Official name: Mongolia
Area: 1,565,000 square kilometers (604,247 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Orgil, also called Huyten Orgil or Mount Huyten (4,374 meters/14,350 feet)
Lowest point on land: Hoh Nuur Depression (518 meters/1,709 feet)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 8 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 2,368 kilometers (1,471 miles) from east to west; 1,260 kilometers (783 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 8,161.9 kilometers (5,072 miles) total boundary length; Russia 3,005 kilometers (1,867 miles); China 4,673 kilometers (2,904 miles); also touches Kazakhstan at westernmost point
Territorial sea limits: None
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Mongolia, the world's largest landlocked nation, is located in east-central Asia between China and Russia. It covers an area of 1,565,000 square kilometers (604,247 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Alaska.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Mongolia has no territories or dependencies.
Mongolia has two climatic zones: the continental zone in the north, and the desert in the south. The country's high altitude results in inhospitably cold, dry, and harsh weather. Temperatures can fluctuate radically each day, dropping drastically at night, and they differ greatly from season to season. Winters are especially long, with freezing temperatures from October to April. The temperature can plunge to as low as -52°C (-62°F) in January. Mongolia's average winter temperature is -24°C (-13°F) with an average range of -21°C to -30°C (-5° to -22°F). Spring is a brief windy and stormy transition period of five to six weeks around May. Summer lasts from June to August, with an average temperature of 20°C (65°F), ranging from 10° to 27°C (50° to 80°F). Autumn is a five-to six-week transition period around September. Mongolia's average humidity is 65 percent in summer and 75 percent in winter.
Most of Mongolia's rainfall occurs from May to September. The country usually has at least 250 sunny days each year. Rainfall is considerably heavier in the north, and nearly nonexistent in the southern Gobi Desert. Mongolia's annual average rainfall is a low 20 to 22 centimeters (8 to 9 inches), receiving an average of 36 centimeters (14 inches) in the north and fewer than 10 centimeters (4 inches) in the south. The country experienced devastating heavy snowstorms in the winters at the start of the twenty-first century.
Less than 70 percent of Mongolia's land has a consistent supply of water. Winter freezes often cut off access to surface waters and wells. Melted snow and ice then become the water sources during the winter for residential and commercial use. The water situation is relatively better in the north, because it has major rivers and heavier precipitation.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Mongolia has five topographic regions: the Altai range (the largest mountain system); the Great Lakes Depression (lakes and plains); the Hangayn-Hentiyn Mountains (medium-altitude older mountains with gentle slopes and valleys); the uplifted eastern plains (smooth and rolling terrain, sprinkled with pastures, forests, and rivers); and the Gobi Desert (hilly in the west with salt lakes and marshes in flat lowlands and sand desert).
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Mongolia is a landlocked nation. The closest ocean is the Pacific's Yellow Sea, which is 700 kilometers (435 miles) to the east across northeast China.
6 INLAND LAKES
More than four thousand lakes, mostly of glacial or volcanic origin, relieve the dry landscape of Mongolia. For the most part, the lakes are located high above sea level and they freeze over every winter; those with outlets usually have fresh water. Most of the sixteen biggest lakes are found in the northwest. The country also has developed more than two hundred sites of hot and cold natural mineral water springs.
The Great Lakes Depression of northwest Mongolia contains at least three hundred lakes, as well as high waterfalls and springs. Uvs Lake, a saltwater lake at 759 meters (2,490 feet) above sea level in this region, is Mongolia's largest, with a surface area of 3,366 square kilometers (1,300 square miles). Also in the Great Lakes area, the Har Us, Hyargas, and Dörgön Lakes are a trio of connected, large, shallow lakes within Har Us Nuur National Park. Mongolia contains many salt marshes and a variety of lake-centered wetland environments. The basin of Uys Lake is subject to extremes of cold and warm weather. It is one of ten worldwide locations being studied in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, which is researching global climate change.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
With more than twelve hundred rivers, Mongolia has three drainage systems: to the Arctic Ocean, to the Pacific Ocean, and to the desert or salt lakes. Rivers draining north to the Arctic Ocean include the Selenge River, as well as the Shishkhed and Bulgan Rivers. The Selenge River arises in the Hangayn uplands of northern Mongolia, and flows north into Russia's Lake Baikal; it has a total length of 992 kilometers (616 miles), about 595 kilometers (370 miles) of which is within Mongolia. Among the Selenge's numerous tributaries are the Orhon which, at a length of 1,126 kilometers (698 miles), is the longest river entirely within Mongolia, and the Tuul (703 kilometers/437 miles), on the banks of which is located the nation's capital, Ulaanbaatar.
The Kerulen, Onon, Uldz, and Halhïn Rivers of northeast Mongolia flow into the Amur River of Russia, which continues east to the Pacific Ocean. The longest of these rivers is the Kerulen, which is 1,086 kilometers (675 miles) long. Mongolia's other river systems are found in the Great Lakes Depression and in the Central Asian basin, including the Dzavhan (804 kilometers/500 miles), Tesiyn (563 kilometers/350 miles), and Khobdo (499 kilometers/310 miles) Rivers.
The river system in the Gobi region is negligible; the few small rivers of the northern portion of the desert zone rise in the Hangayn range but vanish into salt lakes.
The great Gobi Desert occupies one-third of Mongolia, and it extends far south into China's Inner Mongolia region. It is the world's largest cold-climate desert. Less than 5 centimeters (2 inches) of rain falls in the Gobi each year, with no rainfall occurring at all in some parts of the desert. There are two types of desert within the Gobi. One is a scrubland with coarse, stunted bunchgrass and hardy bushes, which is dry but can be used for camel grazing. It contains numerous plant species, many of which bloom in the summer if they receive enough moisture during the year. The other type of desert in the Gobi is a landscape of sand dunes mixed with stone or gravel, with little to no vegetation.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Mongolia's elevations decline from northwest to southeast, decreasing gradually from alpine snow peaks to rolling contours, mesas, ridges and low hills, and eventually to completely flat plains. The foothills of the Altai Shan (Mountains) stretch south and east into the Gobi, forming a terrain of bare desert hills. Mongolia is famous for its beautiful grasslands. The southeast is an area of particularly extensive grasslands, known as steppes in Central Asia. The steppe hills and plains are covered with many varieties of grasses, and are grazed by domestic animals including sheep, goats, horses, cattle, yaks, and camels, as well as wild antelopes, including enormous migratory herds of gazelles.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The high mountains of Mongolia rise mostly in the west. Some of the peaks are long-extinct volcanoes. The lofty Altai Shan range is part of a chain that continues over the border into China, Russia, and Kazakhstan; it runs northwest to southeast in Mongolia. Some two hundred glaciers cascade through the Altai range. Mongolia's highest mountain is Nayramadlïn Orgil (Huyten Orgil or Mount Huyten, also called Mount Nayramadlïn) rising 4,374 meters (14,350 feet) in the Tawan Bogdo group of the Altai at Mongolia's westernmost extension, where the country meets Russia, Kazakhstan, and China. The second-highest mountain in Mongolia, Mount Chajrchan Uul, 4,362 meters (14,311 feet), is in the central Altai range. The Hangayn (Khangai) range in central Mongolia has generally lower mountains. The highest peak in this range is Otgon Tenger (3,957 meters/12,982 feet). Another chain of low mountains is the Hentiyn (Khentei) range in north-central Mongolia, sprawling along and across the Russian border.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
In the Dalanzadgad region of the Gobi Desert, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park contains winding canyons of colorfully streaked sandstone, including Yolym Am (Yol Canyon), which surrounds a permanently frozen stream. Also within the National Park are the Flaming Cliffs, overlooking the Nemegt, Khermiin Tsav, and Bayanzag Canyons.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
With an area of approximately 2,600,000 square kilometers (1,000,000 square miles), the Mongolian plateau spans both the independent nation of Mongolia (also called Outer Mongolia) and the Chinese province of Mongolia (called Inner Mongolia). The Gobi Desert separates the two regions. The plateau has an average elevation of 1,580 meters (5,184 feet), with passageways between mountain ranges varying in length from 1,931 to 3,218 kilometers (1,200 to 2,000 miles).
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
Mongolia has few bridges or paved roads. One of the few Buddhist monasteries that survived Soviet military invasions during the twentieth century is found in Kharakhorum, the Mongolian capital under the rule of Genghis Khan in the late twelfth century. Located within a large, walled compound, the monastery contains the remaining two of four giant turtles carved out of the rock.
Ovoos , large ritual mounds made from rocks piled into a low pyramid, can be found throughout Mongolia. In many places, objects such as coins, bottles, animal skulls, and pieces of fabric are thrown onto ovoos . In northern Mongolia, the mounds are covered with wooden poles, creating a structure that resembles a teepee.
DID YOU KNOW?
The canyons of the Flaming Cliffs contain archaeological sites that were first excavated in the early twentieth century. Early examples of dinosaur eggs have been found there, as well as many significant dinosaur skeletons from the late Cretaceous period.
14 FURTHER READING
Lawless, Jill. Wild East: The New Mongolia. Toronto: ECW Press, 2000.
Man, John. Gobi: Tracking the Desert. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Novacek, Michael. Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs. New York: Anchor Books, 1997.
Destination Mongolia. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_east_asia/mongolia/ (accessed April 24, 2003).
Mongolia World. http://plaza.harmonix.ne.jp/~michie/mongolia.html (accessed April 24, 2003).
Visit Mongolia. http://www.visitmongolia.com/ (accessed April 24, 2003).