Department or Program

Environmental Studies


The Aral Sea Crisis describes the rapid and recent desiccation of the Aral Sea as a result of Soviet agricultural collectivization in the 1960's, and is one of the most clear examples of anthropogenic impacts on the landscape on a large scale. However, most scholarship regarding the crisis begin their analysis at the onset of the observable decrease in water levels in the Aral Sea, and fail to take into account the historical precedents set by the Russian Empire during the first stages of Russian control in creating the present situation. This essay draws on a variety of evidence, including paleoliminology, paleoclimatology, historical documents, and secondary scholarship to demonstrate how the fragile nature of the Aral Sea's hydrology has been historically impacted by anthropological pressures and environmental trends. For a variety of political and economic explanations, Central Asia became the new eden for the Russian Empire, whose repeated failures at improving irrigation in the region and enforcing taxation systems that prioritized water-demanding cotton laid the foundation that would be adopted by the Soviets. In doing so, this essay will add to the growing literature and concern for historical precedents that lead to modern climate and environmental challenges being faced across the globe.

Level of Access

Restricted: Campus/Bates Community Only Access

First Advisor

Joe Hall

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages



Available to Bates community via local IP address or Bates login.