Learning Resources Bank

The disappearing inland sea

In this tutorial, students studying 1st year Physical Geography are introduced to Google Earth software (free version), and to using satellite imagery imbedded in this online environment to identify, categorise, and quantify physical and human geographical features in the landscape surrounding the Aral Sea. Students learn, first via demonstration and then by 5 minutes of unstructured exploration, how to ‘drive’ Google Earth, and how to navigate and change the viewing perspective of satellite imagery of their own home and suburb. While most students make the switch to viewing their world in platform quite well, for some it is not exactly intuitive, so the short period of time spent viewing a familiar landscape from above (and then from various angles below nadir) is usually appreciated.

The exercise then shifts location to the Aral Sea, Uzbekistan, the site of arguably one of the greatest environmental disaster in the 20th century. Here, the Cold-War era Soviets practiced world-leading environmental negligence, successfully converting one of the largest lakes in the world into a poisonous, shallow ‘disappearing’ water body. Students gain experience using the measurement tools in Google Earth to measure the maximum extent of the sea today, the size of the sea at its fullest