Great Asian Peaks

The greatest collection of continental deserts is found in Asia—unsurprisingly, given its vast land area of some 33,391,162 square kilometers (17,139,445 sq. mi.). The Kara-Kum(see pp. 60–63), Taklimakan (see pp. 68–69), and Gobi (see pp. 70–73) deserts have all formed mainly owing to the continental effect. The formidable Gobi, for example, is more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 mi.) from any major body of water, while the virtually mountain-locked Taklimakan to its west is at a similar distance from the sea. The Kara- Kum, it is true, lies close to the Caspian Sea, but this relatively small, and shrinking, body of water is not sufficient to compensate for the desert’s remoteness from oceanic shores and moisture-bearing winds.

These Asian deserts also experience rain-shadow effects from the world’s largest, tallest mountain range, the Himalayas, which lies to the south and southwest. In this temperate zone, regular winds coming from the southwest drop heavy rain and thick snow on the Indian subcontinent and the windward sides of the peaks. To the north of the Himalayas, however, the air has run out of moisture. The Taklimakan is “rain-shaded” on the west and north, too—by the lofty Hindu Kush and Tian Shan mountain ranges respectively.