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Southwest and Central Asia
Introducing the Region:Physical and Human Geography
Oil in Southwest Asia: How “Black Gold” Has Shaped a Region
Istanbul: A Primate City Throughout History
The Aral Sea: Central Asia’sShrinking Water Source
What do you see in this photograph?
See page 514 for details.
Introducing the Region: Physical Geography
Southwest and Central Asia are spread across one large section of the Eurasian landmass. The region is surrounded by seas, plains, and mountains. Southwest Asia lies at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and Asia. All three continents meet here at the Mediterranean Sea. Central Asia occupies the lonely center of the Eurasian landmass. Central Asia is a region of treeless plains and deserts.
Southwest Asia is bordered by several seas. The Mediterranean and Black seas mark the northwestern border. The Red Sea runs along the western side of the region. The Arabian Sea cradles the southern border.
Central Asia’s northern border looks over the plains of Siberia. Rugged mountains rise along the southern and eastern borders. These mountains include the Hindu Kush, one of the highest ranges in the world.
The physical landscape of Southwest and Central Asia is marked by great contrasts. This region includes both the lowest spot on Earth and some of the highest peaks. Dusty deserts cover much of the region. Yet there are also large bodies of water, such as the Persian Gulf. A gulf is an arm of the sea that is partly surrounded by land. The Persian Gulf is about 600 miles long. It averages almost 125 miles in width.
Southwest and Central Asia also have
several inland seas. These are large bodies of salt water with little or no connection to the ocean. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest inland body of water. Its waters are salty, but not as salty as the ocean. As a result, this inland sea is home to both freshwater and saltwater fish.
Southwest Asia is a land of peninsulas and plateaus. The Arabian Peninsula occupies the southern part of the region. Covering more than 1 million square miles, it is the largest peninsula in the world.
Farther north lies the Anatolia Plateau. This rugged region stretches across much of modern Turkey. The center of the plateau has landscapes that are often described as “moonscapes.” Erosion by wind and water has carved the hills in this volcanic region into caves, cones, and strange shapes called “fairy chimneys.”
Southwest Asia has other interesting features, including
• the Arabian Sea—a shipping route known as a “hurricane alley” because of the violent storms that develop there.
• the Tigris-Euphrates Valley—one of the most fertile river valleys of the ancient world.
• the Dead Sea—an inland sea between Israel and Jordan. At about 1,349 feet below sea level, it is the lowest place on Earth. The Dead Sea is nine times as salty as the ocean. This is so salty that almost nothing can live in its waters.
Central Asia also varies greatly in elevation. The Caspian Sea lies below sea level. But Hindu Kush peaks rise over 25,000 feet.
Central Asia boasts some of Earth’s largest inland seas. The Black Sea covers an area larger than the state of California. The Aral Sea was another large inland sea, but it is rapidly shrinking in size.
This satellite photograph shows two gulfs in Southwest Asia. You can see the Gulf of Oman at the bottom and the Persian Gulf at the top.
Despite the many seas in this area, Southwest and Central Asia is a region of arid and semiarid climate zones. Areas with an arid climate zone receive less than 10 inches of precipitation a year. But that is an average. An arid area may receive no rainfall for several years. Then, large amounts of rain might fall in a few hours. Areas with a semiarid climate have some rain now and then.
Arid and semiarid climate zones are often the hottest places on Earth. Summer temperatures may reach 100°F or higher during the day. Winters are usually mild. There are, however, cold deserts. Some are cold because they lie at a high altitude. Others are cold because they are far from the equator. Still others are chilled by cold winds.
Temperatures inland on the arid Arabian Peninsula can climb to 115°F in the summer. There is little moisture in the air, so the air cools rapidly at night. Temperatures can drop sharply in just a few hours.
In coastal areas, the seas create a more moderate climate. For example, coastal Turkey enjoys a Mediterranean climate. The same climate zone extends south along the seacoast into Israel. Summers here are warm and dry. Winters are mild and rainy.
The climate varies more in the mountainous parts of this region. In general, temperatures drop as one goes up in elevation.
The tall mountains that bound Central Asia prevent storms that form over the Indian Ocean from reaching the center of the
continent. As a result, little rain falls in this inland region. Thus most of Central Asia has arid and semiarid climates.
Two large deserts cover much of the
Turan Lowland. North of this arid plain lie the steppes. Precipitation on these rolling plains is less than 15 inches a year.
The mountains of Central Asia have varied climates, depending on elevation. The highest peaks of the Hindu Kush are covered with snow throughout the year.
Riyadh is a city near the center of the Arabian Peninsula. When are air conditioners in Riyadh likely to work the hardest?
Enough rain falls in the foothills of the Hindu Kush to support farming.
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