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Lake Balkhash

The sixteenth largest inland lake in the world, Lake Balkhash, covers an area of 7115 square miles (18428 square km). The brown and tan colors dominating the surrounding landscape indicate the harsh, waterless conditions of this environment. According to most accounts, the lake is slowly shrinking because of evaporation. The small cities of Sary-Shagan and Balkhash are located along the western and northern shorelines, respectively.

Lake Balkhash is 376 miles (605 km) long and has a maximum width of 45 miles (70 km). To the north of Lake Balkhash are the southern portions of the semi-arid Kazakh Uplands. To the south of Lake Balkhash is the Saryesik-Atryan Desert, mostly a sand desert. The average depth of the lake is 20 feet (6 meters) though its maximum depth reaches 87 feet (26 meters). Three major streams feed Lake Balkhash, all from the south or southeast -- the Ili River, with a large delta, the Karatal River, with a smaller delta, and the Aqsu River. Lake Balkhash has no outlet.

A sandbar effectively divides Lake Balkhash into a western half, which is fresh water [especially near the Ili River mouth], and an eastern half, which is saline. Since 1960, water levels in Lake Balkhash have been declining, mostly due to evaporation and increased water usage for irrigation along the Ili and Karatol Rivers. The Ili River does not have sufficient waterflow to exceed the rate of evaporation.

Lake Balkhash is usually frozen from November through March; however, even in April ice still covers almost the entire surface of the lake. The white, highly reflective areas south of the lake are mineral deposits, mainly salts. Much of the landscape around the lake consists of sand; actually, areas of low sand dunes exist.

The closed Lake Balkhash is situated in a land depression of tectonic origin. The orography of its drainage basin is very complex: there are high mountain systems, low mountains, plains, and sands partly bordering the lake. The area and water volume of the lake vary considerably in due course depending on the large amplitude of long-term and secular fluctuations of its water level. The water resources of the lake and its tributary rivers are used for irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply (including the supply for the Balkhash Copper Melting Plant). The fish catch in the lake is also very important for the Kazakhstan.

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