A Delta Oasis in Southeastern Kazakhstan


The rich mosaic of reeds, ponds, and meadows of the Ili River Delta offer habitat for hundreds of species.

Seen from space, the Ili River Delta contrasts sharply with the beige deserts of southeastern Kazakhstan.

When the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this natural-color image on March 7, 2020, the delta was just starting to shake off the chill of winter. While many of the delta’s lakes and ponds were still frozen, the ice on Lake Balkhash was breaking up, revealing swirls of sediment and the shallow, sandy bed of the western part of the lake. Over the deeper eastern part of the lake, ice persisted until the last week of March.

Most of the water in Lake Balkhash comes from the Ili River, which pours in through the southeastern shore. The expansive delta and estuary—still dark brown in this image thanks to Central Asia’s harsh winters—is nevertheless an oasis for life year round. Hundreds of plant and animal species make a home here, including dozens that are threatened or endangered.

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Image via NASA Earth Observatory