The Aralkum Desert is a desert that has appeared since 1960 on the seabed once occupied by the Aral Sea. It lies to the south and east of what remains of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
While the level of the Aral Sea has fluctuated over its existence, the most recent level drop since the 1960s was caused by the Soviet Union building massive irrigation projects in the region. The severely reduced inflow caused the water level in the Aral Sea to drop. While the North Aral Sea is rising due to the Dike Kokaral, the South Aral Sea kept dropping, thus expanding the size of the desert, until 2010, when the South Aral Sea was partly reflooded. The water level of the South Aral Sea then began to drop again, this time more severely.
In August 2021, British polar athlete Rosie Stancer led the first expedition on foot across the Aralkum desert.
The sands of the Aralkum and the dust that originates from it contain pollutants. The desert’s location is on a powerful west–east airstream that carries its polluted dust around the globe. Aral dust has been found in the fields of Belarus, the forests of Norway, and in the glaciers of Greenland. Pesticides in the dust have been found in the blood of penguins in Antarctica.
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