Geography and climate
Geography and climate
Kyrgyz is a landlocked nation in Central Asia, west of the People's Republic of China. Less than a seventh the size of Mongolia, at 199,951 square kilometers, Kyrgyzstan is one of the smaller Central Asian states. The national territory extends about 900 kilometers from east to west and 410 kilometers from north to south.
Kyrgyzstan is bordered on the east and southeast by China, on the north by Kazakhstan, on the west by Uzbekistan and on the south by Tajikistan. The borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the Ferghana valley are rather difficult. One consequence of the Stalinist division of Central Asia into five republics is that many ethnic Kyrgyz do not live in Kyrgyzstan. Three enclaves, legally part of the territory of Kyrgyzstan but geographically removed by several kilometers, have been established, two in Uzbekistan and one in Tajikistan.
The terrain of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain systems, which together occupy about 65% of the national territory. The Alay range portion of the Tian Shan system dominates the southwestern crescent of the country, and, to the east, the main Tian Shan range runs along the boundary between southern Kyrgyzstan and China before extending farther east into China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Kyrgyzstan's average elevation is 2,750 meters, ranging from 7,439 meters at Peak JengishChokusu to 394 meters in the Fergana Valley near Osh. Almost 90% of the country lies more than 1,500 meters above sea level.
The mountains of Kyrgyzstan are geologically young, so that the physical terrain is marked by sharply uplifted peaks separated by deep valleys. There is also considerable glaciation with the largest glacier being the Engilchek Glacier. Kyrgyzstan's 6,500 distinct glaciers are estimated to hold about 650 cubic kilometers of water and cover 8,048 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) or 4.2% of Kyrgyzstan. Only around the Chuy, Talas, and Fergana valleys is there relatively flat land suitable for large-scale agriculture.
Because the high peaks function as moisture catchers, Kyrgyzstan is relatively well watered by the streams that descend from them. None of the rivers of Kyrgyzstan are navigable, however. The majority are small, rapid, runoff streams. Most of Kyrgyzstan's rivers are tributaries of the Syrdariya, which has its headwaters in the western Tian Shan along the Chinese border. Another large runoff system forms the Chui River, which arises in northern Kyrgyzstan, then flows northwest and disappears into the deserts of southern Kazakhstan. Ysyk-Köl is the second largest body of water in Central Asia, after the Aral Sea, but the saline lake has been shrinking steadily, and its mineral content has been rising gradually. Kyrgyzstan has a total of about 2,000 lakes with a total surface area of 7,000 km², mostly located at altitudes of 3,000 to 4,000 meters. Only the largest three, however, occupy more than 100 km² each. The second- and third-largest lakes, Songköl and Chatyr-Köl (the latter of which also is saline), are located in the Naryn River Basin.
Natural disasters have been frequent and varied. Overgrazing and deforestation of steep mountain slopes have increased the occurrence of mudslides and avalanches, which occasionally have swallowed entire villages. In August 1992, a severe earthquake left several thousand people homeless in the southwestern city of Jalal-Abad.
The country's climate is influenced chiefly by the mountains, Kyrgyzstan's position near the middle of the Eurasian landmass, and the absence of any body of water large enough to influence weather patterns. Those factors create a distinctly continental climate that has significant local variations. Although the mountains tend to collect clouds and block sunlight (reducing some narrow valleys at certain times of year to no more than three or four hours of sunlight per day), the country is generally sunny, receiving as much as 2,900 hours of sunlight per year in some areas. The same conditions also affect temperatures, which can vary significantly from place to place. In January the warmest average temperature (−4 °C or 25 °F) occurs around the southern city of Osh, and around Issyk-Kul. The latter, which has a volume of 1,738 cubic kilometers (417 cu mi), does not freeze in winter. Indeed, its name means "hot lake" in Kyrgyz. The coldest temperatures are in mountain valleys. There, readings can fall to −30 °C (−22 °F) or lower; the record is −53.6 °C (−64.5 °F). The average temperature for July similarly varies from 27 °C (80.6 °F) in the Fergana Valley, where the record high is 44 °C (111 °F), to a low of −10 °C (14 °F) on the highest mountain peaks. Precipitation varies from 2,000 millimeters (78.7 in) per year in the mountains above the Fergana Valley to less than 100 millimeters (3.9 in) per year on the west bank of Issyk-Kol.