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Aralkum desert

Deserts of Kazakhstan

Traveling through the deserts of Kazakhstan

Aralkum desert, formed as a result of the drying of the Aral Sea, bordering the Kyzylkum and Karakum, on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. As the coastal zone recedes and water becomes scarce, the vegetation recedes, leaving behind a dry desert area that is the starting point for salt and sand storms. They have a negative impact both on the flora and fauna in the wider area and on human health.

So far, little research has been done on the Aralkums, especially as a habitat, since this is a relatively new spatial unit, however, most of the work on the Aral Sea has also been devoted to dry areas.

Coastal area of the Aral Sea

The receding coastlines of the Aral Sea have left behind vast expanses of former seabed covered mostly in loose crusts of salt and, to a lesser extent, sand. These often devoid of vegetation plains, together with the arid climate, are the cause of increasingly frequent and intensifying sand and dust storms. Before the Aral Sea catastrophe, dust storms did not occur even 10 days a year, at the turn of the millennium they became up to 90 days a year.

A few weeks after the site dries out, its still-moist seabed, covered in algae residue, becomes covered in blue-green cyanobacteria. Then, salt-tolerant annuals such as Salicornia, also widespread due to their high climate resistance on the saline soils of Central Asia in the deserts and steppes, populate the still wet areas. Solicornia can cover vast areas with thickets less than 30 cm high, which turn red in autumn.

The final stage of the succession process is reached only after 30-40 years and cannot be clearly predicted in advance. Meanwhile, many plants immigrated from neighboring areas due to long-distance distribution: 368 species of vascular plants from the neighboring Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts can now also be found in Aralkum. And in the future, the vegetation will resemble other Central Asian forms of vegetation that have already adapted to the climate.

Aralkum desert Kyzylorda region, Aral Sea region


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