Asia can be divided into five major physical regions: mountain systems; plateaus; plains, steppes, and deserts; freshwater environments; and saltwater environments.
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Mountain Systems The Himalaya mountains extend for about 2, kilometers 1, miles , separating the Indian subcontinent from the rest of Asia. The Indian subcontinent, once connected to Africa, collided with the Eurasian continent about 50 million to 55 million years ago, forming the Himalayas. The Indian subcontinent is still crashing northward into Asia, and the Himalayas are growing about 5 centimeters 2 inches every year. The Himalayas cover more than , square kilometers , square miles , passing through the northern states of India and making up most of the terrain of Nepal and Bhutan.
The Himalayas are so vast that they are composed of three different mountain belts. The northernmost belt, known as the Great Himalayas, has the highest average elevation at 6, meters 20, feet.
The belt contains nine of the highest peaks in the world, which all reach more than 7, meters 26, feet tall. This belt includes the highest mountain summit in the world, Mount Everest, which stands at 8, meters 29, feet. The Tien Shan mountain system stretches for about 2, kilometers 1, miles , straddling the border between Kyrgyzstan and China. Tien Shan also has more than 10, square kilometers 3, square miles of glaciers. The largest glacier is Engil'chek Glacier, which is about 60 kilometers 37 miles long.
The Ural Mountains run for approximately 2, kilometers 1, miles in an indirect north-south line from Russia to Kazakhstan. Millions of years of erosion have lowered the mountains significant ly, and today their average elevation is between and 1, meters 3, to 4, feet.
The highest peak is Mount Narodnaya at 1, meters 6, feet. Plateaus Asia is home to many plateau s, areas of relatively level high ground. The Iranian plateau covers more than 3. The plateau is not uniformly flat, but contains some high mountains and low river basin s. The highest mountain peak is Damavand, at 5, meters 18, feet.
The plateau also has two large deserts, the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut. The Deccan Plateau makes up most of the southern part of India. It is bordered by three mountain ranges: the Satpura Range in the north, and the Eastern and Western Ghats on either side. The plateau and its main waterways—the Godavari and Krishna rivers—gently slope toward the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal. The Tibetan Plateau is usually considered the largest and highest area ever to exist in the history of Earth. These glaciers contain the largest volume of ice outside the pole s.
It extends from north to south about 2, kilometers 1, miles and from west to east about 1, kilometers 1, miles. Central Asia is dominated by a steppe landscape, a large area of flat, unforested grassland. Mongolia can be divided into different steppe zones: the mountain forest steppe, the arid steppe, and the desert steppe.
The desert is known as the Empty Quarter because it is virtually inhospitable to humans except for Bedouin tribes that live on its edges. Freshwater Lake Baikal, located in southern Russia, is the deepest lake in the world, reaching a depth of 1, meters 5, feet. The Yangtze is considered the lifeblood of China.
The land between the two rivers, known as Mesopotamia , was the center of the earliest civilizations, including Sumer and the Akkadian Empire. Today, the Tigris-Euphrates river system is under threat from increased agricultural and industrial use. These pressures have caused desertification and increased salts in the soil , severely damaging local watershed habitat s.
Saltwater The Persian Gulf has an area of more than , square kilometers 90, square miles. The gulf is subject to high rates of evaporation , making it shallow and extremely salty. The countries that border the gulf have engaged in a number of disputes over this rich resource. The Sea of Okhotsk covers 1. The sea is largely frozen between October and March. Large ice floe s make winter navigation almost impossible. The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay in the world, covering almost 2. Many large rivers, including the Ganges and Brahmaputra, empty into the bay. The briny wetlands formed by the Ganges-Brahmaputra on the Bay of Bengal is the largest delta in the world.
Because China has such diverse landscapes, from the arid Gobi Desert to the tropical rain forest s of Yunnan Province, many flower s can adapt to climate s all over the world. From roses to peonies, many familiar flowers most likely originate d in northern China. China is the likely origin of such fruit trees as peaches and oranges. China is also home to the dawn redwood, the only redwood tree found outside North America. In the Himalayas, communities use yak s as beasts of burden. Yaks are large animals related to cattle, but with a thick fiber coat and the ability to survive in the oxygen-poor high altitude of the mountains.
Yaks are not only used for transportation and for pulling plow s, but their coats are sources of warm, hardy fiber. Yak milk is used for butter and cheese. In the Mongolian steppe, the two-humped Bactrian camel is the traditional beast of burden. Bactrian camels are critically endangered in the wild. Its size and ability to adapt to hardship make it an ideal pack animal.
Bactrians can actually outrun horses over long distances. These camels were the traditional animals used in caravan s on the Silk Road , the legendary trade route linking eastern Asia with India and the Middle East.
Aquatic Flora and Fauna The freshwater and marine habitats of Asia offer incredible biodiversity. Aquatic life has been able to evolve for millions of years relatively undisturbed, producing a rich variety of flora and fauna. It has 1, species of animals and species of plants. The Baikal seal, for instance, is one of the few freshwater seal species in the world. The Baikal seal feeds primarily on the Baikal oil fish and the omul. Migration across those barriers has been possible only through mountain passes.
A historical movement of population from the arid zones of Central Asia has followed the mountain passes into the Indian subcontinent. More recent migrations have originated in China , with destinations throughout Southeast Asia. The Korean and Japanese peoples and, to a lesser extent, the Chinese have remained ethnically more homogeneous than the populations of other Asian countries.
There is a concentration of population in western Asia as well as great concentrations in the Indian subcontinent and the eastern half of China. There are also appreciable concentrations in the Pacific borderlands and on the islands, but vast areas of Central and North Asia—whose forbidding climates limit agricultural productivity—have remained sparsely populated.
Of those, only Christianity developed primarily outside of Asia; it exerts little influence on the continent, though many Asian countries have Christian minorities. Buddhism has had a greater impact outside its birthplace in India and is prevalent in various forms in China, South Korea , Japan, the Southeast Asian countries, and Sri Lanka.
The Greeks used it to designate the lands situated to the east of their homeland. The desert is known as the Empty Quarter because it is virtually inhospitable to humans except for Bedouin tribes that live on its edges. In , the settlement of George Town was founded at the northeastern tip of Penang Island by Captain Francis Light , under the administration of Sir John Macpherson ; this marked the beginning of British expansion into the Malay Peninsula. The physical geography of Southeast Asia includes beaches, bays, inlets, and gulfs. Southeast Asia can be divided into two geographic regions. The plateau and its main waterways—the Godavari and Krishna rivers—gently slope toward the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal.
Islam has spread out of Arabia eastward to South and Southeast Asia. Hinduism has been mostly confined to the Indian subcontinent. This article surveys the physical and human geography of Asia. For discussion of individual countries of the continent, see specific articles by name—e. For discussion of major cities of the continent, see specific articles by name—e. The principal treatment of Asian historical and cultural development is contained in the articles on Asian countries, regions, and cities and in the articles Palestine, history of and Islamic world.
Related topics are discussed in articles on religion e. Asia continent. Chapman Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan Joseph E. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. The first rebellions against the European imperial system had occurred on the rimlands of Asia at the start of the 20th…. Facts Matter. Start Your Free Trial Today. Load Next Page. Additional Reading. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students.