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Uploaded on Thursday 01 Mar 2012 by GRID-Arendal

When the Kara Bogaz Gol vanished

Year: 2012 Author:
Original cartography by Philippe Rekacewicz (le Monde Diplomatique) assisted by Laura Margueritte and Cecile Marin, later updated by Riccardo Pravettoni (GRID-Arendal), Novikov, Viktor (Zoi Environment Network)
Comparing a series of satellite images from different periods a Californian hydrologist discovered in 1983 that a huge white spot had taken the place of the vast Kara Bogaz Gol gulf (literally “dark gullet” in Turkmen) in the south-east corner of the Caspian. The gulf had simply disappeared. Later re-appearing again. Explanations were narrated in various tales and legends nevertheless the water volume of the bay fluctuates seasonally with the Caspian Sea; at times it becomes a large bay of the Caspian Sea, while at other times its water level drops drastically. The Soviet engineers apparently assumed it was only a temporary change. Only a narrow canal was left allowing a small amount of water to pass, thanks to which the water in the Kara Bogaz Gol gulf was expected to last a further 25 years. Much to everyone’s surprise the gulf dried up 10 times faster than had been forecast by the Water Problems Institute and by autumn 1983 it was all over. The pink flamingos died in droves, the little brine shrimp on which they fed having disappeared. The lagoon turned into a vast desert covered with a 50-centimetre layer of precipitated salt, which was picked up by the wind and blown for hundreds of kilometres, as far as the Chernoziem (fertile soil) area of Russia, raising the salt content of the soil. With the closure of the strait, the gulf also stopped acting as a natural hydrological regulation system (keeping the salt content at a relatively low level). The ensuing increase in the salt content of the southern part of the Caspian, to levels exceeding 15 grams per litre, had disastrous consequences for the sturgeon population. In the spring of 1992, in view of the scale of the disaster, Turkmenistan, which had just declared its independence, decided to recover the Kara Bogaz Gol gulf from the desert. It therefore destroyed the dyke, restoring the connection between the sea and the gulf.
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