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Biomes and Regions of Northern Eurasia

Arid Environments

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Arid environments are widespread in the south of the Russian Federation (the Caspian lowland), in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. To a lesser extent semi-deserts also occur in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and in the Crimea.

A vast desert core region of about 3.5 million km2 comprises the entire Turanian lowland and the southern margin of the Kazakh Knolls (Figure 12.1).

The desert core regions: litho-edaphic conditions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan

Fig. 12.1 The desert core regions: litho-edaphic conditions of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Modified from Babaev (1996)

To the south and south-east it is surrounded by high mountain chains, such as the Hindu-Kush, Pamir-Alay (7450 m), and Tien-Shan (7440 m), while the relatively low Kopetdagh mountains (2000 m) are located to the south-west. To the north the Turanian plain progressively descends northward and westward and opens out towards the Caspian lowland. Desert conditions also develop on the Apsheron peninsula in Transcaucasia. The semi-desert biome represents a transitional zone between the dry steppe of Eastern Europe and temperate desert. It extends from the Terek river valley in the Caucasian piedmonts in the west, through the Caspian lowland and the Kazakh Knolls to the mountains of Southern Siberia in the east. Semi-deserts also occupy a considerable part of the Northern Caucasus, Transcaucasia, and the narrow isthmus of the Crimea peninsula. The northern boundary of this zone is rather indistinct and lies at approximately 48°N. To the south, the semi-desert biomes of the Caspian lowland and Kazakhstan progressively give way to deserts.

Geographical research in this region dates back centuries or even thousands of years. The first description of the lands eastward from the Caspian can be found in classical sources (Arrien, Strabo, Ptolemaeus, Herodotus) and in early Chinese chronicals. In the Middle Ages this area was described both by Arab geographers (Yakut, Istkhari, and Masudi) and local authors (Birouni, El-Horesmi, Kashgari, and Babur). Systematic studies of the Central Asian deserts started with the penetration of Russians to this area in the 19th century. Maps with detailed descriptions of the environmental conditions of this region can be found in the works of Semenov-Tien-Shansky, Severtsev, Mushketov, Berg, and Korzenevsky. Since the 1930s, numerous geographical and geological expeditions by the Academy of Science of the USSR carried out systematic surveys of the arid lands. For a comprehensive physical geography of the deserts of Central Asia and Kazakhstan one can refer to the monographs of Murzaev (1953, 1958), Petrov (1976), Rozanov (1984), Gerasimov (1956), Kovda (1983), and Geller (1968). Over recent decades multidisciplinary research has been conducted by scientists at the Institute of Deserts of the Turkmen Academy of Science (Babaev et. al., 1986; Babaev, 1996; Kharin, 1986; Orlovsky, 1982). In Western literature, the monograph by Letolle and Mainguet (1993) on the Aral Sea region, and works of Walter and Box (1976, 1983) and Derbyshire and Goudie (1997) should be especially noted.

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