GEOGRAPHY OF TAJIKISTAN
The Republic of Tajikistan is located in Central Asia between latitudes 36о 40‘ and 41о 05‘ N and longitudes 67о 31‘ and 75о 14‘ E, on the same latitude as Greece, Southern Italy and Spain. It encompasses an area of 143,100km stretching 700km from east to west and 350km from north to south. The country borders on the People’s Republic of China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. South-eastern Tajikistan is only separated from Pakistan by a narrow strip of Afghan territory 15-65km wide. The terrain in the west of the country is hilly desert and semi-desert. To the east the elevation rises to form the highest mountain systems in Central Asia – the Tien Shan and the Pamirs.(www.tdc.tj)
Mountain peaks are the source of numerous tributaries which flow into Tajikistan’s main rivers – Syr Darya, Panj and Vakhsh (the Amu Darya begins at the merging of these two rivers). Most of the border with Afghanistan follows the Panj and Amu Darya Rivers. Three majestic mountainous ranges mark the country: the Tien Shan, the Alai, and the Pamir Darvoz, with elevations ranging between 300 and 7,495m above sea level. The region is generally divided into the following natural zones, with climates ranging from dry subtropics to areas of perpetual snow:
– lowlands - plains – 400-500m;
– low-altitude – 500-1,000m;
– medium-altitude – 1,000-2,000m;
– high-altitude – 2,000-3,500m;
– highest-altitude – 5,500-7,400m.
Tajikistan is 93% mountainous with more than half of the country sitting at altitudes over 3,000m above sea level. Several well-known mountain peaks are over 7,000m, such as Ismoili Somoni Peak (formerly Communism Peak, renamed in 2000) – 7,495m, Lenin Peak – 7,134m, and Eugeniya Korzhenevskaya Peak – 7,105m. Many others over 6,000m are situated here. The Pamir plateau, which is around 800km long, with altitudes ranging from 5-7,000m above sea level, is known as the highest region in Central Asia (apart form Tibet). The Pamir region, also known as the “Roof of the World”, can be described as a large high-altitude plateau with wide, flat-bottomed, grassy (and sometimes swampy) valleys, with slow rivers and streams.(www.tdc.tj)
The area of Ismoili Somoni Peak is frequently considered to be the Pamir mountain junction, from which other great mountain ranges stretch in different directions: the Himalayas and Karakoram ranges to the southeast, the Hindu Kush to the south-west, Kunlun Shan Lake Big Allo. Fan mountings to the east and the Tien Shan to the north-east. These mountains were formed more than 100 million years ago as a result of powerful tectonic movements in the earth’s crust.
The Topography of the land is characterized by mountain ranges with their numerous glaciers and snowcapped peaks interspersed with valleys (Zarafshon, Qarategin, Badakhshan and others smaller in size), where farming is developed and settlements with industrial plants are situated. Oases such as Kulob-Vakhsh, Hissar, and Khujand make up about 7% of the area. The Soil is unique in its diversity according to elevation. Simply by looking at the elevation the following soil belts can be identified:
1) Valley: lowlands with grey soil;
2) Midlands: mountainous with mountainous brown soil;
3) Highland: mountainous with high-mountainous meadow-prairie, steppe, desert-prairie, hard and desert soil;
4) Highest altitude: rottenstone soil in cracks of high-mountainous rocks and hollows.
The Climate in Tajikistan is continental with sharp variations in daily and seasonal temperatures, featuring high-intensity solar radiation, aridity, clear skies and an uneven distribution of precipitation between the seasons. The ruggedness of the terrain plays an important role in the distribution of heat and moisture. Rainfall and air temperature differ drastically depending on the elevation and location of mountains. In Central Tajikistan, at altitudes of 1,500-2,000m, the annual rainfall is 1,800mm, while in the south of the country, at altitudes of 300 - 500m it drops to 200mm. In the Eastern Pamirs, at 4,000m altitude, the average is only 60mm. There are about 275 sunny days per year.
The air temperature also varies between the different altitudes and areas. The winter in Shahrituz (in the south) could be as warm as 20оC, while in the Pamirs in the Bulunkul Lake area it may be as low as -63оC. The weather at altitudes below 1,000m is generally characterized by a higher average air temperature and relatively low rainfall.
The average annual rainfall at altitudes 1,200–3,200m is 560–650mm.
The average annual temperatureis +5.4оC. From June to October, dust storms are frequent. Dust remains in the air for several days at a time, and only heavy rains allow the dust to settle.
The Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins consist of about 1,000 rivers and temporary streams, which are part of the largest system in Central Asia. There are more than 2,000 lakes here, containing 44km3 of water, including 20km3 of fresh water. The largest lakes of Tajikistan (Qarakul, Rangkul, Zorkul, Sarez, and Yashilkul) are in the Pamirs. The total volume of water of in the Pamir lakes is 43km3, including 26.6km3 of saltwater in Qarakul Lake and about 17km3 of freshwater in Sarez Lake, which formed in 1911 as a result of a blockage in the Murghob River bed during an earthquake. Significant resources of water – 460km3 - are concentrated in glaciers (more than 11,000 in total). They occupy about 7,820km2 or 5.5% of the total area of the country. One of the largest mountain-valley glaciers in the world – Fedchenko Glacier (652km2, about 70km in length) is situated in the Pamirs. Tajikistan contains 60% of all Central Asia’s glaciers and most of them are in the north and east Pamirs. The total water yield of rivers passing through Tajikistan is 65km3. About 52km3 of this comes from within the country, but Tajiks only use about 11km3, the rest being allotted to neighbouring countries (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan). About 50% of the Aral Sea’s annual water yield comes from Tajikistan. Many mountainous rivers are characterized by steep gradients – up to 40 m/km. From May to August river floods may be observed, and the river water is at its muddiest. During the summer period 15 rivers are used solely for watering basic crops. Tajikistan is the second highest-ranked CIS country (after the Russian Federation) for water reserves, and the highest among the Central Asian states. The potential electricity-generating capacity of the large and medium rivers of Tajikistan is 283 billion kWh annually, which is 54.3 % of the potential power output of all Central Asia.(www.tdc.tj)
The drinking water supply comes from both open reservoirs and ground water. Tajikistan is rich in hot springs. Some are very hot indeed, with temperatures of up to 95оС on discharge. Among the hottest are the waters of Khoja Obigarm (from 38о - 95оС), Kauk (76оС), Yashilkul (69оС), Jilandi (66.5оС), Elisu (63.5оС), Jartygumbez (63оС), Tokuzbulak (62оС), Garm Chashma (60оС), and Obigarm (41о -55оС). Warm springs include Kyzylrabat (38.5оС), Shirgin (36оС), Avj (34оС), and Bakhmyr (38оС). Most of the springs are either carbonaceous or siliceous. There are also radon and chalybeate thermal springs, but significantly fewer of these are found. Thermal waters have not yet been investigated well, and their deposits have neither been thoroughly explored nor their reserves approved. So far, only the waters of Khoja Obigarm, Obigarm, Garm Chashma, Kaltuch, Avj, Jilandi and Jartygumbez springs have been opened up for therapeutic purposes, and in most of them elementary hydrotherapy facilities are functioning. Other springs are used only by the local population. Jilandi spring may be of commercial importance (for the establishment of greenhouses), as drilling has identified hot water reserves of 56 l/sec at temperatures ranging from 50о-80оС. The abundance of geothermal springs with sufficient discharge, temperature and appropriate mineral composition may allow the establishment of greenhouses, therapeutic clinics, recreation areas, heating grids, facilities for extraction of microelements, growing highproteinalgae, and breeding heat-loving fish species.(www.tdc.tj)
Tajikistan’s diverse, mountainous landscape contributes to the wide variety of plant life found here. The dramatic differences in climate account for much of the variation: in less than 1-1.5 hours, you can fly from the tropical heat of Vakhsh valley to the arctic chill of perpetual snows in the Pamirs. In Tajikistan there are about 5,000 species of flowering plants, 1,000 species of algae, more than 1,500 species of mushrooms, about 500 species of lichens and 500 species of bryophytes. At least 10 genus and more than 1,000 species are almost unique to the country. About 400 different herbs are widely used by the population. More than 100 species of nourishing and vitamin- containing plants grow in the country, as well as about 60 species of volatile-oil-bearing plants. There are about 100 species of tanning plants, more than 80 dyeproducing plants, more than 100 nectar-producing plants and more than 120 species of ornamental plants. There is also a wide variety of oil-bearing crops, fibrous and cellulose plants. Fodder crops compose about 30% of the natural flora. In early spring the valleys and foothills are covered with a bright carpet of flowers: poppies, buttercups, and bluebells. Saksaul (haloxylon), wormwood, artemisia, camelsthorn (alhagi camelorum), and numerous types of saltwort (salsola) add their green to the picture. River flood-plains are filled with dense bushes – a kind of Central Asian jungle composed of tamarisk, reed, thorny Central Asian oleaster, Asian poplar, and clematis twisting with liana and giant erianthus, left over from prehistoric times.(www.tdc.tj)
Delights to the eye include the deep-green crowns of pistachio trees, hawthorn, wild almond, maple, walnut, and juniper. Such valuable trees as wild pomegranate and fig can also be found occasionally. In some valleys in Hissar-Alai it is possible to see the native and ancient ostrovskia magnifica flower, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This is one surviving souvenir of the long-lost ancient forests. The tulip, the ancestor of its world-famous derivatives, is considered the true pride of Tajikistan’s flora. In the upper limit of the alpine zone, at 4,000 – 5,500m above sea level, temperature-insensitive plants such as teresken (Сeratoides Krascheninnikovia) and a variety of cushion flowers predominate in the steppes and meadows. At present, forests account for 3% of the country’s land.(www.tdc.tj)
The total area of Tajikistan’s State Forest Reserves is 1.7 million hectares. Ninety-eight percent of forests are state-owned property. Forests in Tajikistan have been significantly affected by man-made changes. About 170 years ago, forests covered a large portion of the presentday land area. At the beginning of the last century areas densely covered with bushes occupied up to 4.9% of the total area, while now they cover barely 0.6%. Deforestation has exceeded the natural growth of these forests by 1.5 to 3 times. Tajikistan’s plant life is suffering considerable deforestation. This can be explained not only by human influence but also by biological features of the flora. Most significant is the unusual development of surface root systems that do not allow the plants to take root. Tajikistan is a well-known centre of biodiversity and considered the place of origin for many crops, such as peas and wheat. Since ancient times the Tajik land has also been famous for its production of rye, legumes, flax, alfalfa, fruits, vegetables, and melons. During recent decades cotton has been the predominant crop, and up to 70% of irrigated land was allotted for it. Most of its harvest was used to satisfy the needs of the centrally-planned economy of the former Soviet Union. The country is rich in medicinal herbs with about 400 different species. This is approximately half of all the medicinal herbs known in the world. (www.tdc.tj)
The country is inhabited by 49 species of fish, 2 species of amphibians, 44 reptiles, 10,000 invertebrates, and 85 mammals, among which are such rare species like the Marco Polo sheep, the Bukhara red deer, and the desert antelope (gazella subgutturosa). One rare species of animal it is possible to find is the Tajik moufflon (urial), a subspecies of the Asian moufflon, which is an ancestor of our modern sheep. The snow leopard (ounce) is a beautiful, smart and strong predator (more than 2m long including its tail). It is a menace for rare animals such as the markhoor, a spiral- horned buck, and the Pamir argali (ovis ammon), the largest mountainous sheep in the world, whose weight can reach 200kg. Upstream from the Amu Darya River is a unique area, the Tigrovaya Balka preserve. It is the home of many rare animals and birds – leopards, jungle cats, hyenas, black-golden pheasants, desert partridges, serpent eagles, as well as the usual fauna for the area – wild boar, badgers, hares and porcupines. The Turan tiger was last seen in Tigrovaya Balka in 1953. Brown bears live in the dense bushes of the mountain forest. At altitudes of 3–4,000m in the Pamirs it is possible to see yaks (bos mutus). Here, near snowfields and among rare plants, marmots (marmota menzbieri kaschkarov) can also be found. More than 384 species and subspecies of birds nest in or fly over the territory of the country. Singing birds such as nightingales, orioles, buntings, thrushes and many others create a constant background symphony that never quietens down during springtime, not even at night. In the sky, large noble birds of prey hover, including the lammergeier eagle, griffons (gyps) and hawks (with a wing-span of 2.5m), and smaller ones such as kites and falcons. Another rare bird, the Himalayan snowcock, lives on rocky ridges. The Pamiri lakes are a favourite habitat for water birds, among which the Indian mountainous goose and Tibet Pallas sand grouse are particularly interesting.(www.tdc.tj)
The mountain partridge is common, and its beautiful singing makes it a popular pet in city apartments. In brightly painted sub-alpine meadows, live a variety of creatures, including map butterflies (araschnia levana), locusts, and beetles of varying sizes and colours. All serve as food for birds during the breeding of their quickly-growing offspring. Among Tajikistan’s reptile population you can find poisonous snakes such as the cobra, ebetina viper, and carpet viper (echis), and numerous non-poisonous snakes, such as grass and wood (coluber) snakes. The ancient giant lizard (sand crocodile), as well as several dozen kinds of smaller lizards live here.
The rivers and lakes hold carp (cyprinus carpio), fresh-water catfish (silurus), barbel, osman (diptychus), marinka (schizothorax), and trout. Downstream in the Vakhsh River the ancient shovelnose can still be found. Many examples of Tajikistan’s flora and fauna are listed in the International Red Book as rare or vanishing species, requiring protection or special care and attention.(www.tdc.tj)