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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lake Balkhash
Балқаш Көлі
From space, April 1991
Location Kazakhstan
Coordinates 46°32′27″N 74°52′44″E / 46.54083°N 74.87889°E / 46.54083; 74.87889Coordinates: 46°32′27″N 74°52′44″E / 46.54083°N 74.87889°E / 46.54083; 74.87889
Lake type Endorheic, Saline
Primary inflows Ili, Karatal, Aksu, Lepsi, Byan, Kapal, Koksu rivers
Primary outflows evaporation
Basin countries Kazakhstan 85%
China 15%
Max. length 605 km (376 mi)
Max. width East 74 km (46 mi)
West 19 km (12 mi)
Average depth 5.8 m (19 ft)
Max. depth 26 m (85 ft)
Water volume 106 cu mi (440 km3)
Surface elevation 341.4 m (1,120 ft)
Frozen November to March

Lake Balkhash (Kazakh: Балқаш Көлі, Balqaş köli; Russian: Озеро Балхаш, Ozero Balkhash) is a lake in southeastern Kazakhstan, presently the largest in Central Asia (after the drying of most of the Aral Sea).[1] It is a closed basin that is part of the endorheic basin that includes the Caspian and Aral seas.

Map of the Lake Balkhash drainage basin



From as early as 103 BC up until the 8th century, the Balkhash polity was known to the Chinese as Pu-Ku/Bu-Ku. From the 8th century on, the land to the south of the lake, between it and the Tian Shan mountains, was known as "Seven Rivers" (Jetisu in Turkic, Semirechye in Russian). It was a land where the nomadic Turks and Mongols of the steppe mingled cultures with the settled peoples of Central Asia.[2] During China's Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), the lake formed the northwestern-most boundary of the Empire. In 1864, the lake and its neighbouring area was ceded to Imperial Russia through the Sino-Russian Treaty. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the lake became part of Kazakhstan.


Lake Balkhash: NASA image, taken 18 April 2000 by SeaWiFS

The lake currently covers 16,996 km2 (6,562 sq mi), but, like the Aral Sea, it is shrinking because of the diversion of water from the rivers that feed it.[3] The lake has a mean depth of 5.8 metres (19 ft), and a maximum of 25.6 metres (84 ft). The western half of the lake is fresh water, while the eastern half is saline.[4] The mean depth of the eastern part is 1.7 times that of the western. Approximately 1,600 km (990 mi) to the northeast lies Lake Baikal, the largest lake on Earth by volume.

The Balkhash inland basin drains into Lake Balkhash via seven rivers; chief among these is the Ili River, which brings the majority of the riparian inflow, others such as the Karatal provide both surface and subsurface flow. The Ili is fed from precipitation (largely vernal snowmelt) from the mountains of China's Xinjiang region. The Balkhash basin is itself endorheic – there is no outflow – and Balkhash suffers from the same problems as other endorheic lakes.

Economic development

The waters of the Ili River and of Lake Balkhash are of vital economic importance to Kazakhstan. The Ili is dammed for hydroelectric power at Kapchagay, and the river waters are heavily diverted for agricultural irrigation and for industrial purposes. Balkhash itself serves as a vital fishery.

Environmental and political problems

The central peninsula of the lake as seen from a plane

As the population and degree of industrialisation in western China increase, it is likely that conflict between China and Kazakhstan over the fate of the limited waters of the Ili will intensify. Similar international disputes over water use in the arid region led to the desiccation of the Aral Sea, and Balkhash appears to be following a similar path.[5]

The water pollution of Balkhash is intensified as urbanisation and industrialisation in the area grow rapidly. Extinctions of species in the lake due to its decreasing area, as well as overfishing activities, are cause for alarm among conservationist organisations worldwide.[6]

External links

See also

Islands in Lake Balkhash


  1. ^ This assumes that the Caspian Sea (371,000 km2 surface area) and Lake Baikal (31,494 km2 surface area), both of which are larger, are not in Central Asia.
  2. ^ Soucek, Svat (2000) A History of Inner Asia, Princeton: Cambridge University Press, p. 22.
  3. ^ Lake Balkhash
  4. ^ Kawabata, Yoshiko et al. (March 1997) "The phytoplankton of some saline lakes in Central Asia" International Journal of Salt Lake Research 6(1): pp. 5-16;
  5. ^ BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Kazakh lake 'could dry up'
  6. ^ Water Resources eAtlas - Watersheds of the World



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