HONOURS GEOGRAPHY
Physical Geography of Asia
 
*Asia is the largest continent in the world (19,187,230 square miles in area), and has some of the world’s most extreme locations:  the highest point, the lowest point, the largest lake, and more.

*The lowest point on the surface of the Earth is the shore of the Dead Sea in the Middle East.  The largest lake in the world is the Caspian Sea, a salt-water lake between Europe and the Middle East, and the world’s deepest lake is Lake Baikal, in Russia.

*The highest point in the world, however, is on the Indian Subcontinent.  The entire subcontinent is part of a tectonic plate that is being pushed into the main Asian plate, lifting the Himalayas as it goes.  This has not only created the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest (about 29,035 feet high), and the second-highest (or maybe highest), K2 (28,250 feet), but every mountain in the world over 23,000 feet in height.  The highest mountain outside Asia is Mount Aconcagua in the Andes (22,841 feet), but more than 70 mountains in the Himalayas are higher.

*The Himalayan Mountains are almost impassable, and have protected the countries in and south of them from invasion from the north.  One of the few major historic passes through is Khyber pass on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, and it has been one of the most fought-over places in the world—Alexander the Great used it in 326 BC and the British fought for it in 1842 AD.

*The Subcontinent also has other highland regions, the Eastern and Western Ghats, two coastal mountain ranges, between which lies the Deccan Plateau.

*There are a number of important rivers in South Asia.  One of the most notable is the Indus River, mostly in Pakistan.  It was the cultural hearth of the earliest civilisations in the subcontinent, giving it the same cultural and historical significance as the Nile and Mesopotamia.

*The Ganges, in northern India and Bangladesh, is the holiest river in Hinduism.  It is thought that bathing in it will wash away sins, and that it is blessed to have one’s ashes cast into it after cremation.  It is also a major trade route and creates one of the most fertile flood plains known to man—which is one reason Bangladesh is so densely populated today.

*The Brahmaputra River is a major river of northern India and Bangladesh that eventually joins the Ganges and then flows into the Bay of Bengal.  It is navigable for over 800 miles, making a major trade route in India and Bangladesh.

*In addition to the Bay of Bengal, the Subcontinent it also bounded by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

*About half of South Asia is tropical (with rain forests and savannas), while the north-western part is principally desert and steppe, and the northeastern is mostly humid sub-tropical.

*Southeast Asia is made up of a number of peninsulas (notably the Malay Peninsula and the Indochina Peninsula) and over 20,000 islands in the Malay Archipelago.

*There are a number of small mountain ranges and highland areas in Southeast Asia, and they and the islands of the region’s archipelagos are part of the ‘Ring of Fire,’ an area of tremendous tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean.  One of the most impressive eruptions ever in the region was Krakatoa eruption of 1883:  it ejected over 6 cubic miles of ash and rock, and its explosion was heard in Australia.  2/3 of the island of Krakatoa was destroyed, along with 36,417 people in the explosion and subsequent tsunamis.  This is the most powerful explosion known in modern times, 4 times more powerful than the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested.

*The longest river in Southeast Asia is the Mekong River flows China, through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam into the South China Sae.  About 2,600 miles long, it is either the 12th or 13th longest river in the world (competing with the Niger).  It makes the Mekong Delta one of the most fertile places in the region, and is depositing enough sediment that the Delta grows about 50 feet outwards every year.

*The Irrawaddy River in Burma (Myanmar) is the longest river in that country, and its most important waterway.

*Most of Southeast Asia is tropical (although there are some humid subtropical regions in the northern interior), and it has some tropical rainforests and jungles remaining, which are home to some of the world’s most rare creatures. 

*Indonesia is also the location of the ‘Wallace Line,’ a demarcation between areas where marsupials and placental mammals are found in nature.  It runs between Borneo and Celebes.

*Besides the South China Sea, Southeast Asia also touches the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

*East Asia is mostly made up of China, most of which is highland or mountains, although it also has an extensive coastal region where most of its people dwell. 

*East Asia also has the Korean Peninsula (which is separated from China by the Yalu River), the island of Formosa (Taiwan), and the islands of Japan, of which Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, and Kyushu are the largest—Honshu is the 7th largest island in the world. 

*South-western China is the most elevated region, with both the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau having been formed by tectonic action. 

*The Tibetan Plateau is the largest and highest plateau in the world, with an average elevation over 16,400 feet, placing it higher than all but the very highest mountains on almost any other continent.

*Western China also has Kunlun Shan and the Tian Shan (Shan is Chinese for ‘mountains), and Mongolia has the Altay Mountains.  Japan has the Japanese Alps, in which the highest is Mount Fuji (12,388 feet high), an important symbol to the Japanese nation.

*The longest river in China, and the third longest in the world, is the Yangtze River, which flows through central China new Shanghai.  It flows for 3,965 miles, and waters hald of China’s agricultural area.  In 2003, China began filling the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam, which will be the largest hydroelectric dam in the world when it is finished in 2009.  This has been somewhat controversial, because it is very expensive, and will force up to 2 million people to leave their homes as they are flooded.

*China’s second largest river is the Yellow River, or Huang Ho, which flows through northern China.  It is named for the loess that it carries, which turns the water yellow.  Its yearly floods deposit this valuable soil along the riverbanks, making it one of China’s most fertile and populous areas, but the floods also kill people every year, occasionally killing hundreds of thousands or millions.  The Yellow River is China’s culture hearth, one of the world’s four great culture hearths, and is known as China’s Pride and as China’s Sorrow.

*The Xi River waters southern China, especially Guangzhou (Canton) and Macau.

*Northern China also has the Grand Canal, the longest artificial waterway in the world, which runs 1,085 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou (south of Shanghai).

*South-eastern China, South Korea, and southern Japan have humid subtropical climates, and mostly grow rice. 

*Northern China grows corn and wheat in a humid continental climate, while North Korea and northern Japan grow less in a similar climate (but with weaker soils). 

*Mongolia is mostly steppe, and has little arable land. 

*The interior of China is mostly desert and highland climates, and is fairly infertile and not particularly populous. 

*The very northern reaches of China and Mongolia are even subartic climates, with coniferous forests growing there (if anything does).


This page last updated 15 November, 2005.