Russian science expedition discovered a strange natural phenomenon while exploring Pamir Mountainsin Tajikistan in 1932. As they approached the border with Afghanistan in the Western part of Pamir few warnings received from local residents made researchers wonder. People from local village explained that some mysterious unknown force was waiting for them up in the mountains. Considering all of the possible consequences the scientists decided to continue climbing. At the end of the route at 3,263 metres above sea level they made a shocking discovery – a huge mountain lake which didn’t appear on any existing maps.
Lake Sarez, high in the Pamir Mountains, was created by a massive landslide dam that was caused by an earthquake in 1911. The dammed waters of the Murgab River produced Lake Sarez, named for a village that was submerged by the rising waters. Initially, the level of the lake rose at a rate of about 75 metres a year. Today it is more than 75.8 km in length and has a maximum depth in excess of 500 metres, it is total is more than 16 cubic kilometres.
Sarez is the youngest lake in the world. In 1911 the water increased in 36 cm, in 1915 – in 18 cm and in 1934 in 10 cm per day. By 1913 the length of the lake reached 28 km; by the end of 1930 – 75 km. In the beginning of 1940 the level of the lake was set in 40 m from the edge of the obstruction. In 1939 a hydro meteorological observatory was opened on the lake’s shore for permanent control over the lake’s waters as some sources believe the lake pose potential risks for downstream communities.
The mysterious Lake Sarez is called “Sleeping Dragon” because it is absolutely unpredictable and potentially can cause a catastrophic natural event. Geophysical considerations are at its core, although the consequence of the outbreak of this very large volume of water, in the worst case scenario, would become one of the world’s most disastrous natural events in human, economic, and political terms.
Should another strong earthquake or rock slide occur in the lake’s vicinity, the Usoi dam may give a crack or dam’s ‘right bank’- a partially collapsed body of earth and rock with a mass of roughly 3 cubic kilometres-might fall into the lake. The displacement could generate a wave large enough to wash away Usoi dam and release a wall of water that could flood some 6 million people living downstream along the Bartang, Pyanj and Amu-Darya rivers in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as in Tajikistan.
While catastrophic scenarios about the future of Lake Sarez are easy to come by, measures to mitigate the threats it poses are less so. Scientists still debate on what should be undertaken – some say about pumping station which would pump the water out of the lake the others about the need of drilling into Usoi dam in order to release water in controlled circumstances and reduce the pressures on the structure.
In the face of this uncertainty, the government and international community continue to monitor water levels and pressure in Lake Sarez which, at the moment, seem relatively stable.
Among two thousands lake on the territory of Tajikistan Lake Sarez is definitely the most mysterious and beautiful one.