Stretching from the frozen Arctic to the equator, Asia is the world¡¦s largest continent. It is also a continent of extremes, containing the world's highest point, Mount Everest as well as its lowest, the Dead Sea. China has the world¡¦s greatest population, while Asia¡¦s largest country, the Russian federation, extends into Europe. This continent is separated form North America by the Bering Sea and from Europe by the Caspian Sea, Turkey and the Ural Mountains. In the southeast, it breaks into a mass of tiny islands.
Much of Southwest and Central Asia is covered with barren desert such as the Gobi and Syrian deserts. The Himalayan Mountains separate the bleak north from the fierce heat of the Indian subcontinent and the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. This continent has many great rivers, including the Huang He, Mekong and Indus, flanked by fertile plains and valleys.
Siberia, the northern region of Asia, has the oldest deepest, a eighth largest lake in the world. Lake Baikal which contains more than 20 percent of the world¡¦s unfrozen fresh water, reaches a depth of 1,637m (5,371ft). It covers a total area of 31,468sp km (12,150 sq miles).
Two Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia and the Philippines, have more than 20,000 islands between them. Most were formed by volcanic activity in the ocean and the region has active volcanoes. Southeast Asia is prone to earthquakes.
Cross Section through Asia:
From the Indian Ocean, the land rises to the Vindhya Range in Central Indian descending to the Ganges plain, watered by the Himalayas. In the east, the mountains drop to the great plain of China. Across the Yellow Sea, the Korean peninsula juts out near to Japan in the Pacific Ocean.
The snow¡Vcapped Himalayan Mountains, the highest range in the world, form a massive natural barrier between the Indian subcontinent and northern Asia. They were pushed up millions of years ago when the Indian planet collided with the Eurasian plate.
Asia has every kind of climate and landscape. In the far north, Siberia is covered in tundra where part of the ground is permanently frozen. South of the tundra are coniferous forests and open grasslands (Steppes). Central and Southwest Asia are mostly desert and mountains, while the East has deciduous forests. Tropical rainforests cover much of the South and Southeast.
In the bitterly cold and treeless tundra region of Siberia, the subsoil remains known as permafrost. With temperatures of less than - 10„aC (14„aF) and covered by snow for six to ten months of the year, the topsoil thaws only briefly in the summer. The tundra has rich mineral resources.
The Siberian taiga, which lies to the south of the tundra, is the world¡¦s largest coniferous forest. The main trees are spruce, fir, latch and pine. In the spring, much of the taiga becomes flooded as the lower reaches of the north flowing rivers thaw, while their mouths remain frozen. In summer some ground remains swampy. In winter it freezes.
The wide open grasslands that cover Mongolia and Southern Siberia are known as the steppes. Livestock is grazed on these broad, treeless plaints which in places merge into semi¡Vdesert. The soil is mostly fertile and with irrigation many areas have becomes productive farmland.
Asia has hot cold deserts as well as many regions of semi desert where animals can be grazed. Middle Eastern deserts are hot and dry all year, with cold nights. The Gobi and Taklimakan deserts of central Asia have scorching summers. But they are bitterly cold in winter.
Mangrove swamps are found along many coasts of Southern Asia from Indian to the Philippines. The mangrove trees have long and spreading toots producing a forest that looks as if it is on stilts. Logging and pollution are destroying many mangroves.
There are tropical rainforests in India, Southeast Asia and the Philippines. They flourish on the southern slopes of the Himalayas and in Burma (Myanmar), the Malay Peninsula and the western part of the island of Irian Jaya. Home to 40 per cent of all plant and animal species, the world¡¦s rainforests are threatened as people cut down trees for the Timber industry and to clear space for farming.
Asia has comparatively few broadleaf forests of deciduous trees that shed their levees in winter. They occur mainly in eastern Asia, including China, Japan and the Koreas or in Cooler upland areas such as the mountains of Nepal.
Asia contains two¡Vthirds of the world¡¦s population and the birth rate is still rising in many countries. Most people live in the southern and eastern regions and in the fertile river valleys. Many are farmers although increasing numbers are moving into expanding cities in search of work.
Asia¡¦s natural resources include farmland which provides work for 60 per cent of the people and the fishing grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Minerals include oil and natural gas from the Gulf States as well as bauxite, copper, coal diamonds, gold, iron lead, manganese, gold, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, tin and titanium.
Area: 44,680,717 sq km (17,251,315 sq miles)
Number of Countries: 49
Biggest Country: Russian Federation
Smallest Country: Maldives
Highest point: Mount Everest (China/Nepal) 8,850 m (29,035 ft)
Lowest Point: Dear Sea Shore (Israel) 400 m (1312 ft) below sea level
Longest River: Yangtze (Chang Jiang) (China) 6380 km (3965 miles)
Biggest Lake: Caspian Sea ¡V 378, 400 sq km (146, 100 sq miles)
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