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News letter 09.2009


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  • 1. DrY TearsN ewsletter # 9S e p t e m b e r 2009 THE HISTORY OF THE A RAL S EA 2 O N THE BED OF THE A RAL SEA 4 EVAPORATION OF THE A RAL S EA 11 U NUSUAL WAVE CLOUDS OVER THE A RAL S EA 11 ARAL ATLANTIS 12 C ITY S OLEIL 13 “…Si tout va bien, Aralsk redeviendra un port en 2011”. LE MYSTÈRE DES TEMPÊTES 14 DE POUSSIÈRE DE LA MER D ’A RAL RUSSIA
  • 2. DrY Tears 2TH E H ISTO RYO F TH E A RA L SEAAbout the Aral Sea disaster. Map of the Aral Sea. Pictures of the Aral Sea. Tourism & travel to the dying Aral Sea.The Aral Sea basin. Where is the Aral Sea?The water that serveth all that country is drawn by ditches out of the River Oxus, into the great destruction of the said river, for which it cause it fal-leth not into the Caspian Sea as it hath done in times past, and in short time all that land is like to be destroyed, and to become a wilderness forwant of water, when the river of Oxus shall fail. Anthony Jenkinson, 1558Process drying of Aral Sea The Soviet scheme was based on the construction of a series of dams on the two rivers to create reservoirs from which 40.000 km of canals would Millions of years ago, the eventually be dug to divert water to the fields. The fields flourished but northwestern part of with such vast areas of monoculture, farmers had to use massive Uzbekistan and southern amounts of chemical pesticides. And with irrigation, salt was drawn to Kazakhstan were covered the surface of the soil and accumulated. When the Tahaitash Dam was by a massive inland sea. built on the Amu Darya near the city of Nukus, there was no water left in When the waters receded, the riverbed to flow to the Aral Sea, hundreds of kilometers away. To the they left a broad plain of surprise of the inhabitants of Muynak, the Aral Sea began to shrink. highly saline soil. One of the remnants of the At first, they assumed it was a temporary condition and dredged a canal ancient sea was the Aral to the receding shore so boats could continue to ply the sea and still Sea, the fourth largest dock at the wharves. But the effluents that did reach the sea were laced inland body of water in the with a deadly mix of salt and pesticides from the cotton fields. Fish popu- world. lations plummeted and eventually, when the canal was 30 km long and the sea continued to move away, the boats were abandoned to lie like The Aral is an inland salt- great leviathans on sands that were once sea bottom. water sea with no outlet. It is fed by two rivers, the The Aral Sea was a rich source of fish. Some 20 species were identified by Amu Darya and Syr Darya. biologists, including sturgeon and catfish. The town of Muynak, located The fresh water from these on the edge of the sea, was a fishing town that also attracted tourists to two rivers held the Arals its seaside vistas. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union decided the great plains water and salt levels in per- were ideal for growing cotton. The critical factor to make it happen was(Interactive map from fect balance. water. Two great rivers feed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya.In the early 1960s, the Soviet central government decided to make the Today, Muynak is a desert town more than a hundred kilometers fromSoviet Union self-sufficient in cotton and increase rice production. the sea. The only reminders of the once thriving fishing activity are theGovernment officials ordered the additional amount of needed water to rusting hulks of ships and an ancient fish plant. The sea has shrunk tobe taken from the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea. two-fifths of its original size and now ranks about 10th in the world. The water level has dropped by 16 metres and the volume has been reducedLarge dams were built across both rivers, and an 850-mile central canal by 75 percent, a loss equivalent to the water in both Lakes Erie andwith a far-reaching system of "feeder" canals was created. When the irri- Huron. The ecological effect has been disastrous and the economic,gation system was completed, millions of acres along both sides of the social and medical problems for people in the region catastrophic. All 20main canal were flooded. known fish species in the Aral Sea are now extinct, unable to survive the toxic, salty sludge.Over the next 30 years, the Aral Sea experienced a severe drop in waterlevel, its shoreline receded, and its salt content increased. Changes to one part of a region often lead to other changes. Here areThe marine environment became hostile to the sea life in it, killing the some of the results of the shrinking of the Aral Sea:plants and animals. As the marine life died, the fishing industry suffered. • As water has been drained from the rivers for cotton farming, the seas water has become much saltier.
  • 3. 3 DrY Tears• As more water has been taken from the rivers, the seas water level has decreased by over 60%.• Drinking water supplies have dwindled, and the water is contaminated with pesticides and other agricultural chemicals as well as bacteria and viruses.• The farms in the area use some highly toxic pesticides and other harm- ful chemicals. For decades, these chemicals have been deposited into the Aral Sea. When the wind blows across the dried-up sea, it carries dust containing these toxic chemicals.• Lakes and seas tend to have a moderating effect on the climate. In other words, the land right next to a body of water tends to be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than land thats not near the water. As the Aral Sea has lost water, the climate has become more extreme.So a centuries old way of life has disappeared in decades. The vast areaof exposed seabed is laced with pesticides, so when the wind blows, duststorms spread salt and toxic substances over hundreds, if not thousandsof kilometres. Its estimated that 75 million tons of toxic dust and saltsare spread across Central Asia each year. If the Aral Sea dries up comple-tely, 15 billion tons of salt will be left behind.Muynak is 210 km (130 mi) north of Nukus. Tourists can take a taxi or abus to reach Muynak from Nukus. There are options for private accom-modations in Muynak where you can stay overnight.
  • 4. DrY Tears 4O N TH E BED O F TH E A RA L SEAPa r t O N ELake Sudoche (Sudovchin) is the largest body of water in the Amu to believe that such rapid shrinkage cannot be blamed on human activi-Darya delta. When the river was running high, two of its branches, the ty alone, especially as there are serious geological and archaeologicalRaushan and the Priemuzyak, used to flow into the Sudoche, which indications that the Aral may have undergone a similar process in thewas connected by a channel to the Aral Sea. Now the Sea has receded past. The most likely explanation is that a combination of anthropoge-by approximately 150 km, water levels in Lake Sudoche have fallen and nic and natural factors were involved (decreased precipitation andit has split into a number of smaller lakes. The plateau rising in the increased evaporation due to global warming). In addition, there arebackground is the Ustyurt. The shore area is covered by small shrubs theories about movements in the Earths crust, and water flowing fromand salt, and the soil displays a striking variety of texture and colour. the Aral to the Caspian, which is attributed to tectonic processes or to secret bacteriological research conducted by the Soviet military onSplendid isolation Vozrozhdeniye (Resurrection) Island after 1949. The real reasons why the Saxaul is a plant somewhere Aral has dried up are not precisely clear. between a shrub and a small tree which grows in the desert When I was travelling across the Aral seabed to the former island of and on Asiatic steppes. Its Barsekelmes in 2005, a lady from the Barsekelmes reserve who was root system seeks moisture to accompanying our expedition told us that an ancient settlement had a depth of up to 30m, and been found on the seabed, almost halfway between the island and the some varieties can withstand old shoreline. It was a fairly large settlement, with the remains of stone high levels of soil salinity. In buildings, and ditches and earthen ramparts around them … Although the Large Aral, salt content is we desperately wanted to visit the place, they refused to give us the exact now close to 100 g/litre (ima- coordinates - it was too valuable a find for archaeologists and resear-gine a packet of salt dissolved in a bucket) and even higher in the smal- chers. At that time the very fact that the site had been found was secret.ler, eastern part. In terms of salinity, the Aral Sea is currently second only Now some information about this "Atlantis of the Aral" is beginning toto the Dead Sea, the saltiest water body on the planet. However, Lake emerge. It is direct proof that the Aral was subject to massive, long-termSudoche used to be a freshwater lake in the spring and became salty only shrinkage in the the autumn. As far as I understood, it is now salty all year round. Thewhite deposits on the ground are not snow, but salt. The 16th relay There is something veryThe deep appealing about the natural The weather was cold and beauty of this harsh landsca- murky. Expeditions to the pe. Despite the fact that you Ustyurt are few and far bet- can go for weeks on the ween at the best of times, and Ustyurt without meeting a even rarer at the end of living soul, we did not have to November. It is quite possible use our tents once. We were that these pictures are among anxious not to, because the the very few photographs of weather turned out to be -0- Lake Sudoche to be taken at 10°C instead of the expected +0+ 5°C. The relays (radio relay stations) this time of the year. are positioned at 50 km intervals and were previously used to transmit broadcast signals to outlying villages. With the development of satelliteIn place of algae television and the disappearance of settlements from the Ustyurt, these wonders of modern technology have long since become redundant. The main reason for the demi- Nearly all of them are uninhabited, with the exception of a few which se of the Aral is thought to be have been converted for special purposes - usually for guarding a gas the reckless exploitation of pipeline. Coming from Nukus, the closest relay station on the Ustyurt the water that flowed into it Plateau is number 16; it was here that a guard gave us shelter on the first from the Amu Darya and Syr night of our expedition. On the following days we got nearly as far as the Darya rivers and the excessive 21st relay station (the only other inhabited station turned out to be the amounts of water diverted for 19th, although we did not spend any more nights at relay stations). All in cotton irrigation. However, all our jeeps covered about 1000 km on the Ustyurt in four days. many specialists are inclined
  • 5. 5 DrY TearsPa r t TW O Pa r t TH REEThe origin of the word Sudoche is curious. Despite the obvious asso- The south-western region of the Aral Sea, the salt flat Borsa Kelmas.ciation, the name of the lake has nothing to do with the fish called In Uzbek it means "he who goes does not return". The edge of the"sudak" (pike perch). As our expedition leader told me, in Uzbek the shore is really marshy, but the surface itself is stable and hard. Thelake is called "Suvdochin" from the word for water (suv) and the word main thing is to force a way through. And then return.for sincere (chin). A salty supperAlong the road with clouds We got back - up to our knees All the points along our route in dirt, exhausted but happy. are linked with sunrise and We fooled around in the sunset. We had to get up at bright sunshine for a good five oclock in the morning if half hour, now and then tas- we wanted to get to the shore ting the salt. A genre photo. in time for sunrise. And then it would take us nearly an hour to find our way down from the "chink " and get to the photography sites we hadmarked out the evening before. Good morning sunshine Badwater Uzbek styleChink (literary form; Kazakh. and Turkm. chin), a precipice or ledge on the edge ofa plateau or small residual butte. Term widespread in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan There is still a factory on theand Uzbekistan. Most frequently used to describe cliffs on the Ustyurt Plateau. lake - perhaps for salt, per-A chink can reach 300 to 350m in height. It is caused by erosion, denudation or haps for soda. The factory istectonic deformation. clearly very secret, because there is not even anythingLayer cake about it on Google. The GPS Lake Sudoche used to be the coordinates are given below, largest water body in the but there is no factory on the delta, with a surface area of map. 350 sq. km. and a depth of up to 3 m. Nowadays the lake is,58.0025&spn=0.02,0.02&t=k so shallow that you could pro- bably wade across it on foot. And yet the map is completely up to date, and gives a pretty accurate pic- ture of the Aral Sea within its current shores. On the edge of the world A panorama collage, 200x134No fish here degrees, 17 frames. The pro- In the 1950s the fishing village portions are roughly correct, of Urga, on the shores of Lake but they look unbelievable. Sudoche, was home to a The angle is too large + dis- couple of hundred people. tortion from the wide-angle Our guide, October, told us lens. I have been told off that he used to have his club about the geometry, but I and his post office here. The cant help myself - I like this last inhabitant left in 1971. photograph, precisely becau- Nowadays hardly anything se it is so weird. remains.
  • 6. DrY Tears 6Pa r t F O U R Pa r t F IVE This is Chimbergen, our dri- ver. The second driver was called Bakbergen. The ending of both names means " he who has given " . Bakbergen - " he who has given will provide " , i.e. he who gave this child (God) will provide. And Chimbergen means " he who has trulygiven" (remember Sudovchin, "suv" means water and "chin" means Until 1961, when the Araltruth). Sea began to dry up, its water level stood at theOur guide was called October, after the revolution. A good man too - a 53.40 m. mark, and annual variations were never more than + /- 0.4 m.historian and archaeologist. I am starting to sound like the narrator of By 2003 the level had dropped to the 30.90 m. mark, i.e. by more thanmy favourite film, "Abdullahjan" (a Russian sci-fi comedy of the early 22 m. Moreover, the water level fell 1.26 m in 2002 and 1.14 m in 2001.90s): "This is the head of our kolchoz, a good man" . Thanks, guys! These are the most recent data, which can be found on the Internet. Extrapolating from these figures, the Aral has probably fallen by atThe most banal thing you can say when you are on the eastern chink least by another 5 m. by now, and the total drop in water level is like-of the Ustyurt Plateau is "this used to be the bed of the Aral Sea". I ly to be in the region of 27 to 30 m. It is not difficult to imagine thismyself used to imagine the seabed everywhere, even in places where figure, it is roughly equal to the height of a 9-nine storey blockit never was. The phrase runs through the comments on our video of flats.notes. And yet when it comes to the real seabed, which really used tobe at the bottom of that sea, words fail me. Although the cliff in the photograph is high, it is clearly less than two sto- reys. In the upper right-hand corner we can see the sea. The differentialUzbek canyons between the current shore and the bottom of the cliff is not significant, since both points are on the flat surface of the former seabed. This means that the place where I took the photograph used to be under water too. And here is the far cliff, foreshortened differently and with a large zoom ratio. At the shoreline, the water is foamingThe three black like in a wash basin, and white flakes aredots in the bottom flying along the bank. The sea is veryright-hand part of the frame are cows. Our guides told us that this was shallow here, as can be seen from thenot the first time they had seen them, they had obviously strayed from waves. I went in 30 m, but the waterthe herd. It is not at all clear how they manage to survive - after all there only came up to my ankles. The bottomare no people, no water and no food in these parts. is unpleasantly slimy and squelches like a bog. It was pretty cold, about 0° plus chill factor, but you understand why I You can see the scale from the tracks of couldnt not go for a swim; my health the jeeps in the background - this used did not suffer, thank God. to be under water, and now you can drive across it by car. And this is what the last 100-200 m. of road looked like before it came up
  • 7. 7 DrY Tears Pa r t SIXagainst a rocky precipice. The same precipice from where you get the I realise that everyone is fed up with photographs of the Aral Sea. I amview of the sea and where the first of this series of photographs tired of them myself, but if I do not finish off the material now, it iswas taken. likely to hang around on my desk for an awful long time. And anyway, how can you photograph the Aral without the ships of the desert?Loy takir Although we dragged ourselves down to the old jetty at the crack of dawn, there was no dawn to be seen. Ghastly weather, literally a "grey In Turkic languages " loy" mist". As a result the photos you see are just for the record, but I deci- means clay and " takir" means ded that the series would not be complete without them. smooth or level. There, thats what you get when you go del- Until the 1960s the town of Muynak was a port on the island of the same ving in dictionaries. The takir name, and could only be reached by boat or plane. They say that when is a type of relief in sandy, clay the sea first started to shrink, the water suddenly retreated 20 m. in one and stony deserts and semi- night. The following morning, people ran after the sea and wept. After deserts in tropical and subtro- a while they tried to dig a channel from the port to the shore, but the pical zones. The surface is a water retreated faster than they could dig. Nowadays this place is more hard crust of clay and salt, than 100 km from the sea. What the current inhabitants do remained abroken by polygonal fissures. In the spring takirs are usually submerged mystery to me, but it was here that I saw the full tragedy of the Aral. Onby water, turning into temporary lakes. Takirs can be found in Central the Ustyurt, far from civilisation, what is happening seems more like a Asia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Middle natural process. But where that process has destroyed an established East, North America and Australia. way of life, and ruined peoples lives - then the tragedy is real. Hard to believe, but some 40 to 50 years On the bed of the Aral Sea. Route and team ago this really was the seabed. There will probably be a full report on our photo expedition to the Aral Sea later on. But in the mean- time I would like to say little bit about our team, our route and the jour- ney itself. This note draws a line, so to speak, under my six previous series of photos with commentaries. I loved the idea of going to Uzbekistan at once. As always, everything happened spontaneously and very quickly. A classic beginning - there I was, sitting at home, not planning to go anywhere. But then I came across the plan of the route which Jahangir aka had worked out on " Friends Lent " and I was immediately hooked. I spent a few days trying to work out how I could get away, and then a day after that I already had the "Uzbek airlines" tickets in my pocket.
  • 8. DrY Tears 8The following day Jahangir came up with some unexpected news. There And here is our team.had been a telephone call from the Uzbek Civil Defence Ministry - just atthe time when we were planning to roam the Ustyurt plateau, they were From left to right:expecting some sort of spacecraft to fall to land. The expedition quickly back row - Chimbergen,had to be switched to the week before. Because a week later we would Jahangir, Vadim,simply have frozen to death. With all the members of the expedition Khurshid, October;completely booked up, it is a wonder that the journey was not called off front row - Pavel (me),then. BakbergenThe aim of the expedition was quite simple: to look and to take photo-graphs. We were chiefly interested in the Aral Sea region, which is stilllittle known. Despite the unusual processes which are occurring on the Chimbergen and BakbergenUstyurt, human beings are rarely seen there. However many scientists The best, the fairest and most fearless drivers of UAZ and Gelentwagensand researchers may have visited, information is still scarce. We were in the world. The ending of both names means "he who has given" .drawn like a magnet by the beauty of this arid country; this unique 20th- Bakbergen - "he who has given will provide " , i.e. he who gave this childcentury phenomenon gave us no peace. We wanted to see the Sea which (God) will provide. And Chimbergen means "he who has truly given" .no longer exists. And, clearly the height of madness, to see it in winter,at a time of the year when no normal person would dream of going there. October Dospanov I have heard some exotic names, like Vilen (V.I.Lenin), DazdrapermaThe Aral can still be seen from space. Judging from our GPS markers, (Hail to the first of May) and Avantgarde, etc. But this was the first timeGoogle maps give a fairly accurate reflection of the general picture and I had met a real October, named after the revolution. He was an acade-the current extent of the sea. mic, amongst other things an archaeologist and historian. A great guy, and also our guide. He knows so many interesting things you could lis- ten to him for hours. Khurshid Juraev An economist and banking specialist, able to chat on his mobile phone even when there is no connection. Generally a friend and comrade, apprentice photographer and irreplaceable video operator. In Uzbek his name means "cheerful" , which is completely appropriate to its owners character. Vadim OnishchenkoThe final route does not look the same as we planned, because reality A great nature photographer and winner of the "Golden Turtle " award. Aintervened and necessitated a few corrections. First of all it was very master of international dispute from Israel. The meaning of this name iscold. We had been had been counting on 0+10°, but the weather we a matter of dispute. Some researchers think it is Persian, but the majo-encountered reversed the sign: 0-10°. Not to mention the wind - the wind rity incline to the view that it comes from the old Russian word "vaditi" ,is a permanent resident on the Ustyurt and never leaves. However, fate meaning "discord, dispute " . Hard but fair.looked kindly on us, and we never had to spend a night under canvas. JahangirWe flew into Nukus on 23 November 2007. Our first night we spent in a We got to know each other on a photo site - a long time ago. One dayhotel à la half a star, as a sort of decompression stop. Our second warm Zhenya (Jahangir) came to Moscow and called me up. Our meeting,night came courtesy of the guard at the 16th relay station. The third we need I say, ended at my place, with the drinking of much dry red wine.spent in a hostel for workers at the salt factory on Lake Borsa Kelmas, And a month later we were already sitting at table in his house in the sub-which is home to about 10 to 15 people. What sort of factory it was and urbs of Tashkent. The place is called "Jannatmakon" , which means "val-how it got there, we never found out. The fourth night we spent in ley of paradise " .Muynak with relatives of our guide. And on the evening of the 27th wewere already in the ancient town of Khiva, but that is another story.
  • 9. 9 DrY TearsIs it time for me to become a translator? I remember I could even unders-tand what the Uzbeks were talking about as we were driving across theUstyurt in our jeeps. "Blah blah blah. Car. Blah blah blah. Route. Blahblah blah" ." Oh, Pavel, sorry, we were talking in Uzbek. "" No problem. I understand anyway. ""You understand?""Sure, I understand. You were talking about cars. " And now, for the sake of completeness,Then there is Jahangir. A name to conjure with, you have to admit. In we obviously need some sort of a story.Farsi "Jahan" means world and "gir" means to conquer; in Turkish Something like: our jeeps broke down and we got stuck in a quicksand"Jahan" means world and "gir" means to circle. And that is spot on, and if it had not been for our satellite phones, we would certainly havebecause our Zhenya/Jahangir has been halfway round the world and has died. But nothing like that happened. And what is more, we dependedalready been to 38 countries. The devil! on each other and left our satellite phones at home.In actual fact, the idea of a photo expedition to the Aral was Jahangirs. Well, there was one story. It goes like this. We woke up in Muynak at theIt was he who organised everything, he invited us all and became our lea- crack of dawn. Every day we woke up long before dawn, because we wereder. Thanks, buddy! on a photo expedition. That means that the most interesting things hap- pen when the sun is rising or setting. And so everyone was getting intoPavel Kosenko the jeeps, but Chimbergen was nowhere to be found. We started looking for him. Jahangir went running round the yard shouting: "We are goingA few photographs for the album. to miss the sunrise, you good-for-nothing son-of-a-bitch!" . Suddenly theAfter all, it was a photo expedition. owner of the house appeared from behind a corner and came up to me and said: " Have you got a torch?" . I gave him my torch, the sort you strap Remember - this is salt, not snow. Lake on to your forehead with a rubber band. The owner disappeared into the Borsa Kelmas means "he who goes will darkness. And then five minute minutes later Chimbergen emerged not return" . triumphantly from the loo. Quite pleased with himself, grinning from ear to ear. The torch on his forehead and a long wooden stick in his hand. At the end of the stick a lump of shit with a mobile phone inside it. But how did he fish it out? We were in time for the sunrise after all, although this time it was a bit messy. And in the evening of that day we were already resting our aching limbs The three dots at the bottom are me, in a three star hotel in the ancient city of Khiva. But that is another story, Vadim and Jahangir. the second part of our journey. The chronology of the Aral can be found on . As I said, I couldnt not bathe in the Aral. I would never have forgiven myself. You had to put up with extremes, after all it was 0° and windy.
  • 10. DrY Tears 10
  • 11. 11 DrY Tears U N U SU A L WA VEEVA P O RATI O N C LO U DS O VERO F TH E A RA L SEA TH E A RA L SEA In the 1960s, the Soviet Union under- Distinctive lines of clouds took a major water diversion project on stretch out from the shore the arid plains of Kazakhstan, of the Aral Sea in this photo- Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The like image captured by the region’s two major rivers, fed from Moderate Resolution snowmelt and precipitation in far-away Imaging Spectroradiometer mountains, were used to transform the on NASA’s Aqua satellite on desert into fields for cotton and other March 12, 2009. While wave crops. Before the project, the two rivers clouds like this are not unu- left the mountains, cut northwest sual, this particular pattern through the Kyzylkum Desert—the over the Aral Sea is highlySyrdar’ya to the north and the Amudar’ya in parallel to the south—and unusual. The clouds conform exactly to the shape of the western shore.finally pooled together in the lowest part of the desert basin. The lakethey made, the Aral Sea, was once the fourth largest lake in the world. Wave clouds typically form when a mountain, island, or even another mass of air forces an air mass to rise. The air cools as it rises, and ifAlthough irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea. there is moisture in the air, the water condenses into clouds. Once theThis series of images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging air has gone over the obstacle, it sinks again. The air warms as it drops,Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite documents the and the cloud dissipates. Like ripples on a pond, the wave motionchanges in the the Aral Sea throughout the past decade. At the start of continues, and the air rises and drops again and again until eventuallythe series in 2000, the lake was already a fraction of its 1960 extent the wave dissipates. The result is a line of clouds marking the crests of(black line). The Northern Aral Sea (sometimes called the Small Aral the wave, separated by clear areas in the troughs of the wave.Sea) had separated from the Southern (Large) Aral Sea. The SouthernAral Sea had split into an eastern and a western lobe that remained In this case, the western shore of the Aral Sea clearly created the distur-tenuously connected at both ends. bance needed to generate the initial wave motion. But what was the dis- turbance? There are several possibilities. First, the waves could be causedBy 2001, the southern connection had been severed, and the shallower by a change in wind speed as the air moved eastward over the sea. Aireastern part retreated rapidly over the next several years. Especially moves slowly over land, slowed by plants, changes in elevation, and otherlarge retreats in the eastern lobe of the Southern Sea appear to have rough features. When the air reached the sea, the surface it encounteredoccurred between 2005 and 2006, and again between 2007 and 2008. was smooth, and the air near the surface would have moved faster. The airThe final image in the series is from the spring of 2009. Blowing dust above it, however, would have continued to move at the previous pace.(salt-laden sediments) covers a large part of the sea. Imagine a jogger who unexpectedly steps on a patch of ice: his feet move forward faster than his head, and he falls back as his legs slip forwardAs the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on under him. The air experiences much the same motion. The lower layer ofthem collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with fer- air (in contact with the smooth surface of the water) moves more quicklytilizer and pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, than the air above it, pushing the lower layer of air up. This motion couldcontaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health have created the wave that generated these clouds.hazard. The salty dust blew off the lakebed and settled onto fields,degrading the soil. Croplands had to be flushed with larger and larger Another possibility is that the shoreline is elevated above the water. Thevolumes of river water. The loss of the moderating influence of such a Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking. What remains is the deepest por-large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier. tions of the sea. It is possible that the western shore is distinctly defi-In a last-ditch effort to save some of the lake, Kazakhstan built a dam ned, and that there is a drop to the surface of the water. This change inbetween the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea. Completed in elevation would cause the surface air to drop suddenly, which could2005, the dam was basically a death sentence for the southern Aral Sea, also initiate wave motion. Both factors, the air speed and the shoreline,which was judged to be beyond saving. All of the water flowing into the may in fact be working together to influence the shape of the clouds.desert basin from the Syrdar’ya now stays in the Northern Aral Sea. Regardless of how they formed, the result is a beautiful fan of whiteBetween 2005 and 2006, the water levels in that part of the lake over the emerald water of the Aral Sea.rebounded significantly and very small increases are visible throughoutthe rest of the time period. The differences in water color are due to NASA images courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, at NASA GSFC. Caption by Hollichanges in sediment. Riebeek. Thanks to Gala Wind and Tom Arnold for image interpretation.
  • 12. DrY Tears 12ARAL ATLANTISLe chemin serpentait entre les dunes du désert. Sur des kilomètres, Les travaux étaient pratiquement finis,pas une âme, les oiseaux, même, ne volent pas jusquici. quand jai décidé de faire une dernière« Espérance », l’indicatif d’appel de notre voiture, premier contact : la fouille des briques empilées autour duvoix du chef de notre expédition, Dmitri Voyakin, collaborateur scien- mausolée, - déclare Dmitri. - nous com-tifique à l’Institut d’Archéologie Marguilan, retentie à la radio, il porte mencions juste à creuser quand nousnotre attention sur le fait que nous roulions depuis déjà 10 minutes sur sommes tombés sur un mur, parfaite-le fond de la mer d’Aral. ment conservé, du portail. Comme il sest avéré, la mer avait rongé le mausolée deChacune des journées de cette expédition commencera de la même tous les côtés, et le mur du portail sest effondré entièrement. Les briques sontmanière : les archéologues accompagnés de notre reporteur seront en tombées du haut, couvert de sable, leau les a emportées, ce qui a jusquà présent par-avant poste. faitement préservé la glaçure de l’artefact (vitrage), dont lanalyse révèle de nom- breux secrets des colonies de peuplement dans le fond de la mer dAral.Trésors au fond de la mer Tu iras – tu ne reviens pasIl y a plusieurs décennies, l’eau s’ébrouait ici, des poissons nageaient etdes navires circulaient. Car la colonie a été retrouvé près deMaintenant, cest un immense espace sans vie, couvert de sables salés et la célèbre île de Barsakelmes (ende coquillages cachant de nombreuses «belles découvertes." kazakh il signifie «tu iras – tu ne reviens pas»), une décision a étéEn 2001, les chasseurs du village Karateren sont tombés accidentellement sur prise de maintenir un peu dexplo-une inhumation antique à proximité des îles de la mer, autrefois appelées ration sur lîle même, à la rechercheBarsakelmes. Les archéologues sont intéressés par cette découverte étrange. des objets de sites archéologiques,À la suite de lexpédition, des scientifiques de lInstitut dArchéologie sur ce point fatidique, composé de nombreuses légendes et d’histoires quidAlmaty, A. Marguilan et des étudiants de l’Université nationale Korkit-ata de décrivent les incidents bizarres et obscurs impliquant un changement dansKyzylordine, ont ouvert un mausolée (quils ont appelé Kerderi), autour le cours normal du temps physique. Ils disent qu’un jour quelques person-duquel se trouvent de nombreuses tombes. Les parcours des expéditions nes se sont éloignées de la côte en marchant pendant une demi-heure danssuivantes sont devenus assez sensationnelles, à 25 kilomètres du mausolée le « brouillard blanc », quand ils sont revenus, ils ont été surpris dappren-Kerderi on a trouvé un autre mausolée et lancienne colonie. dre quils se sont absentés … un jour. Et encore mieux, certain habitants du coin, sont persuadé quil existe … une base secrète dOVNI. Sur le territoire de la colonie de 6 hectares, nous avons trouvé 15 grosses En 1939, lîle est devenue un sanctuaire sur le territoire duquel se sont meules, des morceaux de poteries et des rassemblé des oiseaux, des animaux rares et des gens. monnaies en argent, des ornements en fer rouillés, ainsi que des fragments de Leau a disparue - et la vie aussi … fours, qui produisaient des briques, - raconte Dmitry Voyakin. - On a égale- Nous avions espéré trouver sur lîle, les vestiges dun village néolithique (âge de m ent trouvé un réseau dirrigation pierre), - dit Dmitry Voyakin. Sur les photographies aériennes, il existe mani- antique. À ce jour, il est resté le canal festement plusieurs collines, ce qui pourrait être des tumulus. Lexploration initialeprincipal et les canaux de sortie. L’analyse des sols a montré que les gens qui a montré que cette région devrait être étudiée plus en détail. Nous espérons décou-vivaient ici, cultivaient le riz. Le grand nombre de meules montre que le rendement vrir encore quelques villes.du sol était productif. De lîle Barsakelmes nous sommes revenus sains et saufs. Cependant, la sensationLes fouilles du mausolée ont également apporté beaucoup de découvertes. Dans le de quelque chose dirréel n’a jamais quitté notre équipe pendant tout le temps quehall central on a retrouvé des cercueils de bois, mais le plus intéressant, cest que les nous sommes restés là-bas. Barsakelmes c’est un endroit véritablement mystique.inhumations ont été effectuées selon le rite musulman, aucun mobilier funéraire n’a Comme, cependant, la région entière de la mer dAral. Les trouvailles au fond de laété retrouvé sur place. Seule, une tombes était remplie de boucles doreille en or. mer, donnent lieu à de nouveaux débats sur lécologie du territoire de la mer dAral.Mais une sensationnelle découverte attendait les archéologues au dernier jour de Il savère que les catastrophes écologiques influencent la région depuis lantiquité.lexpédition. La colonie retrouvée est un témoignage. La ville a été construite au moment de lassèchement de la mer, puis leau a tout avalé. Les archéologues sont convaincus que le fond dAral cache encore beaucoup de mystères.
  • 13. 13 DrY TearsCITY « SOLEIL »A laube du matin du mois de septembre, les quatre voitures chargés C’était l’image dun homme nu! Excellent, il sagit du deuxième exemple retrouvé!comme des chameaux et excités par les hommes scientifiques, se sont – a exclamé avec enthousiasme Dmitri Voyakin. - Lannée dernière, nouslancés dans la direction de la région de Qyzylorda. Un groupe darchéo- avons trouvé ici le premier artefact. Ces plaques sont cousues sur des habits deslogues à la recherche de nouveaux sites archéologiques s’est lancé filles à partir de leur maturité sexuelle - mexplique til.dans une expédition passionnante sur les chemins de la Grande Routede la Soie. Les scientifiques se sont concentrés sur les trois objectifs : Je pense sans aucun doute, que noustrouver et identifier la Cité perdue des Rois, Djouvara, afin de contin- nous sommes approchés des secrets per-uer des fouilles d’un grand site dAral-Asar, qui a été retrouvée au fond dus de lhistoire de la Ville des Rois ou Sun City - a conclu l’académiciende la mer dAral dans la dernière année, et de faire des insulaires des Baipakov. A premiére vue, daprès saarchéologue de l’île de Barsac-Kelm_s. En général, le voyage promet taille, son système complexe de fortifi-dêtre intéressant. Après plusieurs jours de voyages, nous sommes cation et de la composition intérieur, çaarrivés à notre premier but. devait être une ville très importante, elle est très impressionnante. Les « Cités lacustres » sont les monuments his-Trésors au fond de la mer toriques et culturels des Turcs anciens et le plus mal étudié à ce jour. Et, bien sûr, le plus grand intérêt parmi eux cest, exactement, Djouvara.Djouvara – est lune des plus mystérieuse des anciennes villes du Kazakhstan,affirme le chercheur Dmitri Voyakin de lInstitut dArchéologie A. Pendant deux jours, les archéologues avaient ramenés de la surface deMargulan, ses secrets inquiètes les esprits des nombreux scientifiques. Les cette grande ville environ cinq kilogrammes dobjets en bronze et enrecherches archéologiques globales actuelles, je pense, seront le début dun grand argent : pièces, boucles de ceinture, bijoux, plaques. En outre, a ététravail sur, les soi-disant, colonies de marécages. retrouvé de nombreux fragments de céramique, et sur le lieu des recherches, les scientifiques peuvent observer l’architecture. En creusant plusieurs fosses, un groupe d’archéologues a commencé à examiner Fantastique! Telle quantité dobjets trouvés, nous nen navons pas eu autant des la situation stratigraphique de la ville, autres anciennes villes (partage son opinion un membre de lexpédition, lautre s’est préparé pour la collecte de Arman Umarhodzhiev). On ne peut que deviner ce qui se cache derrière m atériels de levage de surface de ses secrets et quels trésors sont encore cachés sous la terre. Djouvara. Moi aussi, jai voulu essayer d’être une archéologue. J’ai posé mon Si tout va bien, des fouilles sur le site peuvent être recommencées à regard sur les pieds et me suis lancée à la grande échelle lannée suivante. Et Sun City Djouvara vous fera découvrir recherche des trésors. Je voudrais vous une nouvelle page dans le passé historique du Kazakhstan.dire que cest une occupation passionnante! On oublie le temps passés et le cheminparcouru. Tout à coup, un petit objet vert a attiré mon attention. C’était incroyable Nadejda Plyaskina,! Une vraie bague. Un peu à lécart, jai remarqué quelque chose dautre. Et voilà, Région de Qyzylorda - Almatyje tiens dans mes mains un bracelet de femme. N’étant pas encore revenue dunetelle chance, je suis tombée sur un trésor de pièces de monnaie.Bravo, tu es une véritable archéologue! – m’encourage l’académicien CarlBaipakov. – Il faut que vous restez ici jusquà la fin de lexpédition (Il riait).En tenant dans les mains une autre découverte, jai pensé : “ Je me demandecomment ils étaient, les habitants de Djouvara? A quoi ils pensaient ou rêvaient?Quoi ou qui les a obligés à quitter cette ville florissante?” . Selon les donnéespréliminaires, les premières constructions ont paru ici au début de notreère. Au début de X siècle Djouvara atteint son apogée. Et après quelquescentaines d’années ou un peu plus, la ville des Rois est tombée en déca-dence.Dmitri Alexéevitch, regardez ce que jai trouvé – s’est exclamé un participantde lexpédition, Alik Orazaliev, en tenant dans la main un objet étrange.
  • 14. DrY Tears 14LE MYSTÈRE DES TEMPÊTESDE P O U SSIÈRE DE LA MER D ’A RA LDe plus en plus souvent, de violentes tempêtes de poussière balaient pour atténuer les conséquences de ces tempêtes de poussière.”des régions entières d’Asie centrale. Avec l’assèchement de la merd’Aral, le vent emporte davantage de sable avec du sel pollué et des A 300 km de la mer d’Aral, les chercheurs se rendent dans cette stationproduits chimiques empoisonnés. Les tempêtes de poussière accen- météorologique pour installer des pièges à poussière.tuent la pauvreté et répandent des maladies. Les particules capturées pendant les tempêtes de poussière sont ensui-Il y a 40 ans seulement se trouvait ici une mer. C’est à présent l’un des te pesées, mesurées et analysées. Les scientifiques estiment que les tem-lieux les plus secs du Kazakhstan et de l’Asie centrale. C’est la raison de pêtes peuvent transporter jusqu‘à 400 kg de poussière par hectarela présence de ces chercheurs européens. chaque mois dans des endroits comme celui-ci.“ Le lac d’Aral était une île de fraîcheur entre deux déserts, le Karakoum et le “ Nous avons déterminé les tailles de grains de poussière et aussi leur compositionKusulkoum, explique Christian Opp, géophysicien de l’Université de minérale à l’aide de techniques comme la radiofluorescence, rapporte ChristianMarburg, en Allemagne. Elle était un réservoir d’eau énorme, avec un habitat Opp. Avec ces informations, nous avons pu établir les régions de un biotope très riches, munis d’une grande biodiversité. Maintenant, on appel- Nous avions une hypothèse : puisque ces poussières proviennent en partie du fondle l’ancien lac le “Aralkoum”, le désert d’Aral. On en voit des signes partout : le lac du lac d’Aral, les taux de sel doivent être relativement élevés. Et nous en avons euest devenu un autre désert.” la confirmation : le sel de la Mer d’Aral est bien arrivé jusqu’ici.”“ Le principal problème avec la baisse du niveau de la mer a été la disparition d’es- La recherche des poussières se poursuit à 1 300 km de là, au sud-ouest.pèces de poissons de grande valeur, ajoute Oleg Semedov, physicien à Nous voici à Almaty, l’ancienne capitale du Kazakhstan. Au Centre natio-l’Institut de recherche kazakh de l‘écologie et du climat. Cela a conduit nal de recherche spatiale, les tempêtes de poussière sont observées debeaucoup de pêcheurs et de personnes vivant sur la côte à perdre leurs emplois. près, grâce à des satellites.Mais il y a eu un second problème. Ce qui était le fond de la mer est à présent undangereux mélange de poussière, de sels, d’aérosols et de produits chimiques qui Ces tempêtes constituent un élément clé du changement climatique.s’envolent avec le vent. Leur propagation a détérioré la végétation à 150 km alen- Répandue dans l’atmosphère, la poussière rafraîchirait la surface destour. C’est ainsi que la désertification de toute la région a commencé.” océans et empêcherait le déclenchement d’ouragans notamment.Voilà comme se présentait la mer d’Aral en 1960. L’utilisation massive et Les images satellites montrent qu’ici, en Asie centrale, les tempêtes deimpropre de ses affluents pour l’irrigation l’a réduit à trois plus petits poussière contribuent à assécher des régions déjà très désertique.lacs. La mer a perdu quelque 50 000 km2. L’impact social et humain de cephénomène est terrible. “ Depuis l’an 2000, la poussière provient d’une superficie de la région d’Aral tou- jours plus grande; l’intensité et la fréquence des tempêtes de poussière augmen-Le chômage et la pauvreté sont criants le long des anciens rivages. Des tent également, témoigne Lev Spivak directeur du centre national de tech-maladies comme la tuberculose ou l’hépatite sont ici deux fois plus nologie et de recherche spatial. Auparavant, les émissions se faisaient surtoutrépandues que dans les régions alentour. Et puis, il y a le vent. vers le nord-ouest. A présent, elles sont surtout dirigées vers le sud; cela signifie que chaque année, de nouvelles superficies de terres sont polluées par le sel duFréquemment, des tempêtes de poussière traversent l’ancien fond fond marin de l’Aral. ”marin, emportant au loin du sable, du sel et des produits chimiques uti-lisés pour l’agriculture. Un cocktail empoisonné que respirent chaque Les chercheurs souhaitent également comprendre les dynamiquesjour les habitants. internes des tempêtes de poussière, leurs volumes, leur vitesse et leur densité, la façon dont elles se forment et s‘éteignent.Ce sombre phénomène est à présent examiné à la loupe par une équipede chercheurs européens au sein du projet “Calter”. Pour ce faire, ils reproduisent de petites tempêtes de poussière dans un tunnel à vent artisanal, équipé de laser et remplis de poussière du désert“ D’abord, nous voulons comprendre ce qui se passe avec les tempêtes de poussiè- et de ici en Asie centrale et particulièrement autour de la mer d’Aral, parce que lesdernières études se sont arrêtées après l’effondrement de l’URSS, explique Leah “ Ces expériences nous ont permis de comprendre quelle quantité de sable s’envo-Orlovsky, coordinatrice du projet Calter. La poussière ne connaît pas les fron- le avec le vent à différentes vitesses, selon Oleg Semedov. Nous savons à pré-tières politiques, elle peut virtuellement se déplacer vers l’Europe ou d’autres sent que les particules de sable avancent comme une avalanche ; les plus petitesrégions du monde. Nous voulons savoir quelle quantité de poussière et de sel s’en- particules se soulèvent et entraînent de plus grosses particules qui en entraînentvole, leur composition, leur direction. Ensuite, nous voulons proposer des solutions elles-mêmes de plus grosses etcetera. Nous savons aussi que la concentration
  • 15. 15 DrY Tearsmaximum de sable s‘élève à quelques fractions de millimètre. Plus il se trouvehaut dans l’oeil de la tempête, plus la densité de poussière est faible. Des équa-tions mathématiques nous aident à calculer la masse totale de sable emporté àdifférentes hauteurs et dans différentes vitesses de vents.”De retour au désert, les scientifiques étudient différents sites géolo-giques. Ils sont convaincus qu’autour de la Mer d’Aral, une désertifica-tion due à l’action de l’homme amplifie les tempêtes de poussière, etassèche les régions alentour. Un cycle infernal contre lequel existentquelques solutions préventives.“ Nous savons à présent que la quantité réelle de poussière par unité de surfacemesurée en tonne par année et par hectare diminue, résume Leah Orlovsky.Nous connaissons la composition chimique de cette poussière ; nous savons aussid’où elle vient. Nous avons donc beaucoup de nouvelles données pour proposerquelques solutions préventives. Le meilleur moyen de préserver la région de la Merd’Aral de toute dégradation est de cultiver des plantes locales. Non pas dans toutl’ancien fond marin mais sur de petites îles vertes ; ces plantes retiendraient la sur-face et il y aurait beaucoup moins de poussière emportée.”Les scientifiques espèrent aussi que leur travail aidera à mettre en placeun système d’alerte des risques écologiques en Asie centrale.
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