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Physical Geography of Northern Eurasia

Rivers, Lakes, Inland Seas, and Wetlands

<<< Soils: the Holocene History of Soil Cover | Physical Geography Index | Hydrological Measurements >>>


Northern Eurasia accommodates a variety of hydrological conditions and water bodies. Regions with an abundant moisture supply border on areas with poor water resources such as, for example, the Caucasus mountains and semi-deserts of the Caspian plain or mountains and deserts of Central Asia. Rivers, which are among the world's largest (the Yenisey, Ob, Lena, and Volga) drain the continent; the largest lakes, the Caspian and the Aral, and the deepest in the world (Lake Baikal), which accounts for 20 per cent of the world fresh water resources, are located here. Nowhere in the world do wetlands cover such an enormous area as on the West Siberian plain and nowhere in the world does the development of water resources take place in such an enormous permafrost area as in Eastern Siberia. Another unique aspect is the development of the vast internal drainage basin of the Caspian and Aral Seas. The lack of connection or a weak link to the World Ocean makes aquatic ecosystems extremely vulnerable to human impact. One of the world's most dramatic examples of critical human-induced changes is the modern condition of the Aral Sea. At the same time, due to the remoteness of many regions, especially in the north and in the east, many water bodies remain in their natural state.

Typical of Northern Eurasia is a water regime with powerful spring floods and low winter and summer water levels which develop because of the northern location of the region and continentality of its climate. Because of these factors, river discharge averaged across Northern Eurasia is lower than the world average.

Regular hydrological observations began in Northern Eurasia in the 18th century and by the beginning of the 20-th century a relatively dense hydrological network had been established. This chapter builds on hydrological research conducted by many academic institutions in the former Soviet Union (FSU). It discusses aspects of water balance, the hydrology of the largest rivers and lakes, briefly discusses wetlands and artificial reservoirs, and addresses the issue of human effects on water regimes and quality. Note that data given in the tables and figures may differ depending on averaging periods and methods of measurement and estimation.

<<< Soils: the Holocene History of Soil Cover | Physical Geography Index | Hydrological Measurements >>>




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