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Turkmenistan, Land and Resources

Turkmenistan covers an area of 488,100 sq km (188,500 sq mi), making it the second largest country in Central Asia, after Kazakhstan. The entire central part of the country is occupied by one of the largest sand deserts in the world, the Garagum. About four-fifths of the country is steppe (semiarid grassy plain) that is part of the southern portion of the vast Turan lowland.

Most of Turkmenistan lies at an elevation of 500 m (1,640 ft) or less. The Akdzhakaya Depression, located in the north central part of the country, is the lowest point in the republic at 110 m (360 ft) below sea level. The Kopetdag mountains, which are prone to violent earthquakes,fringe the Garagum desert along the country’s southern border with Iran. Along the mountain foothills is a belt of oases, which are fed by mountain streams.

Freshwater resources are scant in Turkmenistan, and extensive canal systems are crucial conduits for irrigation and drinking water. The mountain streams of Turkmenistan dissipate upon reaching the arid sands and parched clay of the Garagum, so Turkmenistan’s only significant water sources are rivers that originate in other countries. The Amu Darya, which originates in the mountainous Pamirs region of Tajikistan east of Turkmenistan and forms part of the country’s border with Uzbekistan, and the Murgap, which originates in Afghanistan, are the two largest permanent rivers. Water from the Amu Darya and the Murgap is diverted into the Garagum Canal (built during the Soviet period) to supply water to the arid southern portions of Turkmenistan. Other canals divert water from the Amu Darya in the northern part of the country. The Caspian Sea, a landlocked saltwater lake, forms Turkmenistan’s entire western border. The most prominent feature along the Caspian shoreline is the Garabogazkol Gulf, which occupies a sizable portion of northwestern Turkmenistan.

Plant life is sparse in the vast, arid desert, where only drought-resistant grasses and desert scrub grow. The mountain valleys in the south support wild grapevines, fig plants, and ancient forests of wild walnut trees. The mountain slopes are covered with forests of juniper and pistachio trees. Dense thickets called tugai grow along riverbanks. The wildlife in the mountains of Turkmenistan includes the caracal (or Persian lynx), goats, cheetahs, and snow leopards. In the desert, gazelles, foxes, and wildcats thrive. In the tugai live jackals, wild boar, and the rare pink deer. Reptiles are abundant and include the Central Asian cobra, the desert monitor (a large lizard), several species of gecko (a small lizard), and the tortoise. Migratory birds, such as ducks, geese, and swans, inhabit the Caspian shore during winter.

Turkmenistan has substantial reserves of oil and natural gas in the Caspian Sea area and in the Garagum desert. Other natural resources include deposits of coal, sulfur, magnesium, and salt. Only 4 percent of the country’s total land area is cultivated, nearly all of which (16,300 sq km/ 6,293 sq mi) is irrigated.

The climate of Turkmenistan is desert continental, with cold winters and very hot summers. For most of the country, the average daily temperature in January ranges from -6° to 5°C (21° to 41°F), while in July it is 27° to 32°C (81° to 90°F). Average annual precipitation ranges from 80 to 400 mm (3 to 16 in), although two-thirds of the country receives 150 mm (6 in) or less.

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