The Shrinking Aral Sea

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Climate change has been described as a “slow-moving crisis”—one that has developed over decades and requires long-term vision to address. This presents a unique challenge for the human attention span, which has been primed over centuries of evolution to focus on immediate needs. With so much of our hardwiring focused on the present, how can we impress upon our students (and ourselves!) the importance of environmental stewardship?

Sometimes, a picture is really worth a thousand words. The Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was once the fourth-largest lake in the world. Today, it’s a small fraction of its former size. This depletion has had a grave impact on the fishing communities that traditionally relied on the sea for sustenance.

The following photo essay uses comparative photographs from 1977, 1998, and 2010 to track the impacts of human activity on the Aral Sea over time. Use this photo series and accompanying essay as a case study to show your students how dramatically humans can impact their environment, even over a span of years:

This photo essay is part of ABC-CLIO’s World Geography database, a global survey of climate, topography, history, culture, and politics. Click here to activate your free preview of this database and gain access to:

  • Profiles of nearly 200 countries
  • More than 8,500 primary and secondary sources including images, flags, noteworthy speeches, recipes, facts and figures, and national constitutions
  • Investigate activities organized around a selection of primary and secondary sources and a central inquiry question designed to build students’ inquiry and critical thinking skills
  • CLIOview tool that allows students to make comparisons and graph statistical data at the country level, across categories including birth rate, currency, social media users, and more