Aral Sea Refill: Seawater Importation Macroproject

Richard Brook Cathcart
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I. Introduction

A comprehensive control strategy to recreate the circa 1960 AD endorheic Aral Sea is offered which involves regulation of several hydrological factors: (1) overland pipeline importation of seawater from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea; (2) stabilization of the endorheic Caspian Sea's water level by real-time hydrological management of the freshwater inputs from the Volga and Ural rivers as well as regulated evaporation in the Garabogaz Aylagy; (3) overland pipeline conveyance of seawater extracted from the Caspian Sea and deposited into the Aral Basin. Subsequently, the imported seawater will be diluted with freshwater inputs conserved in the contributing catchments located in Central Asia, restoring the Aral Sea to its circa 1960 salinity (10 g/L) and area (67,000 km2). Seawater imports can be achieved, at less economic cost, than strictly freshwater imports derived from Siberia's diverted rivers. Unwanted biotic invasion of the Caspian Sea and renewed Aral Sea can be prevented by thorough filtration of the pumped fluid. A successful outcome of the proposed control strategy, "Aral Sea Refill", will require a UNO observed international treaty-codified unity of the affected region's participating geopolitical and macro-engineering decision-makers (Wouters and Dukhovny, 2008). The "Aral Sea Refill" proposal seems especially timely since 2007-2009 AD is the UNO sanctioned International Year of Planet Earth: Earth Sciences for Society.


II. Macroproject Proposal Background Information

Especially after the onset of humankind's Space Age in 1957, the world-public began to become fully aware of the Aral Sea's reduced area and fluid volume. Publicized satellite imagery revealed the ongoing drastic geographical changes. The former seabed, once a submarine seascape, now exposed by the regressing body of water, became a wind-modified, salt-strewn arid landscape, the Aralkum Desert. Indeed, the draining event-process took place so rapidly that one might imagine that artist Barry Flanagan's Hole in the Sea (1969), a hollow plastic cylinder buried in the beach at Scheveningen, The Netherlands, and filmed from above while the tide flowed in, was operating! In 1960, the Aral Sea's level stood at ~53 m above the world-ocean's level – almost what it was circa 200 AD (Reinhardt et al., 2008) – but, by 2007, its level had dropped to ~30 m above the world's prevailing ocean level (Glantz, 2007; Micklin, 2006). Once fed by two historically famous rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, the Aral Sea mingled their runoffs in a contiguous body of water. The extreme post-1950 abstraction of freshwater from these Central Asian Aral Sea-feeding rivers for ultimate application on mismanaged farmland irrigation mega-schemes caused such a pronounced technogenic reduction of the Aral Sea that, since 1989, there are really three discontinuous lakes remaining! The 12th Edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World (2007) accurately illustrates this new geographical reality.


"Globalization, as a process of propagating certain influences on a global scale, actually became apparent in the water sector in the 1950s" (Dukhovny, 2007). Anthropogenic forcing of our planet's biosphere systems, intended to be closely examined during the "The International Year of Planet Earth (2007-2009): Earth Sciences for Society" approved and globally promoted by the UNO, is likely to confirm that humans exist during an Anthropocene period of Earth's geological time (Mainguet and Letolle, 1997). It was during the 1950s that geoscientists finally recognized that humanity's technological impacts had reached all our planet's lands, even icy Antarctica. AD 1950 is also the reference for 14C dating. With regard to the modern-day diminished Aral Sea, if it were possible to provide the three lakes with the Central Asian river runoffs extant during the pre-1960 period, at least 200 years would be necessary for the Aral Sea to be recreated (Salokhiddinnov and Khakimov, 2004)! And, of course, the presence of the Aralkum Desert, as well as vast regions of inefficient mono-culture irrigation agriculture, has caused remarkable short and long-term meteorological changes in the various climates of Central Asia (Elguindi and Giorgi, 2007; Shibuo et al., 2007).


Full restoration of the 1960 Aral Sea through freshwater conservation alone is unrealistic since such a restrictive consumptive use program would impose very great economic hardships on the populations of Central Asia's post-1991 independent ecosystem-states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). (Only Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are riparian.) A reasonable estimate of the freshwater inflow to the vicinity of the Aralkum Desert during the 21st century is ~12 km3/y; to restore the Aral Sea to its circa 1960 size would require a total annual fluid inflow of ~56 km3.


The USA's most qualified Aral Sea-focused geographer, Dr. Philip Micklin, knowledgably alleges "Of course it is feasible through engineering to bring water to the Aral Sea from outside Central Asia." In other words, the 20th century replacement of the seascape with a landscape is not irreversible. Dr. Micklin, I am certain, was contemplating only 27-30 km3/yr of freshwater inputs – as from the long-discussed Siberian River Diversions (Davies et al., 2006; Duke, 2006) and such postulated freshwater transfers will be impacted by near-term future global climate change (Dobrovolski, 2007; White et al., 2007). Even in the post-USSR 21st century, some Russian geopoliticians have tried to revive the Siberian River Diversions macroprojects (Pearce, 2004) to import freshwater from the Ob River and its tributary, the Irtysh River, to Kazakhstan via a proposed "SibAral Canal Project", a 2500 kilometer-long, 200 meter-wide, 16 meter-deep concrete-lined canal conveying ~27-30 km3 of freshwater – about 6-7% of the Ob River's yearly runoff – to Central Asia, overcoming a 110 m-high topographic elevation in the Turgai Depression at an electrical power cost of ~10.2 billion KW/h. Disconcertingly, the Ob River's flow is contaminated with unhealthy nuclear materials and, therefore, its partial transfer would constitute an undesirable Aral Sea pollution event-process (Kenna and Sayles, 2002)! [A possible catastrophic flooding looms for the Aral Sea Basin: the AD 1911 Usoi landslide dam in the Pamir Mountains could fail structurally at any time, suddenly releasing a flashflood of 17-20 km3 from Lake Sarez in Tajikistan (Schuster and Alford, 2004). If a controlled release of this freshwater reservoir were technically arranged and safely performed, then such a carefully planned freshwater release could jump-start refreshment/dilution of the proposed "Aral Sea Refill" seawater importation macroproject!]


Aside from Dr. Micklin's geographic projection, however, imported seawater diluted with all available locally-obtained freshwater would be useful to the region's inhabitants. Seawater, transported from afar, must be filtered to remove all harmful biota (Dumont et al, 2004). The best source for seawater is the nearly tide-less Caspian Sea, lying presently ~27 m below the world-ocean's level and, approximately, 650 km west of the Aralkum Desert. The best overland route for a seawater pipeline from the Caspian Sea eastward to the present-day Aralkum Desert is the abandoned natural Uzboi Channel which, as recently as 1500 BC, connected the Aral Sea with the Caspian as an Aral Sea peak flood overflow route (Boomer et al., 2000); Uzboi Channel had a maximum capacity of ~2000 m3/s owing to channel topography limitations. Whilst global sea-level rose ~13 cm during the 20th century, the Caspian Sea rose 13 cm just during the period 1977-1995. Coastal erosion, infrastructure damage and other macro-problems stimulated by such fluid volume changes are chronic drags on the economies of the bordering ecosystem-countries. Dam-building macro-engineers have, so far, been unsuccessful in utilizing the Garabogaz Aylagy's high overall yearly evaporation as an effective hydrological regulator of the Caspian Sea's level. And, recent supercomputer modeling of the Caspian Sea climate "... implies the possibility of several meters decrease in the [Caspian Sea Level] for the twenty-first century" (Elguindi and Giorgi, 2007). Hence, a replenishment of the Caspian Sea with filtered seawater imported from the Black Sea by a ~500 km-long pipeline seems doubly proper and truly cost-effective in terms of professional macro-engineering! Integrating the Black Sea-Caspian Sea pipeline plus the Caspian Sea-Aralkum Desert pipeline would form a combined pipeline system or network that totals just 1200 km in length, a little more than ~55% the 2200 km length of the "SibAral Canal Project".


III. Aral Sea Refill Pipeline Specifications

On 10 June 2007, in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, proposed construction of a 650 km-long "Eurasia Canal" between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Eurasia Canal could require 3-5 years to build and cost >6 billion USD. As proposed in 2007, the Eurasia Canal would be 80 m-wide and have a standard vessel navigational depth of 16.5 m; theoretically it should be capable of carrying ships of 3,00 to 10,000 metric tons, allowing cargo delivery schedules of 9-12 days with a cargo traffic capability more than twice the Volga-Don Canal. In April 2007, the RF President, Vladimir Putin, had publicly proposed an upgrading of the over-used Volga-Don Canal (completed in 1952) and, on 15 June 2007, RF First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov announced that Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan. and Turkmenistan might be disposed to participate in a renewal of the Volga-Don Canal. President Nazarbayev, however, foresees a separate Eurasia Canal utilizing the present USSR-era navigable freshwater reservoirs in the Kuma-Manych Depression of southern RF which would shorten the shipping route by ~1000 km, transforming landlocked Kazakhstan and all Central Asian ecosystem-states into maritime nations. This macro-engineering proposal opens the way for a macroproject speculation related to the "Aral Sea Refill" seawater pipeline!


Consider a 30 m-diameter textile-reinforced pipe – perhaps of the kind designed by Willy De Meyer, "Method of on-site production of novel textile reinforced thermoplastic or thermoset pipes", awarded US Patent 7267141 on 11 September 2007 – which can tolerate pressure to ~100 bars. Such a pipe could be laid upon a methane-inflated or export oil-filled pad or cradle with low ground pressure on the subaerial soils. Such a combination would, if broken, spilling volatile fluids and gases, offer some fire-suppression, possibly even extinguishment, by the simultaneous disgorgement of seawater. Certainly, the dispersal of inflammable gas and/or petroleum by an on-site high-pressure salt water spray from a disrupted pipe is predictably beneficial since the same adversely-affected real estate is quickly treated. Seawater might be pushed by a "Magnetostrictive Peristaltic Pump", a means awarded US Patent 6074179, on 13 June 2000 to Gregory R. Jokela and Stanley A. Black.


To achieve a restoring liquid water flow to the moonscape that is today's Aralkum Desert of 56 km3/y – 1776 m3/s – over a distance 650 km within a normal horizontal steel pipe having a constant 30 m-diameter necessitates a seawater velocity of ~2.49 m/s. The pressure difference needed to drive the seawater flow is ~4.82 bar or, very approximately, about 1.6 million horsepower. To dilute 56 km3 of seawater of 30 g/L saltiness to brackishness of 10 g/L would require an input of 116 km3 of freshwater. This one-year batch, contributed to the Aralkum Desert, would become a fluid of 10 g/L saltiness in about 9.7 years. The circa 1960 Aral Sea had a volume of ~1000 km3 and a salinity of ~10 g/L. Obviously, a substantial volume of freshwater must be set aside and allowed to pass downstream in the rejuvenated Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers to dilute the saltwater emptied from the importation pipeline onto the Aralkum Desert. In other words, the "Aral Sea Refill" macroproject induces good water conservation practices in Central Asia!



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