Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Ustyurt Plateau


The Ustyurt Plateau also known as the Ust-Urt and Usturt Plateau. (Kazakh: Üstirt, Turkmen: Üstyurt) . The plateau located between the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea. It extends roughly 200,000 km²  and consists primarily of stony desert. The plateau’s semi-nomadic population raises sheep, goats, and camels. The Ustyurt is clearly demarcated by its steep escarpments, which reach up to 200m in height called T'chinks.

It is generally a barren and fairly featureless place. In summer, temperatures can reach 42°C and in the winter can fall to -40°C. Coupled with a strong winds it can feel in the summer like being in the permanent blast of a furnace.

The area is inhabited by such rare animals as Usturt Saiga, the moufflon or urial, ratel from the family of martens, long-needled hedge-hog and a good many species of wild cats: karakal, barkhan cat and the famous cheetah and . Birdlife includes  slim gazelles-zhairans, beautiful bustards (or Jacks) and other birds of desert.

The T'Chink

The Ustyurt is an extraordinary natural geological feature, a sand and limestone desert plateau stretching 800km from north to south. It sits on its own micro-tectonic plate or massif which has been gradually elevated over the past four or five million years so that it now stands around 200 metres higher than the delta plane.

Generally the plateau is a slightly hilly desert plain, faintly covered by a wormwood and unprepossessing shrubs of Russian thistle. In wide-spread drainless depressions there also occur shrubs of black saxaul. Steep ledges or (T'chinks) add immensely to the inimitable beauty of the landscape. The western part of the chink is especially picturesque, which achieves 340 meters in elevation; its eroded precipice takes quite fanciful forms. These breakages, formed by the wind, have an almost whimsical character.

To visit the T'Chink you can drive from Nukus to Qon'ırat (Kungrad) and then up onto the plateau or go first to Shomanay and then head northwest towards Shamambet. You will see first the t'chink like some white dream-like apparition along the horizon.


The Ustyurt (U'stırt) Plateau stretches between the Caspian Sea (left) and the Aral Sea (upper right quadrant). The Plateau is shared between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan with a small area in the south within Turkmenistan.

There are a number of bodies of water nearby the Plateau. To the lower left of the Map you can see the greenish-blue Karabogas Bay a shallow inundated depression in the northwestern corner of Turkmenistan, a bay on the edge the Caspian Sea, with a surface area of about 14,000 km².

To the east of this can be seen the dark Sarygamysh Lake (salt), situated in north central Turkmenistan with the northwest quarter of the lake in Uzbekistan.

The greenish area to the lake’s northeast is vegetation around the Amu Darya River, which once fed the Aral Sea to its north. Since the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers were diverted by irrigation projects, the Aral Sea has shrunken rapidly.

As of 2007 it had declined to around 10% of its original size, splitting into three separate lakes, two of which are now too salty to support fish.

The Aral in 1985

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