ASTANA – Research conducted by an international academic group has estimated the age of the Aral Sea does not exceed 24,000 years, reported the Nauka v Sibiri edition of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Siberian branch.
The Aral Sea. Photo credit: Reuters
The group included Sobolev Geology and Mineralogy Institute senior research officer Sergei Krivonogov, who has studied the sea for 13 years, according to Russian news agency Beyond the Headlines. For the first time, scientists drilled through the sediment from the surface layer to the underlying deposits. Samples of carbon-bearing material such as mollusc shells and small shellfish were studied using an accelerated mass spectrometer, which gave precise information about the waterway’s transformations. Using radiocarbon dating, they determined the approximate age and concluded the Aral Sea originated some 20,000-24,000 years ago.
The study showed the region was home to ancient civilisations, proven by man-made changes to the natural landscape such as the use of fresh water for irrigation purposes. The Aral Sea has also had shallow times during the last 2,000 years similar to the current one, including two lengthy regression periods when the water level fell significantly and the sea bottom was visible and two shorter transgression periods followed by the modern period of man-made regression. Rather than being full of water, as it was some 50 years ago, the Aral has at times been in a state not unlike the current one.
In the 1960s, the sea was an impressive body of water covering about 70,000 square kilometres. It was the fourth largest inland sea after the Caspian Sea before losing three-quarters of its volume and 60 percent of its water surface due to Soviet irrigation techniques and massive cotton production in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In October, Khabar TV channel reported the Aral Sea could regain its status as the country’s harbour as a result of the successful implementation of the regional project on managing the Syr Darya’s riverbed and preserving the northern part of the waterway. The project, implemented in partnership with the World Bank, allowed the creation of the Small Aral, the first man-made sea in the country.
Many experts believed the Aral Sea was irretrievably lost. The drying was so severe it caused negative environmental consequences, damaging flora and fauna in the region. Shipping and fishing were no longer possible and the sea had moved 100 kilometres from its former coastline. The distance from Aralsk is now only 17 kilometres and some fish species and fish industries have returned.