Kazakhstan is he world's ninth largest nation by area and the world's largest landlocked country but has a population of just 18 million or so. Kazakhstan is a vast country — the largest of the former Soviet republics after Russia — covering two zones (it used to cover three) and an area of more than 2.7 million square kilometers, roughly the size of Western Europe or five times the size of France.

By far the largest of the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is located deep within the Asian continent, with coastline only on the landlocked Caspian Sea. The proximity of unstable countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan to the west and south further isolates Kazakhstan. The New York Times described Kazakhstan as a “flat, barren landscape of tall, yellowish grass punctuated by heaps of coal slag and empty train depots. It is a desolate, half-abandoned place, but one that nonetheless has a harsh, austere beauty.”

Located in northern Central Asia in the heart of the Eurasian continent and bordered by Russia to the north, China to the east, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the west, Kazakhstan is the second largest state after Russia in the former Soviet Union. It is a third of the size of the United States or twice the size of the other four Central Asian nations combined.

Strategically located between Russia and China, Kazakhstan stretches 2,000 kilometers (1,280 miles) from the Balkash Lowlands in the east and the Ural River in the west and 1,00 kilometers from the Imum and Irtysh rivers in the south and Syr Darya and Chu river systems in the south to the Tobol River and central Siberia in the north. Kazakhstan embraces 2,300 kilometers (1,426 miles) of Caspian Sea shoreline—or about a third of entire 7,000 kilometer Caspian Sea shoreline. The Caspian Sea is a landlocked inland body of water.

Kazakhstan is located in the north central section of the great Eurasian plains. Technically it extends beyond Central Asia. Part of the country lies on the western side of the Ural river, one of the dividing lines between Asia and Europe, and thus partly lies in Europe. About 8 percent of the country is good for agriculture (compared to 21 percent in the United States). Most of this land is in the mountain valleys, the northern steppe and irrigated areas in the south. Trees and forest are found mostly in the mountains, city parks and along rivers. Most people live in the northern and southern parts of the country around the arable land, industrial areas and oil, gas and mineral deposits.

Geographical Data for Kazakhstan

Location of Kazakhstan: Central Asia, northwest of China; a small portion west of the Ural (Zhayyq) River in easternmost Europe. Total area: 2,724,900 square kilometers; land: 2,699,700 square kilometers; water: 25,200 square kilometers, country comparison to the world: 9. Area - comparative: slightly less than four times the size of Texas. Russia leases approximately 6,000 square kilometers of territory enclosing the Baykonur Cosmodrome; in January 2004, Kazakhstan and Russia extended the lease to 2050. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Land boundaries: total: 13,364 kilometers; border countries (5): China: 1,765 kilometers; Kyrgyzstan: 1,212 kilometers; Russia: 7,644 kilometers; Turkmenistan: 413 kilometers; Uzbekistan: 2,330 kilometers. Coastline:0 kilometers (landlocked). - Kazakhstan borders the Aral Sea, now split into two bodies of water (1,070 kilometers), and the Caspian Sea (1,894 kilometers). Maritime claims: none (landlocked). =

Terrain: vast flat steppe extending from the Volga in the west to the Altai Mountains in the east and from the plains of western Siberia in the north to oases and deserts of Central Asia in the south. Elevation extremes: lowest point: Vpadina Kaundy -132 meters; highest point: Khan Tangiri Shyngy (Pik Khan-Tengri) 6,995 meters. Natural resources: major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, iron ore, manganese, chrome ore, nickel, cobalt, copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc, bauxite, gold, uranium. =

Land use: agricultural land: 77.4 percent; arable land: 8.9 percent; permanent crops: 0 percent; permanent pasture: 68.5 percent; forest: 1.2 percent; other: 21.4 percent (2011 est.). Irrigated land: 20,660 square kilometers (2010); Total renewable water resources: 107.5 cubic kilometers (2011).Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 21.14 cubic kilometers a year (4 percent/30 percent/66 percent); per capita: 1,304 cubic meters a year (2010). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

In 2005 some 8.3 percent of land was rated as arable, a reduction from the 1998 estimate of 11.2 percent. Less than 0.1 percent of that land was under permanent crops. About 4.8 percent is forest and woodland. The remainder is pastureland, meadows, desert, and mountains. In 2003 irrigated land totaled an estimated 35,560 square kilometers. [Source: Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

Disputed Territory: Post-Soviet border disputes with China and Kyrgyzstan have been settled, but numerous points along the Uzbekistan border remained in dispute in 2006. Jurisdiction over oil, natural gas, and other resources in the Caspian Sea is in dispute with other littoral states. Kazakhstan has signed seabed distribution treaties with Azerbaijan and Russia on resource exploitation in the Caspian Sea. Remaining unresolved in 2006 was the distribution of the Caspian Sea water column among the littoral states. **

Central Asia

Central Asia embraces Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, five former Soviet republics. Sometimes western China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, south-central Russia and/or Mongolia are included depending on whether the countries are grouped together by language family, geography, horseman-nomadic traditions or sharing the “stan” suffix.” The core five Central Asian nation, plus western China (Xinjiang) are sometimes called Turkestan (Turkistan) because many of the people that live there speak Turkic languages. The term “Inner Asia” is also used. It includes Tibet and Manchuria, with a particular focus on people with horseman-nomadic traditions.

Central Asia has traditionally provided a bridge between Asia and Europe, which meet on the Eurasia steppe. The region is often regarded as exotic because its association with the Silk Road, the Great Game, and cultures and people that Westerners have traditionally known little about. The regions inaccessibility during the Soviet area only augmented this reputation.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan together occupy about 7.5 million square kilometers, an area around half the size of the continental United States or two thirds the size of the European Union. Central Asia is defined geographically by the Caspian Sea to the west, the northern part of the Kazakhstan steppe to the north, the Altay Mountains and Taklamakan Desert of China to the east and the Pamirs and southern Turkmenistan deserts in the south. The dying Aral Sea lies between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Central Asia is mostly arid and landlocked, with steppes in the north and harsh deserts in the south. Majestic mountains — in particular the Tien Sien and the Pamirs — dominate the east and southeast. There are high plateaus around the mountains. The rivers that thread through the region are fed by melting snow and glaciers and carve deep valleys and ravines. Many important agricultural areas are irrigated, sometimes using ancient qanat systems of underground canals; other times canals built during the Soviet era. Important crops include cotton, wheat, melons, rice and vegetables. Around the mountains and in the steppes people herd sheep, goats and horses. Scattered around the region are large deposits of oil, natural gas, gold, aluminum and other valuable minerals. The largest oil and natural gas deposits are in and around the Caspian Sea in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Topography of Kazakhstan

With the exception of mountains in the east and southeast, Kazakhstan is mostly flat and arid. About 85 percent of the country is covered by steppe, plains, semi-desert and desert. The steppes are arid grasslands that are mostly brown and dusty. They are green after summer rains and covered by hard, icy and crusty snow in the winter, and become increasingly arid as one travels south. The main steppes are the Kazakh Steppe and the Betpak Dal (Misfortune) Steppe. These are part of the great Eurasian steppes which stretch from Hungary to Mongolia. Parts of the northern steppes have been converted to wheat agriculture.

Kazakhstan’s topography varies considerably by region. In the east and northeast, about 12 percent of its territory is occupied by parts of the Altay and Tian Shan mountain ranges with elevations of up to 6,995 meters. More than three-quarters of the country is desert or semi- desert, with elevations less than 500 meters. Along the Caspian Sea, elevations are below sea level. Library of Congress, December, 2006 **]

There is considerable topographical variation within Kazakhstan. The highest elevation, Khan Tengri Mountain, on the Kyrgyz border in the Tian Shan range, is 6,995 meters; the lowest point, at Karagiye, in the Caspian Depression in the west, is 132 meters below sea level. Only 12.4 percent of Kazakhstan is mountainous, with most of the mountains located in the Altay and Tian Shan ranges of the east and northeast, although the Ural Mountains extend southward from Russia into the northern part of west-central Kazakhstan. Many of the peaks of the Altay and Tian Shan ranges are snow covered year-round, and their run-off is the source for most of Kazakhstan's rivers and streams. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Some 9.4 percent of Kazakhstan's land is mixed prairie and forest or treeless prairie, primarily in the north or in the basin of the Ural River in the west. More than three-quarters of the country, including the entire west and most of the south, is either semidesert (33.2 percent) or desert (44 percent). The terrain in these regions is bare, eroded, broken uplands, with sand dunes in the Qizilqum (red sand; in the Russian form, Kyzylkum) and Moyunqum (in the Russian form, Moin Kum) deserts, which occupy south-central Kazakhstan. Most of the country lies at between 200 and 300 meters above sea level, but Kazakhstan's Caspian shore includes some of the lowest elevations on Earth. *

Regions of Kazakhstan

Southern Kazakhstan is occupied by the barren and shrubby and Kyzyl-Kum (Red Sand) desert and the dried up Aral Sea — both of which are shared with Uzbekistan. The Kara-Kum in Turkmenistan and Kyzyl-Kum deserts merge, and together form the forth largest desert in the world. Between the Aral Sea and the Caspian Sea is the Ustyurt plateau, a stony desert. Stretching between Aral Sea and Lake Balkhash is the Betbakdala Clay Desert. South of Betpakdala is the Muyunkum Desert. South of Lake Balkhash is the Sary Ishikotrau Desert.

The Tien Shan, a northern extension of the Pamirs and Himalayas, runs along the southeastern parts of the country, which borders China and Kyrgyzstan. Khan Tengri, the highest peak in Kazakhstan, is found here. Located near where Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and China all merge, it is 7,010 meters (23,133 feet) high and looks sort of like the Matterhorn. Branches of the Tien Shan include Zhungar Altay, Kungey Alatua, Zailiyski Alatau, Kyrgyz Alatau and Talasssky Alatau. These might mountains feature glacier-covered peaks, lovely Alpine lakes, clear swift, streams, and forested valleys. The Chu valley in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan is famous for its endless fields of marijuana.

The southern reaches of the Siberian Plain occupy northern Kazakhstan. Further south is an area with fine pastures known as the Sary-Arka. To the south of this are the Betpakdala Desert and Lake Balkhash. Along the Kazakhstan and China border mountains are broken up by gaps and passes used by Silk Road traders in the past and are traversed by modern roads, railways and pipelines today. The Altay mountains and highlands occupy the area where Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Mongolia all come together.

In the extreme northwest are the marshes of the Common Syrt. South of this are the wide, flat pre-Caspian Lowlands, which are rich in oil, and further on, the desert peninsula of Mangyshlak, where there are depressions 132 meters below sea level.

Major Rivers and Lakes of Kazakhstan

Seven of Kazakhstan’s rivers are 1,000 kilometers or more in length: the Chu, Emba, Ili, Irtysh, Ishim, Syr Darya, and Ural. The Irtysh and Ural rivers flow partly through Kazakhstan and partly through Russia. The Ili River flows from China into Lake Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan. The Syr-Darya flows from eastern Uzbekistan across Kazakhstan into the Aral Sea.

Except for the Tobol, Ishim, and Irtysh rivers (the Kazakh names for which are, respectively, Tobyl, Esil, and Ertis), portions of which flow through Kazakhstan, all of Kazakhstan's rivers and streams are part of landlocked systems. They either flow into isolated bodies of water such as the Caspian Sea or simply disappear into the steppes and deserts of central and southern Kazakhstan. Many rivers, streams, and lakes are seasonal, evaporating in summer. The three largest bodies of water are Lake Balkhash, a partially fresh, partially saline lake in the east, near Almaty, and the Caspian and Aral seas, both of which lie partially within Kazakhstan.

The Syr Darya, which flows through southern Kazakhstan, is one are the two largest rivers in Central Asia (the other is the Amu Darya which runs along the border of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). It originates and is feed by glaciers, snow melt and steams in the Tien Shan and Pamirs mountains in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and flows through Uzbekistan to Kazakhstan and then into the Aral Sea. The Ural River flows south from Russia’s Ural Mountains through Kazakhstan to the Caspian Sea.

The Irtysh River originates in the Altay region and flows to Siberia. It waters ends up in the Arctic Ocean. The Ishim and Tobol rivers flow through northern Kazakhstan into the Irtysh. The Ili River flows from China, forms Lake Kapshaghay near Almaty and empties into Lake Balkhash, is Kazakhstan’s and Central Asia’s largest lake. Located on the Kazakh steppe in eastern Kazakhstan, Lake Balkhash covers 17,400 square kilometers and is very shallow (its deepest point is only 26 meters deep). It is vast and marshy and filed with saline water.

The rivers in Central Asia are often brown and muddy even many hundreds of miles from their sources. This is because the water contains suspended “yellowish-grey marl, or loess” that is very fine and stays suspended in the water for a long time. One geologist wrote these minerals are “formed by the disintegration of porphyry rock carried by the wind off the surrounding mountains in the form of very fine dust” and “it gradually settled and built by the Central Asian plateau.”

Kazakhstan boasts 85,000 lakes but they are not very well distributed to be beneficial to the nation as a whole as water sources. Most are in the mountains in the north. Hardly any are in the desert and semidesert regions. The water levels in lakes and rivers rise and fal a great deal depending on the season, with levels the highest after the spring melt. In the summer and during droughts some dry out completely. The water in most of Kazakhstan’s lakes is saline. Fresh water is found only in the mountains, the steppe lands, and in the flatland areas along the major rivers.


The famous steppe of Central Asia is 3000-mile-long, flat or gently rolling grassland, averaging 500 miles in width. It is mostly treeless except for areas along riverbanks. It's name is derived from “stepi”, "meaning plain. The vast sea of grass of the steppe is perfect riders on horseback. The Steppe gave birth the Scythians, Turks, Mongols, Tartars, and Huns. One of the richest grazing areas, the Altai Mountain region between Russia and western Mongolia, not coincidentally is where many of the great horseman cultures originally hail from. Beginning in the second century B.C., Silk Road trading caravans's started traversing the Steppe.

The Central Asian steppe stretches from Mongolia and the Great Wall of China in the east to Hungary and the Danube River in the west. It is bounded by the taiga forest of Russia to the north and by desert and mountains to the south. It is located at about same latitude as the American plains and embraces a dozen countries, including Russia, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and several other former Soviet Republics.

Describing the steppes, Polish Nobel laureate Henry Sienkiewicz wrote in “With Fire and Sword”, "The steppes are wholly desolate and unpeopled yet filled living menace. Silent and still yet seething with hidden violence, peaceful in their immensity yet infinitely dangerous, these boundless spaces were a masterless, untamed country created foe ruthless men who acknowledge no one as their overlord."

Grassland soil and plants store large amounts of carbon dioxide. When they are burned they release large amounts of carbon dioxide onto the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, The poor yellow steppe soil is much less fertile than rich black earth found in southern Russia and Ukraine. When the topsoil is stripped of vegetation it becomes dusty and is easily blown away in the wind.

Steppe Plants and Grasses

Steppes are covered mostly by sparse grass or grasses and shrubs such as saxual. Trees are often stunted. Large trunks, branches and leaves require a lot of water to maintain. When the steppes meet the foot foothills, you can find wild poppies, even wild opium poppies.

The grass family is one of the largest in the plant kingdom, embracing some 10,000 different species worldwide. Contrary to what you might think, grasses are fairly complex plants. What you see are only their leaves.

Grass flowers are often not recognizable as such. Because grasses rely on the breeze to distribute pollen (there is a usually lots of wind on the steppe) and they don't need colorful flowers to attract pollinators such as birds and bees. Grass flowers have scales instead of pedals and grow in clusters on special tall stems that lift them high enough to be carried by the wind.

Grasses need lots of sunlight. They do not grow well in forests or other shady areas. Tall feather grass grows well in the well-watered parts of the steppe. Shorter grass grows better in the dry steppe where there is less rainfall. Chiy, a grass with cane-like reeds, is used by nomads to make decorative screens in the yurts

Grasses can tolerate lack of rain, intense sunlight, strong winds, shredding from lawnmowers, the cleats of Athletes and the hooves of grazing animals. They can survive fires: only their leaves burn; the root stocks are rarely damaged.

The ability of grass to endure such harsh conditions lies in the structures of its leaves, The leaves of other plants spring from buds and have a developed a network of veins that carry sap and expand into the leaf. If a leaf is damaged a plant can seal its veins with sap but do little else. Grass leaves on the other hand don't have a network of veins, rather they have unbranched veins that grow straight, and can tolerate being cut, broken or damaged, and keep growing.

Soil and Agriculture in Kazakhstan

The soil in Kazakhstan is mostly fertile. In the north chernozem is the dominate soil type. In the south chestnut-colored soils are common. In the deserts there is a mix of red-brown, grey-brown and sandy soils. Chernozem is a fertile black soil rich in humus and with a lighter lime-rich layer beneath, typically occurring in the temperate grasslands of the Russian steppes and North American prairies.

The Central Asian steppe doesn’t receive very much rain. The soil is dry and dusty. For the most part the steppe and desert are not suitable for agriculture unless expensively irrigated. Much of the steppe lies on humus-rich black soul that is ideal for growing grains such as wheat, rye and barley (which are kinds of grass). The poor yellow steppe soil is much less fertile than rich black earth found in southern Russia and Ukraine. When the topsoil is stripped of vegetation it becomes dusty and is easily blown away in the wind.

Chernozem, black earth is common in northernmost parts of the country, and includes Kostanai province, and the northern parts of Akmolinsk, Pavlodar, Aktubinsk, West-Kazakhstan provinces. This area covers 25.5 million hectares, or 9.5 percent of the country. The black earth is divided into three sub-types: 1) lixiviate black earth in the forest-steppe area; 2) normal black earth; and 3) southern black earth that is typical for steppe area. The first sub-type has large amounts humus (6 to 8 percent) and is almost black in color. Southern black earth has a lower percentage of humus (4 to 6 percent). The black earth areas are situated mostly on good watered steppe plains and are the main wheat-growing regions of the country.

Chestnut-coloured soils occupy the big part of central Kazakhstan, the north Caspian lowlands and the plains of East-Kazakhstan province. These soils are found mostly in dry-steppe and semi-desert regions. They occupy 90.6 million hectares, or 34 percent of the country. The chestnut soils in Kazakhstan are divided into 3 sub-zones:1) the black-chestnut-colored soils of the dry steppes; 2) the chestnut-colored soils of dry steppes; 3) the light-chestnut-coloured soils of semi-desert zones.

Soil fertility generally decreases as one travels southward in Kazakhstan. South of the chestnut-colored soil area, in the deserts areas, fulvous and grey-fulvous soils are prevalent. Deserts cover 120 millions hectares, or 44 percent of Kazakhstan, mostly in the southern part of the country. Irrigation is necessary in many agricultural areas. Near the Syrdarya, Ili, and Karatal rivers rice farming is practiced.

The “Black Earth” region in the central and southern parts of Russia and parts of the Ukraine and Kazakhstan is one of the most fertile wheat-growing areas in the world. Chernozem, literally black earth, is a type of rich, black soil. In some places it is two meters deep. In the “Black Earth” regions of the Soviet Union, large scale grain farming was practiced. In the early days horse-drawn equipment was used. Later horses and plows were replaced with tractors and other mechanized equipment. In the Soviet era large collectives and state farms were established here. In the non-Black Earth regions, the farms were smaller, and the emphasis was on root crops such a potatoes and beets, vegetables, dairying and relatively small amounts of grain, primarily rye.

Climate of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Because Kazakhstan is situated so far from any oceans, the weather is predominately dry and characterized by great extremes of hot and cold on a daily basis and yearly basis. Temperatures in the capital of Astana can reach -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F) in the winter and climb to 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) in the summer. In the desert daytime and nighttime differences of 50 degrees C (90 degrees F) have been recorded. The temperature extremes found in Central Asia have earned it the nickname, “the land of the fan and the fur.” It is also very windy. In the steppes and deserts winds of 50mph are not uncommon.

Precipitation in the mountains of the east averages as much as 600 millimeters per year, mostly in the form of snow, but most of the republic receives only 100 to 200 millimeters per year. Precipitation totals less than 100 millimeters in the south-central regions around Qyzylorda. A lack of precipitation makes Kazakhstan a sunny republic; the north averages 120 clear days a year, and the south averages 260. Some regions enjoy the sun up to 330 days a year, and the sky is almost always bright blue.

The lack of moderating bodies of water also means that temperatures can vary widely. Average winter temperatures are -3 degrees C in the north and 18 degrees C in the south; summer temperatures average 19 degrees C in the north and 28 degrees -30 degrees C in the south. Differences can be so distinct that when planting season begins in the South, the North might still be covered with thick snow. Within locations differences are extreme, and temperature can change very suddenly. In summer the ground temperature can reach as high as 70 degrees C.

Kazakhstan stretches over a very large area and there is great deal of variation from north to south. The winters in the northern areas are particularly harsh and long. The winters in the central areas are moderate while those in the southern deserts are relatively mild and short with little snow. Summers range from warm in the north to hot in the south. In Astana in the heart of the north, the winter temperatures can reach -40 degrees C (-40 degrees F). When the wind chill is factored in it seems like -100 degrees C. In the summer the temperature can climb to 40 degrees C. In Almaty, in the south near the mountains, the winter temperatures are about 20 degree warmer and summers are not so oppressively hot.

Weather in Kazakhstan

During the harsh winters, snow covers much of country. In Almaty, the high temperatures are below freezing about half the time. The snows tends to fall in squalls and flurries rather than storms although severe blizzards do occur from time to time. The snow on the ground tends to be icy and crusty. In the mountains snow can accumulate to great depths.

The summers are very hot and characterized by great extremes during the night and day. Temperatures often rises above 38 degrees C (100 degrees F) — even 43 degrees C (110 degrees F) in some places — during the afternoon and then sometimes drop into the 10s C (40s F) at night. Spring and autumn are pleasant and the best time to visit. Spring can be muddy and windy. Huge swarms of gnats gather in some places in the spring. Mosquitos can be a problem in the summer in places with water.

Kazakhstan receives very little rain, and would receive even less if it wasn't for the mountains which bring precipitation to themselves and to the areas on their windward sides. The only places that receive significant rainfalls are in and around the mountains and their foothills, which receive 40 to 160 centimeters of precipitation a year. Some desert areas receive less than 10 centimeters of rain a year. Most rains fall in March-April and October-November. The rains in May and June are crucial for agriculture. Autumn rains in the south have traditionally been vital for producing grass for animals to feed on in the winter. Often times the rain is spotty. Sometimes hugethunder heads blow across the steppe and desert, dropping heavy rains in one place and completely bypassing another.

Because of the dry air and bright sun, which is common in most parts of Kazakhstan, temperature often feel warmer than they actually are, except when the wind kicks in, which is also common in most parts of Kazakhstan. Snowy winters are ideal for winter sports activities. Almaty bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, but was beat out by Beijing. Beach holidays at seas and lakes of Kazakhshtan are popular during hot summers. August and September are perfect for trekking in the mountains of the east and southeast Kazakhstan.

Winds blow across Kazakhstan throughout the year. They produce severe snowstorms (“buran”) is the winter and in the fall. Sometimes dust storms blow in that blot out the sky with fine dust particles that creep inside building despite efforts to keep them out and forces airports and bazaars to close down. In southern Kazakhstan people called these storms Afganets, a Russian word for people from Afghanistan.

Cold Winters in Kazakhstan

It is extremely cold in Kazakhstan in the winter. Once after his car broke down, one man told the New York Times, “I almost froze to death, but was saved by an old Kazakh on the steppe, who put me in a hole in the ground, with fur, for three days, and then got us to his village. For more than a month my face was black with frostbite.”

Siberian winds can send the temperature plummeting to -45 degrees C (-50 degrees F). Sometimes it is so cold it is difficult to breath. The snow on the ground tends to be icy and crusty. In the mountains snow can accumulate to great depths. Steady, strong winds blow across the steppes. In some places the winds are so strong and the blizzards are so blinding that ropes are set up between building so people will not lose their way.

In the winter of 2001, three men in eastern Kazakhstan ran out of gas a few kilometers short of their destination in -50 degrees C temperatures. Rather than stay with their cars they tried to walk. On froze to death along the way. The others made it and were taken to a hospital, where one of them died of hypothermia.

Orange, Smelly Snow in Siberia Caused by a Kazakhstan Storm?

In February 2007, people in the small southern Siberian village of Pudinskoye woke up to the sight of orange snow falling from the sky. Luke Harding wrote in The Guardian, “ In fact, three regions of southern Siberia — a vast area of industrial towns, pine trees and the odd bear — reported the same mysterious phenomenon. Not only was the snow not white, it also smelt bad. Most of the snow was orange. But some of it was red and yellow as well, officials confirmed, after scrambling to the affected areas to dig up samples. And it was also oily, they discovered. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, February 2, 2007 ^|^]

“Russian officials in the Omsk region, 1,400 miles from Moscow, swiftly warned local residents not to touch the snow or feed it to their animals. "At the present moment we cannot give explanations for the snow, which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell. We are waiting for the results of a thorough test on samples," Omsk's environmental prosecutor, Anton German, said this morning. ^|^

“Russian scientists trying to solve the mystery faced a tricky problem. The region is home to so many polluting industries it was hard to identify which one might have been responsible. Could it have been the nuclear plant in nearby Mayak? Or the metallurgy and chemicals factory in Ust-Kamenogorsk? The region is next to north Kazakhstan, a vast area of steppe used by the Soviet Union to conduct its nuclear tests. Or might the rogue snow have been caused by fuel from the space rockets launched in Kazakhstan? ^|^

“Environmental campaigners said that Russia had suffered decades of pollution — nuclear, industrial, and radioactive. "I have to admit yellow snow is pretty unusual," said Vladimir Sliviak, the chairman of the Russian environmental group Ecodefence. "I can think of only two other cases in the last decade. "This area of Siberia is beautiful. It's classic Russian forest. There is a lot of snow. There are a few bears and plenty of wolves as well. It's OK in terms of biodiversity." ^|^

“Russia's emergency situations ministry offered an explanation. Officials said a storm in neighbouring Kazakhstan had swept up clay and dust, dumping it on parts of the Tomsk and Omsk regions. Not everyone was convinced. Russia's environmental watchdog said the snow contained four times higher than normal quantities of iron as well as acids and nitrates. "I don't believe this came from a storm. If we discover that it is an industrial entity that produced this pollution criminal charges will be opened," said Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of Russia's environmental watchdog.” ^|^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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