The Aral Sea basin (ASB) is one of the most environmentally vulnerable regions to climate change and human activities. During the past 60 years, irrigation has greatly changed the water distribution and caused severe environmental issues in the ASB. Using remote sensing data, this study investigated the environmental changes induced by irrigation activities in this region. The results show that, in the past decade, land water storage has significantly increased in the irrigated upstream regions (13 km3 year−1) but decreased in the downstream regions (−27 km3 year−1) of the Amu Darya River basin, causing a water storage decrease in the whole basin (−20 km3 year−1). As a result, the water surface area of the Aral Sea has decreased from 32,000 in 2000 to 10,000 km2 in 2015. The shrinking Aral Sea exposed a large portion of the lake bottom to the air, increasing (decreasing) the daytime (nighttime) temperatures by about 1 °C year−1 (0.5 °C year−1). Moreover, there were other potential environmental changes, including drier soil, less vegetation, decreasing cloud and precipitation, and more severe and frequent dust storms. Possible biases in the remote sensing data due to the neglect of the shrinking water surface area of the Aral Sea were identified. These findings highlight the severe environmental threats caused by irrigation in Central Asia and call attention to sustainable water use in such dryland regions.
Jin, Q.; Wei, J.; Yang, Z.-L.; Lin, P. Irrigation-Induced Environmental Changes around the Aral Sea: An Integrated View from Multiple Satellite Observations. Remote Sens. 2017, 9, 900. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs9090900