Uzbekistan's natural world is very diverse. It is composed of desert areas and snowy mountains, rivers and completely dry lands. The most part of its territory lies in the Turon plain, where there are no sudden steep-drops and hills. The Turon plate and mainland, which later became the Tian Shan and Pamir -Alai Mountains, were formed in the Paleolithic period. Later, the sea covered the plate for a long time. The mountain chains are thought to have fully developed during the Alps orogenesis. The mountain ranges blocked the humidity from the Indian Ocean. It caused considerable climatic change: the weather became dry and huge desert areas appeared. As rivers and winds kept changing their directions, the upper layer of soil was continuously displaced from one place to another. It led to the formation of the Kyzyl Kum and Kara Kum deserts.
Mountains and foothills make up about one-fifth of the territory of Uzbekistan. The highest point is 4,643 meters. Mountains cover the east of the country. Uzbekistan embraces western parts of the Tian Shan and Pamir-Alai mountain ranges, respectively. The mountain ranges are very different: there is a sharp contrast of heights, foothills, canyons, and watersheds.
There are also small mountains such as Aktau, Karakchitau and the western part of the Zarafshon mountain range with their smooth shape. Rather big depressions stretch between the mountains: Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya, Zarafshon, and Samarkand. The largest depression is the Ferghana Valley - 370 km long and 190 km wide. It is surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides except on the western face. On the border with Afghanistan, there is the huge Amu Darya depression.
Numerous deposits of oil and gas have been discovered on the plains such as Gazli, Shakhpakhti, and others, of naturally formed salt in Borsakelmas, and materials used in construction elsewhere.
Deposits of coal (Angren, Shargun, and Boysun), precious, non-ferrous and rare metals, fluorite, and construction materials go back to the early stage of orogenesis.
A distinctive feature of Uzbekistan's natural conditions is that the country is located in a seismologic zone. In the last two centuries the country has experienced numerous of disastrous earthquakes, including in Ferghana (1823), in Andijan (1889 and 1902), and Tashkent (1866, 1868, and 1966). Seismologic movement is more active in mountain areas than in plains. Special construction models are used in buildings in active seismological zones.
Uzbekistan’s flora comprises of more than 3,700 species of plants. 20% of plants are endemic ones (can not be found in other places); major part of them grow in mountains. Flora of steppes and deserts consists of unique bushes. Wooden, bushy, grassy plants are well developed in low plains. Tugays feature reeds and kendyrs.
Landscape of submountainous plains is characterized by grass, there are no trees, and bushes may be found along the water flows. Various species of onion, tulips, rhubarb, irises grow here. High foothills feature dry steppes with motley grass on gray earth. Ushes such as almond-tree, kurchava, cherry grove grow on stony sites.
The most valuable wood species - Zerafshani archa grows in lower mountains. Deciduous species such as maple, hawthorn, various sorts of wild apple-trees, pistachio-tree, walnut-tree, birch, willow, poplar, cherry-tree are also widespread. Lower mountains are rich in bushes: honeysuckle, barberry, dog-rose, meadow-sweet, bushes of wild grape. Grasses are also very diverse: muscat sage, rhubarb, tulip, Pskem onion (precious herb). Middle mountains feature dog-rose and other bushes. Only 30% of high mountains are covered with plants. Mostly tipchak grows here.
Like flora, Uzbekistan’s fauna is also very diverse. One can find many representatives of Asian fauna. Among them are: mammals (wolf, big-eared hedgehog, vixen, hare - toloy, tortoise, djeyran, saygak, wild boar, spiral horny billy-goat, mountain sheep, badger, stone marten, bear, snow leopard, ermine, Siberian mountain billy-goat, lamellitoothed rat, jacal, Bukharan deer, Bukharan, sharp-eared night gopher, jerboa), reptiles (heccons, agama, sand boa, arrow-snake, Central Asian cobra, quadristripe sledge runner, Alay , birds (pretty bustard, dun goatsucker, jay, shrike, mountain finch, bunting, lentil, grand turtle-dove, black griffon, lammergeyer, bearded vulture, jackdow, pheasant, cuckoo, yellow wagtail, magpie, black crow, southern nightingale, whiskered tomtit, cane bunting,), insects, etc.
Water resources of Uzbekistan - sea, rivers, lakes
The Aral Sea
The Sea is a saline endorheic basin in Central Asia; it lies between Kazakhstan (Aktobe and Kyzylorda provinces) in the north and Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan, in the south. The name roughly translates as "Sea of Islands", referring to more than 1,534 islands that once dotted its waters.
Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world with an area of 68,000 square kilometres (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects. By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into four lakes – the North Aral Sea and the eastern and western basins of the once far larger South Aral Sea and one smaller lake between North and South Aral Sea. By 2009, the south-eastern lake had disappeared and the south-western lake retreated to a thin strip at the extreme west of the former southern sea. The maximum depth of the North Aral Sea is 42 m (138 ft) (as of 2008).
The region's once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. The Aral Sea region is also heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. The retreat of the sea has reportedly also caused local climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.The destruction of the Aral Sea ecosystem has been sudden and severe. Beginning in the 1960s, agricultural demands have deprived this large Central Asian salt lake of enough water to sustain itself, and it has shrunk rapidly. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian states use this water to grow cotton and other export crops, in the face of widespread environmental consequences, including fisheries loss, water and soil contamination, and dangerous levels of polluted airborne sediments. It is generally agreed that the current situation is unsustainable, but export dependency of the Central Asian states have prevented real action, and the sea continues to shrink.
It is no exaggeration to say that the case of the Aral Sea is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes ever recorded. Humans have made use of the waters of the Aral basin for thousands of years, borrowing from its two major rivers: the Amu Darya, which flows into the Aral Sea from the south; and the Syr Darya, which reaches the sea at its north end. As the twentieth century began, irrigated agriculture in the basin was still being conducted at asustainable level. After the Russian Empire was replaced by the Soviet Union, this began to change. Traditional agricultural practices were destroyed by collectivization, and Soviet planners sought products that could be exported for hard currency. They placed cotton high on their list, calling it `white gold,' and the Soviet Union became a net exporter of cotton in 1937. Change accelerated in the 1950s, as Central Asian irrigated agriculture was expanded and mechanized. The Kara Kum Canal opened in 1956, diverting large amounts of water from the Amu Darya into the desert of Turkmenistan, and millions of hectares of land came under irrigation after 1960. A crucial juncture had been reached, and after 1960 the level of the Aral Sea began to drop, while diversion of water continued to increase. While the sea had been receiving about fifty cubic kilometers of water per year in 1965, by the early 1980s this had fallen to zero. As the Aral shrank, its salinity increased, and by 1977 the formerly large fish catch had declined by over seventy-five percent. By the early 1980s, commercially useful fish had been eliminated, shutting down an industry that had employed 60,000. The declining sea level lowered the water table in the region, destroying many oases near its shores. The devotion to irrigated agriculture had other direct effects as well. Much ecologically sensitive land in the river deltas was converted to cropland, and pesticide use was heavy throughout the Aral basin, resulting in heavy contaminant concentrations in the sea. Overirrigation caused salt buildup in many agricultural areas. By the beginning of the 1990s, the surface area of the Aral had shrunk by nearly half, and the volume was down by seventy-five percent. A host of secondary effects began to appear. Regional climate became more continental, shortening the growing season and causing some farmers to switch from cotton to rice, which demanded even more diverted water. The exposed area of former seabed was now over 28,000 square kilometers, from which winds picked up an estimated 43 million tons of sediments laced with salts and pesticides, with devastating health consequences for surrounding regions. These contaminated Aral dust storms have been reported as far away as the Arctic and Pakistan. Respiratory illnesses were particularly common, and throat cancers burgeoned. Regional vegetation loss may have increased albedo, possible reducing precipitation.
The Amu Darya River
The Amu Darya was called the Oxus by the ancient Greeks. In ancient times, the river was regarded as the boundary between Irān and Tūrān. The river's drainage lies in the area between the former empires of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, although they occurred at much different times. One southern route of the Silk Road ran along part of the Amu Darya northwestward from Termez before going westwards to the Caspian Sea.
It is believed that the Amu Darya's course across the Kara-Kum Desert has gone through several major shifts in the past few thousand years. Much of the time, the most recent period being in the 13th century to the late 16th century, the Amu Darya emptied into both the Aral and the Caspian Seas, the latter via a large distributary called the Uzboy River. The Uzboy splits off from the main channel just south of the Amudarya Delta. Sometimes, the flow through the two branches was more or less equal, but often, most of the Amu Darya's flow split to the west and flowed into the Caspian.
People began to settle along the lower Amu Darya and the Uzboy in the 5th century A.D., establishing a thriving chain of agricultural lands, towns, and cities. The river was impounded in about 985 A.D. at the bifurcation of the forks by the massive Gurganj Dam, which diverted water to the Aral. The dam was destroyed by Genghis Khan's troops in 1221, and the Amu Darya shifted its flows more or less equally between the main stem and the Uzboy. But in the 18th century, the river again turned north, flowing into the Aral Sea, a path it has taken since. Less and less water flowed down the Uzboy until, in the 1720s, the river's surface flow completely dried up. The first British explorer to reach the region in the Great Game period was a naval officer called John Wood. He was sent on an expedition to find the source of the river in 1839. He found modern day Lake Zorkul, called it Lake Victoria and proclaimed he had found the source.
The Soviet Union became the ruling power in the 20th century. The Soviet Union fell in the 1990s and Central Asia split up into the many smaller countries that lie within or partially within the Amu Darya basin. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya were first used by the Soviets to irrigate extensive cotton fields in the Central Asian plain. Before this time, water from the rivers was already being used for agriculture, but not on this massive scale. The Qaraqum Canal, Karshi Canal, and Bukhara Canal were among the larger of the irrigation diversions built. The Main Turkmen Canal was a proposed project that would have diverted water along the dry Uzboy River bed into central Turkmenistan, but was never built.
The river's total length is 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) and its drainage basin totals 534,739 square kilometres (206,464 sq mi) in area, providing a mean discharge of around 97.4 cubic kilometres (23.4 cu mi) of water per year. The river is navigable for over 1,450 kilometres (900 mi). All of the water comes from the high mountains in the south where annual precipitation can be over 1,000 mm (39 in). Even before large-scale irrigation began, high summer evaporation meant that not all of this discharge reached the Aral Sea - though there is some evidence the large Pamir glaciers provided enough melt water for the Aral to overflow during the 13th and 14th centuries A.D.
One source of the Amu Darya is the Pamir River, which emerges from Lake Zorkul (once also known as Lake Victoria) in the Pamir Mountains (ancient Mount Imeon), and flows west to Qila-e Panja, where it joins the Wakhan River to form the Panj River. Another claimed source of the Amu Darya is an ice cave at the end of the Wakhjir valley, in the Wakhan Corridor, in the Pamir Mountains, near the border with Pakistan. A glacier turns into the Wakhan River and joins the Pamir River about 50 kilometres (31 mi) downstream.
The Panj River forms the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It flows west to Ishkashim where it turns north and then east north-west through the Pamirs passing the Tajik-Afghan Friendship Bridge. It subsequently forms the border of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan for about 200 kilometres (120 mi), passing Termez and the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge. It delineates the border of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan for another 100 kilometres (62 mi) before it flows into Turkmenistan at Atamyrat. As the Amudarya, it flows across Turkmenistan south to north, passing Türkmenabat, and forms the border of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from Halkabat. It is then split into many waterways that are used to form the river delta joining the Aral Sea, passing Urgench, Daşoguz and other cities, but it does not reach what is left of the sea anymore and is lost in the desert.
Use of water from the Amu Darya for irrigation has been a major contributing factor to the shrinking of the Aral Sea since the late 1950s.
The Sir Darya River
The name, which comes from Persian and has long been used in the East, is a relatively recent one in western writings; prior to the early 20th century, the river was known by various versions of its ancient Greek name. Following the Battle of Jaxartes the river marked the northernmost limit of Alexander the Great's conquests. Greek historians have claimed that here in 329 BC he founded the city Alexandria Eschate (literally, "Alexandria the Furthest") as a permanent garrison. The city is now known as Khujand. In reality, he had just renamed (and possibly, expanded) the city of Cyropolis founded by king Cyrus the Great of Persia, more than two centuries earlier.
The river rises in two headstreams in the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan and eastern Uzbekistan—the Naryn River and the Kara Darya—and flows for some 2,212 kilometres (1,374 mi) west and north-west Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan to the remains of the Aral Sea. The Syr Darya drains an area of over 800,000 square kilometres (310,000 sq mi), but no more than 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi) actually contribute significant flow to the river. Its annual flow is a very modest 37 cubic kilometres (30,000,000 acre·ft) per year—half that of its sister river, the Amu Darya.
Along its course, the Syr Darya irrigates the most fertile cotton-growing region in the whole of Central Asia, together with the towns of Kokand, Khujand, Kyzylorda and Turkestan.
An extensive system of canals, many built in the 18th century by the Uzbek Khanate of Kokand, spans the regions the river flows through. Massive expansion of irrigation canals during the Soviet period, to irrigate cotton fields, caused ecological damage to the area, with the river drying up long before reaching the Aral Sea which, as a result, has shrunk to a small remnant of its former size. With millions of people now settled in these cotton areas, it is not clear how the situation can be rectified.
The Zarafshan River
Zeravshan River is a river in Central Asia. Its name, "sprayer of gold" in Persian, refers to the presence of gold-bearing sands in the upper reaches of the river. To the ancient Greeks it was known as the 'Polytimetus'. It was also formerly known as Sughd River.
It rises at 39°30′N 70°35′E / 39.5°N 70.583°E / 39.5; 70.583 on the fringes of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, flowing due west for some 300 kilometres (190 mi), passing Penjikent before entering Uzbekistan at 39°32′N 67°27′E / 39.533°N 67.45°E / 39.533; 67.45, where it turns west-to-north-west, flowing past the legendary city of Samarkand, which is entirely dependent on the oasis thus created, until it bends left again to the west north of Navoiy and further to the south-west, passing Bukhara before it is lost in the desert beyond the city of Qorako‘l (Karakul), not quite reaching the Amu Darya, of which it was formerly a tributary.
The Chirchik River
The Chirchiq or Chirchik is a river of Uzbekistan. It is 155 km in length and it has an area of 14,900 km ².
The river is formed at the confluence of the Chatkal River and Pskem River. It flows through abouut 30 km of canyon in the upper reaches. Below the valley widens and eventually joins the Syr Darya.
The Aydarkul Lake
The Aydar Lake is part of the man-made Aydar-Arnasay system of lakes, which covers an area of 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 mi²). This system includes 3 brackish water lakes (Aydar Kul, Arnasay and Tuzkan) located in the saline depressions of the south-eastern Kyzyl Kum (now in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). The lakes are the unintentional byproduct of Soviet planning.
Up to the middle of the last century the Arnasay lowland remained a dry Salt pan during most of the year. Only in Spring, in the lowlands, would the small, ephemeral Lake Tuzkan glisten briefly, disappearing in the hot weather.
In the early sixties the Syr Darya was dammed up. Simultaneously the Chardarya irrigation dam was constructed. Floodgates were provided in the dam for flood control, and when in 1969 a raging flood occurred, these were opened as the dam's capacity was inadequate to cope with the flow. Between February 1969 and February 1970 almost 60% of the Syr Darya's average annual water flow (21 km³) was drained from the Chardarya Reservoir into the Arnasay lowland. In such a way new lakes were unintentionally created. Since 1969 the Aydar Lake has regularly received the waters of the Syr Darya River when they overflow the capacity of the Chardarya Reservoir. This has gradually filled up the natural cavity of Arnasay lowland to create the second largest lake in the region (after the remains of the Aral Sea).
In 2005 the Aydar Lake contained 44.3 cubic kilometers of water. Today the area of the Aydar Lake amounts 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 mi²). It is nearly 250 km (160 miles) long and up to 15 km (9 miles) wide. The mineralization of the water in the Aydar Lake averages only 2 grams per liter (2,000 ppm).
Many sorts of fish including the (Sazan) (Cyprinus caprio), Pike perch (Stizostedion lucioperca), Bream (Abramis brama), Cat-fish (Silurus glanis), Hzereh (Aspius aspius), Chehon (Pelecus cultratus) Ophidian fish (Channa argus) were introduced to the Lake, which nowadays works as a source of industrial fishing. The lake system provides between 760 and 2,000 tones of fish annually (according to statistical data between 1994 and 2001).
In addition to fauna common in the Kyzyl Kum, there are many kinds of water birds migrating from the Aral Sea that make their homes around the lake.
The Aydar Lake is located away from inhabited localities, therefore there is perfect silence around the lake. At the present time 345 families (approx. 1,760 people) reside near the lake.
The region of the Aydar Lake is an area of great potential for fishing, yurting and camel-back riding tourist activities.