Official name: Turkmenistan
Area: 488,100 square kilometers (188,456 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Ayribaba (3,139 meters/10,299 feet)
Lowest point on land: Akchanaya Depression (81 meters/266 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 5 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: Not available
Land boundaries: 3,736 kilometers (2,321 miles) total boundary length; Afghanistan 744 kilometers (462 miles); Iran 992 kilometers (616 miles); Kazakhstan 379 kilometers (235 miles); Uzbekistan 1,621 kilometers (1,007 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Turkmenistan is located in central Asia, sharing borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The country also has a western shore on the Caspian Sea. With a total area of about 488,100 square kilometers (188,456 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of California. Turkmeni-stan is administratively divided into five welayatlar.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Turkmenistan has no outside territories or dependencies.
Turkmenistan's subtropical desert climate features exceedingly hot summers followed by cold winters, with temperature ranges that are fairly uniform for the country as a whole. In January, temperatures range from -6°C to 5°C (21°F to 41°F); in July, the range is generally between 27°C and 32°C (81°F and 90°F).
Annual rainfall amounts in some parts of the country can vary from 8 to 40 centimeters (3 to 16 inches), but nearly two-thirds of Turkmenistan receives less than 15 centimeters (6 inches) of precipitation.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The terrain of Turkmenistan is mostly low and flat, with nearly all of the western and central portions of the country covered by the great Kara-Kum (Garagum) Desert. The KaraKum is itself a part of the Turan Lowlands, a vast area of desert and steppe that extends throughout Central Asia.
The desert gives way to mountains in the south. The eastern region is a plateau called the Garabil. Although Turkmenistan is considered landlocked, it borders the saltwater Caspian Sea on the west. Turkmenistan is on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. Violent earthquakes are frequent in the mountains of the south.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Turkmenistan is landlocked with no ocean coasts. It does lie along the Caspian Sea, however, which forms its entire western border for 1,768 kilometers (1,096 miles). The Caspian Sea is a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. Its area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean depth is about 170 meters (550 feet), deepest in the south. Although connected to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Black Sea by extensive inland waterways (chief of which is the Volga River), the Caspian Sea has no natural outlet.
Islands and Archipelagos
Ogurchinskiy Island is located in the Caspian Sea south of the tip of the Cheleken Peninsula.
The Cheleken Peninsula juts into the Caspian Sea in the middle of the western shoreline.
6 INLAND LAKES
Kara-Bogaz Lake (Kara-Bogaz Gol) was once a bay of the Caspian Sea. Through evaporation, however, the water level has dropped so much that the bay is now separated from the Caspian Sea by a strip of dry land, turning the bay into a salt lake. The water level (as well as the area) of the lake varies greatly because of this continued net water loss. Evaporation also allows for natural salt deposits along the shores of this lake. The largest natural inland lake in Turkmenistan is Lake Sarygamysh, which covers a total area of about 800 square kilometers (309 square miles). It is shared with Kazakhstan.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Atrek River flows along part of the border with Iran, emptying into the Caspian Sea. The Amu Dar'ya (Amu River) is the country's longest river. Though it has a total length of about 2,540 kilometers (1,580 miles), only part of the river flows through Turkmenistan. The river enters from Afghanistan and then flows westward into Turkmenistan to form a section of the border with Uzbekistan. It flows northwest near the northeastern border and eventually empties into Lake Sarykamysh in the north.
Two other significant rivers are the Morghāb and the Harīrūd (Tejen), both of which originate in Afghanistan. These waters flow northwest into Turkmenistan before drying up in the desert. No significant rivers originate in Turkmenistan.
Covering an area of about 284,900 square kilometers (110,000 square miles), the Kara-Kum desert is one of the world's largest sand deserts. It extends westward from the Amu Dar'ya almost to the Caspian Sea and stretches from the Ust-Urt Plateau in the north to the Kopet-Dag Mountains in the south. The Kara-Kum occupies almost all of the country.
The name "Kara-Kum" means "black sand" in the Turk language, which aptly characterizes the coloration of much of this vast wasteland. The desert's chief features are rolling sand dunes as well as extensive regions of hard-packed clay and rock. Little in the way of vegetation can be found there, although in the southeast steppe areas some bushes and flowering plants do survive.
East of the Amu Dar'ya is the Sundukli Desert. This desert is an extension of the Kyzyl Kum Desert in Uzbekistan.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
In the northeast, where the great Turan lowland dips into Turkmenistan, there is steppe land (a semiarid, grassy plain).
To the north of the Kopet-Dag Mountains is a chain of foothills, which features a belt of oases fed by its mountain streams. Otherwise, Turkmenistan is notably low in elevation, averaging less than 500 meters (1,640 feet). The lowest point occurs in the Akchanaya Depression (Vpadina Akchanaya) of north central Turkmenistan, which is 81 meters (266 feet) below sea level.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The highest point in the country is Mount Ayribaba (Gora Ayribaba), which stands at about 3,139 meters (10,299 feet). It is located in the small part of the Kugitang range of mountains that extends across the border from Afghanistan in the east. The Kopet-Dag Mountains rise south of the Kara-Kum Desert and straddle the Turkmenistan-Iran border. One of the highest points in this mountain range is Mount Shahshah, at 2,912 meters (9,554 feet). Frequent, violent earthquakes occur in these mountains.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Kugitang Mountains, which are part of the Kugitang State Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan, contain many deep canyons. The longest canyon is Hodjachilgazbaba, which has a total length of about 28 kilometers (17 miles). Daraya Canyon is one of the steepest, with vertical walls that reach up to 600 meters (1,969 feet) high. The Umbardepe Canyon features twenty-eight beautiful waterfalls. The reserve also contains karst (limestone) caves, including the Karluick Caves. Scientists here study the caves' rock formations, their underground thermal springs, and species of cave fish that live there.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Two plateaus occupy portions of Turkmeni-stan. The larger of these is the Garabil Plateau, which lies in the eastern portion of the country near the Afghanistan border. In the north, the fringes of the Ust-Urt (Ustyurt) plateau extend across the border.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Kara-Kum Canal, which runs east to west across southern Turkmenistan for more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles), is one of the longest canals in the world. It starts at the Amu Dar'ya near the Afghanistan border, extending across Turkmenistan to Krasnovodsk on the Caspian Sea. About 300 kilometers (188 miles) of the canal is an enclosed aqueduct, but for most of its length it remains uncovered. Small river craft can navigate the canal for nearly half its length.
The Kara-Kum Canal provides irrigation water to most of southern Turkmenistan. In the northeast, other lesser canals redirect the Amu Dar'ya's waters to irrigate portions of the country along the Uzbekistan border. Without these river-fed canal systems, Turkmenistan would have limited freshwater resources for cultivating crops or providing drinking water. The diversion of so much water, however, has contributed to the drying up of the Aral Sea (the body of water into which the Amu Dar'ya empties).
DID YOU KNOW?
Located within the Kugitang State Nature Reserve, Dinosaur Plateau contains nearly three thousand well-preserved dinosaur footprints in the Jurassic rock layers of the region. The tracks seem to belong to a variety of dinosaurs, with the smallest prints (of a three-toed dinosaur) at about 18 to 20 centimeters (7 to 8 inches) long and the largest (a megalosaur print) at about 71 centimeters (28 inches) long. The plateau contains the longest set of dinosaur tracks in the world. Within the thousands of dinosaur footprints, scientists have found two human footprints as well.
14 FURTHER READING
Alladatov, D.A. Turkmenistan: A Land of White Gold . Ashkhabad: Turkmenistan Publishing House, 1972.
Mandelbaum, Michael, ed. Central Asia and the World: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994.
Nichol, James, and Leah Titerence. "Turkmenistan: Basic Facts." CRS Report for Congress . Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Services,1993.
Thomas, Paul, and John Channon. The Central Asian States: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan (Former Soviet States). Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1992.