The Aral Sea and the Dead Sea: Disparate lakes with similar histories

Aharon Oren*, Igor S. Plotnikov, Sergey S. Sokolov, Nikolai V. Aladin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


In spite of significant differences in their sizes, depths, salinity and other properties, the Aral Sea and the Dead Sea share many features, as illustrated by a comparison of the histories of both water bodies. Fifteenth and early sixteenth century maps, based on the 'Geography' of Ptolemy, contain both lakes. The first successful limnological surveys of the lakes were made in the same year 1848, when Alexey Butakov explored the Aral Sea and William Lynch mapped the Dead Sea. Paintings and drawings by Taras Shevchenko (Aral Sea) and David Roberts (Dead Sea) document the landscapes around the lakes in the first half of the 19th century. The water balance of both lakes has been strongly negative in the past decades, leading to a decreased water surface area and volume for both lakes, their increased salinity and deterioration of their local infrastructures. Complex and expensive mitigation schemes have been proposed for both lakes, based on the import of large quantities of water from distant sources via canals or pipelines (i.e. Siberian rivers or Caspian Sea to supply water to the Aral Sea, Mediterranean Sea or Red Sea, to be connected with the Dead Sea). Less dramatic solutions to improve the local situations already have resulted in improved water quality in the Aral Sea, and partial restoration of its fisheries. In contrast, the Dead Sea remains much too saline to support higher forms of life. Nevertheless, a biblical prophecy predicts that even this most hypersaline of all lakes will eventually be teeming with fish of many kinds.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)223-236
Number of pages14
JournalLakes and Reservoirs: Science, Policy and Management for Sustainable Use
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Aral Sea
  • Butakov
  • Dead Sea
  • Lynch
  • Mitigation
  • exploration


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