These NASA images document the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the Aral Sea became the victim of a grand Soviet public works project that diverted the water bound for the Aral Sea and pumped it into the desert to grow cotton and other crops. By 2000, when the photograph on the left was taken, the Aral Sea had already shrunk by more than half since 1960. (The black line illustrates the approximate shoreline in 1960.) The 2009 photograph, right, shows that the sea has nearly disappeared altogether, with its once extensive southern portion little more than a swirling cloud of dust and salts heavily contaminated by agricultural chemicals.

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