Deserts of the World the Gobi Desert

About the Gobi desert, size, history, and geography of the great Chinese desert in the world.



The Gobi is a cold, flat tableland that covers the southern half of the Mongolian People's Republic and the northernmost section of the People's Republic of China, a total area of approximately 500,000 sq. mi. Lying between latitudes 40 deg. and 50 deg. N, the Gobi is the northernmost of all deserts. It owes its aridity to its high elevation, its landlocked position, and the arc of mountains--the Altais, the Himalayas, and other ranges to the south--that block out moisture-laden clouds. Its annual precipitation ranges from 2.7 in. in the west to 8 in. in the northeast. During the summer, temperatures soar to 100 deg. F and above. In the winter, however, dry Arctic winds sweep down and send the thermometer plunging to as low as-40 deg. F. During the long winter, the parched earth is covered with snow. Much of the Gobi lies at elevations of over 4,000 ft.

This remote, forbidding region of Asia was first described for Europeans by Marco Polo in the 13th century. Except for a few dunes in the arid southwest, most of the Gobi is plainland, covered with small stones smoothed by wind erosion, and dry, grassy steppes used by the Mongols for grazing sheep. These nomads live in yurts, tentlike huts that can be easily transported. They have been joined in recent years by increasing numbers of Chinese who have moved into the area to farm. However, the population remains at fewer than three people per square mile.

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