The Aral Sea is one of less than 20 ancient lakes in the world, and is estimated to be more than 5 million years old.
To many, the Aral Sea has become synonymous with environmental catastrophe. In the Soviet Union era massive amounts of water were diverted for irrigation of cotton and the lake began to shrink dramatically. At the same time, pesticides were being applied to fields in the watershed by airplane. The Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world; it has now lost 90% of its source waters and two thirds of its surface area. Salinity has increased fourfold.
Changes in the lake have caused local climates to change and desertification has increased, along with rates of respiratory diseases and cancers from salt and toxic-laden dusts