Desert, Central Asia. One of the great desert and semidesert regions of the world, the Gobi stretches across Central Asia over large areas of Mongolia and China. It occupies an arc of land 1,000 mi (1,609 km) long and 300–600 mi (500–1,000 km) wide, with an estimated area of 500,000 sq mi (1,300,000 sq km). Contrary to the image often associated with a desert, much of the Gobi is not sandy but covered with bare rock.
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The Gobi (Говь, Govi or Gov', "gravel-covered plain"; Chinese: 戈壁(沙漠) Gēbì (Shāmò)) is the largest desert region in Asia. It covers parts of northern and northwestern China, and of southern Mongolia. The desert basins of the Gobi are bounded by the Altai Mountains and the grasslands and steppes of Mongolia on the north, by the Tibetan Plateau to the southwest, and by the North China Plain to the southeast. The Gobi is made up of several distinct ecological and geographic regions based on variations in climate and topography. This desert is the fourth largest in the world.
The Gobi is a rain shadow desert formed by the Himalaya range blocking rain-carrying clouds from reaching the Gobi.
The Gobi has several different Chinese names, including 沙漠 (shāmò, actually a generic term for deserts in general) and 瀚海 (hànhǎi, endless sea). In its broadest definition, the Gobi includes the long stretch of desert and semidesert country extending from the foot of the Pamirs, 77° east, to the Greater Khingan Mountains, 116°-118° east, on the border of Manchuria; and from the foothills of the Altay, Sayan, and Yablonoi mountain ranges on the north to the Kunlun Shan, Altun Shan, and Qilian shan ranges, which form the northern edges of the Tibetan Plateau, on the south.
A relatively large area on the east side of the Greater Khingan range, between the upper waters of the Songhua (Sungari) and the upper waters of the Liao-ho, is also reckoned to belong to the Gobi by conventional usage. On the other hand, geographers and ecologists prefer to regard the western area of the Gobi region (as defined above), the basin of the Tarim in Xinjiang and the desert basin of Lop Nor and Hami (Kumul) as forming a separate and independent desert, called the Taklamakan Desert.
The Nemegt Basin in the northwestern part of the Gobi Desert (in Mongolia) is famous for its fossil treasures, including early mammals, dinosaur eggs, and even prehistoric stone implements, some 100,000 years old.
The Gobi is a cold desert, and it is not uncommon to see frost and occasionally snow on its dunes. Besides being quite far north, it is also located on a plateau roughly 910-1,520 meters (3,000-5,000 ft) above sea level, which further contributes to its low temperatures. An average of approximately 194 millimeters (7.6 in) of rain falls per year in the Gobi. Additional moisture reaches parts of the Gobi in winter as snow is blown by the wind from the Siberian Steppes. These winds cause the Gobi to reach extremes of temperature ranging from –40°C (-40°F) in winter to +40°C (104°F) in summer.
|Sivantse (1190 m)||Ulaanbaatar (1150 m)|
|Annual mean||-2.5 °C (27 °F)||2.8 °C (37 °F)|
|January mean||-26.5 °C (-15.7 °F)||-16.5 °C (2 °F)|
|July mean||17.5 °C (63.5 °F)||19.0 °C (66 °F)|
|Extremes||38.0 °C and -43 °C (100 °F and -45 °F)||33.9 °C and -47 °C (93 °F and -52 °F)|
Average winter minimals are a frigid -40 °C (-40 °F) while summertime temperatures are warm to hot, highs range up to 50 °C (112 °F). Most of the precipitation falls during the summer.
Although the southeast monsoons reach the southeast parts of the Gobi, the area throughout this region is generally characterized by extreme dryness, especially during the winter. Hence, the icy sandstorms and snowstorms of spring and early summer plus early January (winter)
These deserts and the surrounding regions sustain many animals, including black-tailed gazelles, marbled polecats, bactrian camels and sandplovers, and are occasionally visited by snow leopards, brown bears, and wolves. The desert features a number of drought-adapted shrubs such as gray sparrow's saltwort, gray sagebrush, and low grasses such as needle grass and bridlegrass.
The area is vulnerable to trampling by livestock and off-road vehicles (human impacts are greater in the eastern Gobi Desert, where rainfall is heavier and may sustain livestock). In Mongolia, grasslands have been degraded by goats, raised by nomadic herders as source of cashmere wool. Economic trends of livestock privatization and the collapse of the urban economy have caused people to return to rural lifestyles, a movement contrary to urbanization. This movement has resulted in a great increase of large copper and gold deposits located at Oyuu Tolgoi, about 80 kilometers from the Chinese border into Mongolia and the feasibility of setting up a mining operation is being investigated.
Currently, the Gobi desert is expanding at an alarming rate, in a process known as desertification. The expansion is particularly rapid on the southern edge into China, which has seen of grassland overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert. This loss of farmland has caused an estimated $50 billion in losses each year for China's economy. Dust storms, which were once a rarity, are springing up all over China, and could cause even further damage to China's agriculture economy.
The expansion of the Gobi is attributed mostly to human activities, notably deforestation, overgrazing, overconsumption of water resources, and global warming. China has made various plans to try to slow the expansion of the desert, which have met with some small degree of success, but usually have no major impact. The most recent plan involves the planting of the Green Wall of China, a huge ring of newly-planted forests that the Chinese government hopes will act as a buffer against further expansion.
The 'Eastern Gobi desert steppe' is the easternmost of the Gobi ecoregions, covering an area of . It extends from the Inner Mongolian Plateau in China northward into Mongolia. It includes the Yin Mountains and many low-lying areas with salt pans and small ponds. It is bounded by the Mongolian-Manchurian grassland to the north, the Yellow River Plain to the southeast, and the Alashan Plateau semi-desert to the southeast and east.
The Alashan Plateau semi-desert lies west and southwest of the Eastern Gobi desert steppe. It consists of the desert basins and low mountains lying between the Gobi Altai range on the north, the Helan Mountains to the southeast, and the Qilian Mountains and northeastern portion of the Tibetan Plateau on the southwest.
The Gobi Lakes Valley desert steppe ecoregion lies north of Alashan Plateau semi-desert, between the Gobi Altai range to the south and the Khangai Mountains to the north.
The Junggar Basin semi-desert includes the desert basin lying between the Altai mountains on the north and the Tian Shan range on the south. It includes the northern portion of China's Xinjiang province and extends into the southeastern corner of Mongolia. The Alashan Plateau semi-desert lies to the east, and the Emin Valley steppe to the west, on the China-Kazakhstan border.
The Tian Shan range separates the Junggar Basin semi-desert from the Taklamakan Desert, which is a low, sandy desert basin surrounded by the high mountain ranges of the Tibetan Plateau to the south and the Pamirs to the west. The Taklamakan Desert ecoregion includes the Desert of Lop.
The altitudes too are higher, those of the lowlands ranging from 1000-1700 m, and those of the ranges from 200-500 m higher, though in a few cases they reach altitudes of 2400 m. The elevations do not, however, form continuous chains, but make up a congeries of short ridges and groups rising from a common base and intersected by a labyrinth of ravines, gullies, glens and basins. But the tablelards, built up of the horizontal red deposits of the Han-gai (Ohruchev's Gobi formation) which are characteristic of the southern parts of eastern Mongolia, are absent here or occur only in one locality, near the Shara-muren river, and are then greatly intersected by gullies or dry watercourses. Here there is, however, a great dearth of water, no streams, no lakes, no wells, arid precipitation falls but seldom. The prevailing winds blow from the west and northwest and the pall of dust overhangs the country as in the Takla Makan and the desert of Lop. Characteristic of the flora are wild garlic, Kalidium gracile, wormwood, saxaul, Nitraria schoberi, Caragana, Ephedra, saltwort and the grass Lasiagrostis splendens. The taana wild onion Allium polyrrhizum is the main browse eaten by many herd animals, and Mongolians claim that this is essential to produce the correct, slightly hazelnut-like flavour of camel airag (fermented milk).
This great desert country of Gobi is crossed by several trade routes, some of which have been in use for thousands of years. Among the most important are those from Kalgan (at the Great Wall) to Ulaanbaatar from Jiuquan (in Gansu) to Hami from Hami to Beijing from Hohhot to Hami and Barkul, and from Lanzhou (in Gansu) to Hami.
The Gobi is also home to the rare Bactrian camel. This eats snow to maintain its fluid level and must limit itself to 10 litres a day of snow if it is not to prove fatal. Poaching has made these animals highly fearful of people.
The Yulduz valley or valley of the Haidag-gol (43° N 83°-86° E) is a mini desert enclosed by two prominent members of the Shanashen Trahen Osh mountain range, namely the chucis and the kracenard pine rallies, running perpendicular and far from one another. As they proceed south they transcend and transpose, sweeping back on east and west, respectively so as to leave room for the Baghrash-kol. These two ranges mark the northern and the southern edges respectively of a great swelling, which extends eastward for nearly twenty degrees of longitude. On its northern side the Chol-tagh descends steeply, and its foot is fringed by a string of deep depressions, ranging from Lukchun (below sea level) to Hami (above sea-level). To the south of the Kuruk-tagh lie the desert of Lop (= desert of Lop Nur), the desert of Kum-tagh, and the valley of the Bulunzir-gol. To this great swelling, which arches up between the two border-ranges of the Chol-tagh and Kuruk-tagh, the Mongols give the name of Ghashuun-Gobi or Salt Desert. It is some 130 to 160 km across from north to south, and is traversed by a number of minor parallel ranges, ridges and chains of hills, and down its middle runs a broad stony valley, 40-80 km wide, at an elevation of 900 to 1370 m. The Chol-tagh, which reaches an average altitude of 1800 m, is absolutely sterile, and its northern foot rests upon a narrow belt of barren sand, which leads down to the depressions mentioned above.
The Kuruk-tagh is the greatly disintegrated, denuded and wasted relic of a mountain range which formerly was of incomparably greater magnitude. In the west, between Baghrash-kol and the Tarim, it consists of two, possibly of three, principal ranges, which, although broken in continuity, run generally parallel to one another, and embrace between them numerous minor chains of heights. These minor ranges, together with the principal ranges, divide the region into a series of long; narrow valleys, mostly parallel to one another and to the enclosing mountain chains, which descend like terraced steps, on the one side towards the depression of Lukchun and on the other towards the desert of Lop. In many cases these latitudinal valleys are barred transversely by ridges or spurs, generally elevations en masse of the bottom of the valley. Where such elevations exist, there is generally found, on the east side of the transverse ridge, a cauldron-shaped depression, which some time or other has been the bottom of a former lake, but is now nearly a dry salt-basin. The surface configuration is in fact markedly similar to that which occurs in the inter-mount latitudinal valleys of the Kunlun Mountains. The hydrography of the Ghashiun-Gobi and the Kuruk-tagh is determined by these chequered arrangements of the latitudinal valleys. Most of the principal streams, instead of flowing straight down these valleys, cross them diagonally and only turn west after they have cut their way through one or more of the transverse barrier ranges. To the highest range on the great swelling Gruni-Grzhimailo gives the name of Tuge-tau, its altitude being above the level of the sea and some above the crown of the swelling itself. This range he considers to belong to the Choltagh system, whereas Sven Hedin would assign it to the Kuruk-tagh. This last, which is pretty certainly identical with the range of Kharateken-ula (also known as the Kyzyl-sanghir, Sinir, and Singher Mountains), that overlooks the southern shore of the Baghrash-kol, though parted from it by the drift-sand desert of Ak-bel-kum (White Pass Sands), has at first a westnorthwest to eastsoutheast strike, but it gradually curves round like a scimitar towards the eastnortheast and at the same time gradually decreases in elevation. In 91° east, while the principal range of the Kuruk-tagh system wheels to the eastnortheast, four of its subsidiary ranges terminate, or rather die away somewhat suddenly, on the brink of a long narrow depression (in which Sven Hedin sees a northeast bay of the former great Central Asian lake of Lop-nor), having over against them the écheloned terminals of similar subordinate ranges of the Pe-shan (Boy-san) system (see below). The Kuruk-tagh is throughout a relatively low, but almost completely barren range, being entirely destitute of animal life, save for hares, antelopes and wild camels, which frequent its few small, widely scattered oases. The vegetation, which is confined to these same relatively favoured spots, is of the scantiest and is mainly confined to bushes of saxaul (Haloxylon), Anabasis, reeds (kamish), tamarisks, poplars, and Ephedra