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Earth Science

Aral Sea May Recover; Dead Sea Needs a Lifeline 131

Posted by timothy
from the just-needs-feng-shui-adjustment dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It's a tale of two seas. The drying up of the Aral Sea is considered one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in history, but the northern sector of the sea, at least, is showing signs of life. A dam completed in 2005 has increased the North Aral's span by 20 percent, and birds, fish, and people are all returning to the area. Meanwhile, the Dead Sea is still in the midst of precipitous decline, since too much water is being drawn out of the Jordan River for thirsty populations and crops. To keep the sea from shrinking more, scientists are pushing an ambitious scheme called the 'Red-Dead conduit,' which would channel huge amounts of water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. However, the environmental consequences of such a project may be troubling."
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Aral Sea May Recover; Dead Sea Needs a Lifeline

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    But now scientists report that the northern sector of the Aral is making a recovery, due to a concerted effort from the Kazakh government, the World Bank, and scientists.

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Shhh, if you mention such words without expressions of indignation and fear of socialism, you're going to wake up the right-wing nut-jobs.

  • Yes, yes... lets spend money pumping water into something called "The Dead Sea".
    Or we could have a brand new salt flats area for people to try driving really fast.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The Dead Sea is a major tourist attraction, and likely host to a whole lot of life forms you don't find just anywhere; you know, because it's loaded with more salt than any other body of water.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually the Dead Sea contains very little life [wikipedia.org].

      • I'm fairly sure there is no life in the Dead Sea outside of small amounts of bacteria. That's why it's called the Dead Sea. The salt content prevents life from living there.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I'm also fairly sure that we don't know about every type of bacteria (since they're alive too; "life" doesn't even remotely mean "just plants and animals and things average folk might call interesting") present in the entire sea, nor do we know all of the processes and adaptations that those organisms use to survive; it's almost as valuable a resource as the extreme conditions found in deep underwater volcanoes.
          • Re:If not us, who? (Score:5, Informative)

            by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @04:27AM (#31965568)
            The bacteria in the Dead Sea are particularily interesting extremophiles, Haloarcula sp. [mst.edu] is just an example. As a biochemist, I definitely view that as a resource worth preserving. Who knows what we can learn of such extremely adapted metabolisms?
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Toonol (1057698)
              I definitely view that as a resource worth preserving.

              Sure; but the human population in the region is MORE worth preserving. If a choice must be made, bye-bye bacteria. Hopefully, a solution can be found that accommodates both.
              • Re:If not us, who? (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @04:41AM (#31965616)
                If it comes to that choice, you surely are right. But, goddamnit, for what did we invent science and engineering, if not to avoid that choice?
                • We've gotten pretty good at DNA sequencing lately. Would it be possible to sequence all the bacteria in the sea and store for later, or are there too many for that?

                  • Re:If not us, who? (Score:4, Interesting)

                    by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @05:32AM (#31965772)
                    It is hard to know. Craig Venter has a project running to sequence random stuff from seawater. I haven't been following it lately, but it seems like there is a metric shitload of bacterial species in ordinary seawater that we had no clue about before. We really just scratched the surface regarding microbial life. Getting as many sequences as possible sure is a worthwhile preservation effort if all else fails. Note, however, that we still can't reconstruct a species from DNA sequence alone. So you gotta keep some cultures at least, and extremophiles like the Dead Sea bacteria are notoriously hard to culture. It's more alchemy than science to keep the little buggers at life. Back when I was still working in a biochem lab, the microbio guys kept joking that you don't need a microbiologist to culture them well, you need a micropsychologist to make the little bastards do want you want them too ...
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  To provide that choice. :)

              • by KORfan (524397)
                How many people can this body of extremely salty water be supporting?
                • by Dollyknot (216765)
                  The dead sea is around a half a kilometre below sea level. This drop could be used to generate lots of hydroelectricity. The electricity could be used to remove the salt from the sea water. A first world country would have done this by now. Engineering could sort out the problems in the middle east instead of bullets and bombs.
                  • If it was a first-world area, they would have also destroyed the one and only source of bacteria that live in super-high concentrations of salt in the process, destroying the potential for any research beyond what is already known.
                • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

                  by Anonymous Coward

                  Well, it used to support tourist towns along its shore, but now those towns are miles from the sea, and the drop in water level has drained the water table and opened sinkholes all along the former seabed, keeping tourists from getting closer.

              • by mpe (36238)
                Sure; but the human population in the region is MORE worth preserving.

                A good first step would be considering the humans there of equal worth. As opposed to giving some of them lots of money and weapons...
              • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

                by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061)

                Oh, except there is no human population around the dead sea. Just two tribes of very primitive animals that kill each other all day.

                Bacteria is not a threat to them, self annihilation is.

                In fact, considering the way both Palestinians and Jews have been acting against each other and against the rest of the world's population, and considering they have no respect for human life, the extremophiles on the dead sea are worth saving more than the 'human' population of the area. At least the bacteria is trying to

              • by couchslug (175151)

                "Sure; but the human population in the region is MORE worth preserving."

                Citation needed.

              • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

                Or we send Sam Kinison down there with some U-Haul trucks to tell them to move where the food is. Populations have migrated before, what's stopping them now? OK, so Sam's dead and other countries probably have immigration policies, but otherwise it's a good plan.

              • Why would the cancer that destroys earth and itself be worth more in any kind?

                Sorry humans, you may be extremely egocentric and arrogant, but you are NOT special!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Fred_A (10934)

          I'm fairly sure there is no life in the Dead Sea outside of small amounts of bacteria. That's why it's called the Dead Sea. The salt content prevents life from living there.

          There's quite a bit of life in the form of a fair number of tourists which are quite important to the area (on both banks) which apart from that is quite a hellhole (an interesting one to visit though if you ever go in the area).

          The Dead sea is more than 400m below sea level and there are huge temperature extremes in the area which gets very little precipitations and has few springs. It's a great natural wonder and definitely worth a few days for it's ruins, it's fauna and the vista, but really not a great

      • by pydev (1683904) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @06:10AM (#31965902)

        The Dead Sea is being ruined because people divert water from its natural inflows for agricultural use. Since they are destroying it, let them pay for fixing it.

        • Unfortunately the problem is not limited to the Dead Sea and the Aral Sea. It is very common all over the world. For examples one can look at the problems being experienced in New Orleans, The Grand Canyon, The Netherlands, and China to name a few. People build dams to provide water to the population for agriculture and consumption and as flood control but the sediments get trapped too. No sediments in the water down stream (or in some cases extremely reduced flow volumes) leads to erosion of the land in wi
      • by mpe (36238)
        The Dead Sea is a major tourist attraction

        Plenty of other possible tourist attractions in the area. Just the problem that tourists don't tend to want to go to warzones.
      • Re:If not us, who? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @11:57AM (#31967464)
        A little reading [wikipedia.org] shows that it only barely became hospitable to microorganisms a few times when massive rains diluted the salt temporarily... Animals that live around it do not get water from it for the same reason, they need rain water and river water, not more salt... And adding salt water to saturated salt water does not reduce the net saline for long because so much salt is dried on the banks or fallen out of solution... sitting there just waiting to redissolve.

        It is tempting to want to "save" things from natural effects of modern life, people are using the water so people should fix it. But once that water entered the dead sea, it too died, better it be used for something. In the end this is just as big a waste of money as trying to protect a city that is below sea level but situated by the ocean... one day it will be game over.

        As to a tourist destination, well they could Monty Python the signs and call it:

        The Really Dead Sea
        • As someone else pointed out above, it's home to some extremophile microorganisms that are extraordinary and unique. Losing the chance to study and understand them could be a catastrophe, since they might have much to tell us about...well, I don't know, honestly. I'm a Computer Science guy, not a biologist. That said, your comment that it was only temporarily hospitable isn't quite correct, and even your Wikipedia link doesn't quite back you up, instead saying that it's home to small quantities, rather than
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by pjt33 (739471)

      Something tells me that if it currently holds water, it's probably not flat.

      • In fact that's just how we got the great salt flats in Utah [utah.com]. The bottom might not be flat but the top is as level as anything gets in nature. As evaporation continued the water just keeps re-leveling the surface until the water is gone and you get this big plain of salt.
  • You can build a desalination plant and use the dead sea as a power source..Sounds wierd but is completely possible using new technology. Part of that plan would be to pipe seawater to the dead sea, over a stretch of about 30 miles. Want to know more? Contact me.
  • scientists are pushing an ambitious scheme called the 'Red-Dead conduit,'

    They sound like a bunch of Rockstars to me...

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      They're diverting water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea because, you know the old saying, "Better Dead than Red!"
  • by V50 (248015) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @04:03AM (#31965480) Journal

    The Aral Sea is a horrifying and very visible example of the scale of what humans can do when their policies end up destroying the environment. A major lake, once the fourth largest in the world, reduced to almost nothingness in just a few decades. Unlikely to ever fully recover.

    While I remain skeptical (but not outright dismissive) of many of the claims of the environmental movement, particularly the global warming and carbon footprint stuff, it's stuff like this that really makes me worried. If on a small scale people can do this, I really do worry what might happen on a larger scale.

    • by 21mhz (443080)

      While I remain skeptical (but not outright dismissive) of many of the claims of the environmental movement, particularly the global warming and carbon footprint stuff, it's stuff like this that really makes me worried. If on a small scale people can do this, I really do worry what might happen on a larger scale.

      Right, think about it a bit more: some people's actions over one region can dry up a major lake because these people need the water for their well-being. Now, imagine what the entire humankind can do for our well-being, which requires releasing gases into the atmosphere in amounts that haven't been present there for millennia.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by adolf (21054)

        I've thought about it, and I'm OK with it.

        What does all that water do for me (the armchair antagonist) sitting in a big hole in the ground called the Aral Sea or the Dead Sea, when it could be providing me with fresh crops, healthier livestock, clean drinking water, and high-tech factories?

        [Disclaimer: I live near enough to the Great Lakes in the US that I should really give a shit about both them and other similar things, but I just simply don't. I see them all as resources.]

        • by Mindcontrolled (1388007) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @05:42AM (#31965804)
          Well, all that water used to provide high quality fish protein for you, before it dried up. Now the rotten hulks of your fishing boats are decaying in a desert. It used to provide a decent climate for your crops, while now there are dust storms covering a land below which the water table is rapidly sinking. You are right in viewing the lakes as resources, and the Aral lake is a prime example how to squander such a resource for very little short-term gain.
          • by Blakey Rat (99501)

            Rock on!

            Can we customize cars with rusty iron spikes and race around in crazy homemade armor to defend our city powered by pig offal?

        • by sznupi (719324) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @06:52AM (#31966018) Homepage

          A large contribution to drying of Aral Sea is that water which "should" get to it is used in an incredibly wasteful manner - the irrigation systems are in horrible condition, for example. Plus you know, drying of Aral exposed all the toxic stuff we usually dump into water (and which is relativelly stable and harmless in the bottom mud or dissolved in large quantity of water) to the work of wind; dust storms there are toxic.

          Oh well, just an "unintended consequence" of progress, like with global warming. Here, similarly to irrigation systems mentioned, we could be much more effective too; and think about it...look around you - how much stuff in the room you're in comes at least partially from oil (in my room, virtually everything...); oil is an insanely valuable resource. And what we do with most of it? Burn it!

    • The people who pointed out that the Aral Sea was headed for a disaster were dismissed as fear-mongers and chicken littles at the time. Given that the environmental movement was proven to be correct then, why dismiss it now?

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Because the self appointed "leaders of the movement" are hypocritical bastards? Take Al Gore, Mr "Inconvenient Truth" himself. His fat ass goes puttering around on his own personal LEAR JET blowing through carbon like David Crosby blows through coke, then he has the 50 pound brass plated balls to say he is "carbon neutral" because he pays his OWN COMPANY for "carbon credits" which of course he makes massive profits off of. With leaders like that, who needs enemies? Their own hypocrisy is so thick it would c

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          This is a bit akin to saying.

          "I have proof God doesn't exist. See, his priests are assholes! That proves it!"

          While you might be right about Al Gore, it doesn't make the initial claim any less probable.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Their own hypocrisy is so thick it would choke a Lama!

          So, you state that you have no evidence at all that he's incorrect at all, but that because his personal life is deemed by you to be hypocritical, he must be wrong? And anyway, he's a leader of the movement because people like you declare he is so that you can attack him personally. A spokesman (self appointed and visible because he's a public figure who is well funded, not some elected spokesman) who everyone who hates the environment clings to, dec
          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            First as for evidence....dude, if he gets carbon credits passed, the biggest fricking scam since Catholic indulgences, he will become an instant billionaire! can you say "conflict of interest" boys and girls? I think you can. If you want to cut down carbon, then pass laws that fine you if you go over x amount, and lower x per year. All carbon credits is is a tax scam. Companies will find all sorts of "creative accounting" ways to game that system, and leeches like Goldman Sachs will prey like vultures upon

            • by AK Marc (707885)
              can you say "conflict of interest" boys and girls?

              Sure. You attack the messenger, but never the message.
    • by Vellmont (569020)


      While I remain skeptical (but not outright dismissive) of many of the claims of the environmental movement, particularly the global warming and carbon footprint stuff, it's stuff like this that really makes me worried.

      What is it that makes you skeptical of global warming, but not skeptical of this? Is it merely the fact that this disaster has already happened and is completely undeniable, but that the global warming disaster is merely predicted to occur based on well established theory?

      If you wait until th

      • by V50 (248015)

        I guess it's the whole hysterical global warming contingent, that likes to blame everything on global warming. Too many hurricanes? Global warming. Too few hurricanes? Global warming. Heat wave? Global warming. Cold snap? Global warming.

        Plus, many actual environmentalists I've met tend to be trying to use it as a cover for some sort of Marxism, and generally appear to me, at least, favor words over action. That and what generally appears to be hypocrisy (Al Gore taking a private jet to a conference to warn

        • by Vellmont (569020)


          I guess it's the whole hysterical global warming contingent, that likes to blame everything on global warming. Too many hurricanes? Global warming. Too few hurricanes? Global warming. Heat wave? Global warming. Cold snap? Global warming.

          That's the media trying to sell some eyeballs. Over simplification, simple answers, and fear sells. It isn't science.

          Plus, many actual environmentalists I've met tend to be trying to use it as a cover for some sort of Marxism, and generally appear to me, at least, favor wo

  • by fhqwhgads (603131) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @04:04AM (#31965486)
    Saying that the Aral Sea might "recover" is slightly misleading. The North Aral Sea is about 5% of the size of the Aral Sea as a whole. It's like saying that the whole of the US sank into the ocean except for Wyoming and Utah, but it might recover.
    • Um, yeah. One of these days the San Andreas Fault is going to slip big time, and everything east of it will slide under the Atlantic Ocean.

      • by Igmuth (146229)

        What, the .1% of the US land mass that is west of the fault? How is that even comparable?

  • by Surasanji (938753) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @04:08AM (#31965498) Journal
    The Dead Sea is of great economic importance to Israel. Tourism, sale of products containing the salt or mud of the dead sea all bring money into a country with almost zero natural resources. But, this is a problem that comes not just from the using of the Jordan river, but a number of other rivers as well- Ein Gedi, a freshwater spring isn't far away from the Dead Sea and its water is used as drinking water (And a popular bottled water!) inside Israel. All the 'sweet water' has been diverted in Israel, as it has in most desert places. As a result, only salty water is being diverted to the Dead Sea. This means, of course, that the sea is shrinking. The Canal from the red sea is not new- I've heard talk of that since 2006, at least, when I was in Israel last. Israel, however, has some of the brightest minds in the world. I'm hoping they'll come up with a great way to make this work.
    • by 21mhz (443080)

      You tell me. My wife splurged something like $100 on a jar of Dead Sea "healing" cosmetics. Now I wish that damned sea really died.

  • The Israelis and Jordanians should flood the whole area that is below sea level (hundreds of square kilometers). That way they can have a port at the Jordanian capital and the rainfall in the area will improve.
  • Just stop messing with it for a couple of centuries and it will recover.

  • So What, Seas Dry Up (Score:2, Informative)

    by Isaac-1 (233099)

    Throughout the history of the world seas have dried up. Watch any nature documentary, particularly the ones touching on geology and you can't seem to go 5 minutes without someone saying something about some place being a dried up seabed.

    • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      That is fine if you do not care about the human population that depends on these seas and lakes. The reality is that when natural resources run out or fail like this the civilizations that grew up around them usually collapse. I don't know about you, but I like civilization and do not want to see it collapse.

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "That is fine if you do not care about the human population..."

        Finally a ray of light....I don't care. If ignorant people want to destroy their countries let them. Just as people need heros to hold up we need those who failure misserably to serve as a warning to others.

        • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

          Unfortunately the world is so interconnected that the failures do not just destroy themselves, they put me at risk to. It is a lot like driving. If I drive badly I am as much of a threat to you as I am to myself.

        • Finally a ray of light....I don't care. If ignorant people want to destroy their countries let them. Just as people need heros to hold up we need those who failure misserably to serve as a warning to others.

          Except that Uzbek and Kazakh fishermen who relied on the sea to feed them for centuries weren't the ones who put in place policies that led to its destruction, nor had they any say in them.

          • That's an interesting point. The -istan countries were bent over and raped by Mother Russia.

            • It's not as simple as that (in this case, anyway). The major reason for Aral drying up was because water from rivers feeding it was diverted for irrigation of those very same countries (and also Turkmenistan) - leading to a large increase in agricultural base. So it's win for some and lose for others within the same country. I'm not even aware of any benefits Russia (as part of USSR) has derived from this project.

              Speaking more broadly, it's a touchy topic, but there are two things to keep in mind. For most

  • youtube video (Score:5, Informative)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @08:26AM (#31966324) Homepage Journal

    This video [youtube.com] shows the Aral sea disappearing. This blog [fotokontakt.ru] has photos from the site as it was in 2008.

  • Bringing water from the Red Sea will only serve to increase the salt levels of the Dead Sea. Remember, the Dead Sea is normally only fed from 'fresh water' sources. Feeding this evaporative basin with salt waters will only dramatically INCREASE salt levels. It would be better to draw waters from the north or north-eastern sources. However, the best solution for this problem would be better conservation of the exist water. Sadly, the likely scenario that will 'fix' this problem will be increased violence in
    • by Dollyknot (216765)

      The dead sea lies nearly a half a kilometre below sea level, use this drop to generate electricity, use the electricity to extract the salt from the sea water - why is this so difficult for you to understand?

      Or do you have a hidden agenda like shares in the dead sea potash/tourist industry, or perhaps you are an ultra conservative and totally disagree with any change at all?

      "Remember, the Dead Sea is normally only fed from 'fresh water' sources."

      Lol the Jordan river 'fresh water' the Jordan river is a fetid

  • Two years ago, Lake Superior was at its lowest level since 1929 (IIRC). It came back some the following year, but this year I am told it is even below those 1929 levels.

    I really hope people are on top of this! I know there are huge amounts of water being drained from Superior for human use.

  • I’m sorry. I don’t get really excited about microbes and brine shrimp. If you do NOTHING, they will become crunchy.
    Dike off a square mile or two as a preserve.

    In general solutions that pay for themselves work faster. Bringing water in from either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean can generate power twice — once by the elevation difference, and once by the dilution process. Sure, you’ll end up with a salinity gradient — less salty where the resalinization plant comes in.

    Done righ

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