, scientists concluded that Aral was just an occasional lake, the basin of which was formed only 3 million years ago.

 

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