Sample Geography Research Paper on The Geography of Eurasia

            In geography, the term Eurasia largely refers to the combination of the landmass of both Europe and Asia. Interesting is the absence of any physical distinction between Europe and Asia, and the distinction between the two continents is mostly historical and cultural. It is perhaps the more reason Eurasia is sometimes referred to as the largest among the continents of the world. With such a large mass of land, the distinction between the two continents is arbitrary; however, the Ural and Caucasus ranges form the main distinctions between the two continents. The vastness of the landmass that makes up Eurasia makes it possible for the continent to have all the extremities of weather. Geographically, the continent takes up most parts of Europe and Asia, but with the exception of the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. The vastness of the landmass mean the presence of diversity on the land in the people, their social and political organization, economics, and the environmental factors that the people have to deal with. Additionally, the biodiversity that exist in the continent is especially a marvel considering how far-stretched the land that makes the supercontinent is. In looking at the Geography of Eurasia, this paper will discuss specific characteristic of different features, which make up Eurasia. Among the features will include the characterization of the environmental and socio-economic features of Mongolia; the causes of environmental deterioration of the Caspian Sea; and a description of the causes and features of desertification in Kalmykia.

Environmental and Socio-economic Features of Mongolia

As a landlocked country, Mongolia is in the north of Central Asia, and borders Siberian Russia to the North and China all around the remaining directions (Neupert 36). Mongolia has a vast territory covering 1.5 million square kilometers, although most of the land in the country is sparsely populated. Mongolia has a long history of political conquest being the center of Genghis Khan’s empire, although it later became a frontier Chinese province before gaining autonomy from China in 1924 and stabling a socialist republic (Neupert 37). Under the chinese, the country was impoverished, and has an economy essentially based on subsistence nomadic animal husbandry (Neupert 37).

The vastness of the Mongolian country land presents a diverse environmental characteristic of the country. The features of the Mongolian environment depend on a number of factors given the difference in altitude that is the mainstay of Eurasia. In describing the Mongolian environmental features, Schwanghart, Moller and Schutt contend, “Mongolia’s exogenically driven environmental characters (e.g. climate, soils, vegetation and drainage) exhibit a strong zonal gradient determined by the planetary settings” (30). The settings effect is so strong, to a point that the mean annual precipitation in the country can decrease form between 300 and 400 millimeters in the north of the country to 100mm or less in the south (Schwanghart, Moller and Schutt, 30). The vegetation also follows the same trend, as it relies on the moisture supply. This means that the north of the country has more vegetation than the south of the country due to the difference in precipitation in the two regions. Changes in the vegetation characteristic from the north to the south exhibit the difference in precipitation. Thus, Taiga forests north of the country transform into forest steppe, which then transforms into desert steppe, and lastly Gobi desert located in the southward direction of Mongolia (Schwanghart, Moller and Schutt, 30).

Although precipitation may be one of the features that affect the type of vegetation and environment, other local and regional specificities cause the breaks in environmental settings. Of the factors, elevation is the most important in determining the breaks in the environmental settings (Schwanghart, Moller and Schutt, 30). The role of elevation is such that any increase in the elevation causes a change in the climate: an increase in elevation customarily means a decrease in air temperature and an increase in precipitation. Consequently, the northern parts of the country that have higher elevation receive high rainfall and therefore the presence of Taiga forests in the northern regions, while the southern regions are largely desert as they are low and thus do not receive high rainfall.

The environmental landscape of Mongolia consists of six zones namely the desert, mountain, mountain Taiga, mountain forest steppe, arid steppe and Taiga. Most of these regions are home to some of the world’s endangered species including the Snow Leopard, Rock Ptamigan, Ibex, Altai Snowcock and Argali sheep (Schwanghart, Moller and Schutt, 30). The Dwarf Siberian Pine and White Gentiana are among the endangered plants growing in the country. Both the animals and plants are in the mountain belt; a region that remains preserved due to its harsh cold weather and strong winds.

For its socio-economic features, Mongolia has undergone change from a nomadic grazing economy to a socialist republic. In the days before socialism, the use of grassland in the forest steppe, steppe and desert steppe was communal. Nevertheless, with the coming in power of a socialist government, changes occurred in the socio-economic patterns including livestock breeding in cooperative and state farms (Opp 9). There have been several changes in ownership, including privatization of livestock. State ownership of pastureland, however, is present.

In the recent years, the Mongolian government has invested in developing its people and developing its economy through collaboration with international organizations such as IMF. These developments have led to better ranking of the country, including its elevation into low-to-middle income countries by the World Bank. The development of the people by the government led the country to be ranked 100th in the Human Development Index in 2010, having been at position 115 in 2007 (Chuluundorj 44).

The Mongolian government has been hard at work in its development increasing its GDP to $2,221.5 per capita (Chuluundorj 45). Additionally, the government has initiated national programs including Mongolian Livestock and Third Campaign to Recover Arable Lands. The programs are targeting animal husbandry and agricultural sub-sectors, purposefully creating foundation for accelerated development of the country (Chuluundorj 45). Part of the programs include the creation of meat, milk and leather processing factories in both rural and urban areas as part of the Mongolian Industrialization Program, aimed at increasing the amount of output from the national processing industry (Chuluundorj 45).

Despite these programs, poverty remains high in the country. By 2009, the country’s poverty level was at 38.7 percent, increasing to 39.2 percent in 2010. The poverty levels are high even as the government continues to provide support for the activities and actions aimed at reducing these levels of poverty. Working towards improving the situation, the Mongolian government has intensified job placements; intensified training and retraining systems; and encourage apprenticeship and on-the-job training. Further, the government has implemented high economic growth policies for job creation and support of employment, programs that seem to work as the unemployment rate has been dropping from 13 percent in 2010 to 8.7 percent in 2011 (Chuluundorj 45).

Causes of Environmental Deterioration of the Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea is the largest land-locked water body on earth. The sea has five coastal countries around it including Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russia Federation and Turkmenistan (Caspian Environmental Program 9). A special feature about the sea is its isolation, climate and saline gradients, all of which have come together to create an ecosystem that is home to more than 400 species all endemic to the Sea’s waters (Caspian Environmental Program 9). Among these is a unique specie of sturgeon, whose commercial value is its black caviar and tasty meat, making it a sought after fish. Currently, however, the species and the environment of the Caspian Sea is under threat from over-exploitation, pollution, and climate change, all of which work to cause environmental deterioration of the Caspian Sea.

One of the causes of the deterioration of the Caspian Sea environment is over-exploitation. The Caspian Environmental Program contends, “It is clear that the decline in recorded sturgeon catches is due to a decline in available stocks. Over a 30-year period, total sturgeon catches have declined dramatically – from 27 thousand tons to less than one thousand tons” (19). The decline in the number of tons of sturgeon caught is only indicative of over-exploitation of the sturgeon. Even Beluga (the biggest and most valuable sturgeon across the world) has seen a decline in the number of tons caught over the years. In the 90s, about 1000 tons were caught; this dropped to 33 tons in 2007 (Caspian Environmental Program 19). Further, the Russian sturgeon catches were among the highest in the 70s, with up to 12,000 tons caught annually, this dropped to between 5,000 and 7,000 tons in the 90s, and only 124 tons in 2008 (Caspian Environmental Program 19).

At the peak of sturgeon fishing, the Caspian Sea accounted for 80 percent of the total sturgeon supply in the world. However, the sturgeon in the Caspian Sea nears extinction due to overfishing today. So serious is the problem that artificial support of the sturgeon is necessary today. Moreover, the environmental authority for the protection of the Caspian Sea’s environment has also introduced a quota system and a ban on pelagic fishing in the past, both of which have not been effective in restoring the declining fish populations.

Overexploitation in the area also includes oil exploration, whose prospects continue to increase with the declining world oil production among the top world oil producers and the rising energy prices (Caspian Environmental Program 25). Oil exploration in the region is among the oldest in the world, Azerbaijan’s Balahani-Sabunchi-Ramani site having started its operation in 1871 and is still operational today (Caspian Environmental Program 25). Recently, there have been increasing oil exploration and mining in the sea, a factor that has had ecological effect on the Sea. Kazakhstan has since 1994 increased its oil and gas output; as the biggest gas producer in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has plans to increase its energy and oil production; all of which are pointers to overexploitation of the Sea’s resources (Caspian Environmental Program 25).

Pollution is perhaps the biggest contributor to the environmental deterioration of the Sea. The Sea is an important endorheic basin in the world; yet, its landlocked nature is its bane as there is no flow-through, which could help in its self-purification (Caspian Environmental Program 28). The feature means that pollutants entering the water body remain within the water body, given that there are no means by which they can be removed. The level of contaminants going into the Sea is especially high, and with no way for purification, the environmental deterioration of the Sea is especially fast.

Among the most important sources of pollution for the Sea are rivers, which introduce pollution fluxes from different sources including agriculture, industry (oil and gas sector included) and urbanization. Data from two reports (Baseline Inventory Report: Land-based point and non-point pollu­tion sources in the Caspian Coastal Zone (2008) and the Regional Pollution Action Plan (2009) have analyzed the quantities of pollutants introduced into the Sea through the rivers and from different sources and presented alarming findings (Caspian Environmental Program 28). The sources have included wastewater treatment plants, food production and manufacturing industries. The pollution loads from the rivers from the different countries as reported was especially alarming given the content of most of the pollutants.

            The chemicals used in agriculture include DDT and HCH, both of which are present in fertilizers and pesticides. Small-scale farmers along the Caspian coastline and in the freshwater deltas of the Sea use these pesticides and fertilizers, which then find their way into the Sea through run offs (Caspian Environmental Program 29). Further, industrial discharges add to the mix of pollutants. The discharges have a link to wastewater treatment, which given the economic difficulties in these countries, are do not function, and if they do, are completely inefficient (Caspian Environmental Program 29).

            Pollution into the sea also includes land waste from agricultural and industrial activities in addition to open dumping sites. Solid waste dumpsites are not as many, and there are many illegal dumpsites across the littoral countries (Caspian Environmental Program 34). The presence of oil exploration and refinery has also contributed to waste pollution, where reports indicate that there is widespread pollution from oil and oil products. In Azerbaijan alone for example, a total of 21.3 thousand hectares of land has varying extents of pollution. According to the Caspian Environmental Program, “10.1 thousand ha is polluted in lower layers or at aquifer level, and eight thousand ha is covered with oil, while oil is present elsewhere in water pools” (34). The presence of oil in water pools has especially been responsible for anthropogenic changes in the environment and landscape of the area (Caspian Environmental Program 34).

            Although land-locked and therefore not feeling the direct impact of rise in the global sea levels, climate change is affecting the Caspian Sea and its environment. The Sea plays a role in the atmospheric processes, balancing the regional water in addition to influencing microclimates (Caspian Environmental Program 65). There is a direct linkage of the Caspian Sea region with the North Atlantic Oscillation, which makes it part of the climatic changes and processes across Europe and around the Caspian Basin. With oil exploration and refinery around the Caspian region, activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions, climate changes therefore have a direct impact on the Caspian environment. Climate change has been responsible for the rise in the sea level of the Caspian Sea; nonetheless, other manifestations of climate change’s effects on the Caspian Basin have included natural disasters such as dust storms, floods, mudflows, droughts, and desertification (Caspian Environmental Program 68).

Causes and Features of Desertification in Kalmykia

Located in southwest of Russia, Kalmykia is a Russian province. It borders Astrakhan a Volgograd Oblasts on the northeast and north respectively, the Rostov Oblast to the west, Stavropol Krai to the southwest and Dagestan to the south. The country has its coastline to the southeast at the Caspian Sea. The climate of the country is continental with very hot and dry summers. The winters are cold with little snow. A number of rivers flow through the country with a few lakes including the Sarpa and Tsagan-Khak. One of the immediate problems facing the country is desertification, and while the vast regions of Europe continue to face desertification, the worst situation is in Kalmyk Republic, which is currently the mist arid region of Europe with over 80 percent of the Republic under the desert, while the rest is severely affected (United Nations Environment Program 73). A number of reasons explain the desertification in the Republic; however, there are unique features that set apart the desertification in Kalmykia and Russia Federation from the rest of the world.

The fact that desert region occupies a large portion of Kalmykia calls for an investigation into the cause of desertification in the Republic. According to Glazovsky, one of the causes of desertification in Kalmykia is the ground water level rise and salinization. The rise of water and salinization is a result of hydro-technical construction, irrigation and natural processes (Glazovsky n.p.). The processes have caused the salinization of thereabouts of 129 million hectares of land. The inadequacies in design and construction, as well as the exploitation of irrigation systems have led to a situation in which a bulk of the land is in poor condition (Glazovsky n.p.).

Military action is also responsible for the degradation of the soil and desertification in the Republic. Military action as a cause is evidenced by the physical destruction and contamination of the soil layers, in addition to the provisional withdrawal of mined territories from rotation (Glazovsky n.p.).

Perhaps the history of the Republic is the main cause of desertification of the region. The Republic has a history of overexploiting the land for agricultural production and pasture for the livestock, which has caused overstocking. The exigencies exerted on the soil, including the exceeding carrying capacity through overstocking and plowing areas unsuitable for the activity have been on the forefront of initiating the degradation process, causing desertification in the Republic (Glazovsky n.p.). Increase in the Republic’s population has been the culprit in the increased agricultural intensification and exceeding carrying capacity. The history of Kalmykia as among the countries that made up the Soviet Union is also to blame for desertification, not only in Kalmykia, but also in other former Soviet Union countries. The Soviet Union administration had insisted on an economy focused on short-term increase in production, while ignoring the environmental impact of such activities.

Another cause of desertification in Kalmykia is a factor referred to as a “tragedy of commons” that refers to the inexorable overuse and corrosion of commonly used resources heralded by the longing of increasing self well-being. Therefore, with land being in possession of no one, and with the absence of an effective environmental management system, there are no checks protecting the environment and natural resources from degradation; all contributing factors to desertification in the republic.

While the aforementioned are the causes of desertification in Kalmykia, the desertification in the region has unique features. Kust, Andreeva and Dobrynin state that one of the features of desertification in the Republic is poorly and very poorly drained regions. The result of this is underflooding, secondary alkanization and salination of irrigated land (Kust, Andreeva and Dobrynin 17).

Part of the pride of Kalmykia was the Black Soils region, which was an arable region for agricultural use. The overuse of this region has resulted in the region being the desertification center. Thus, the desertification is not only a cause of soil degradation and plant and animal resource productivity, but also a low count of biodiversity (Gabunshchina 140). The sand invasion of much of the previously fertile land has forced many of the species unable to adapt to the new conditions to flee or die altogether. Gabunshchina informs that the saiga antelope population has drastically decreased, with fears that the rare animal may disappear altogether due to desertification (140). Apart from desertification illegal hunting of the antelopes for meat and their horns has also played a role in the reduction of the species’ population dropping to about 25,000 heads in 2000 from 700,000 heads in the 1970s (Kust, Andreeva and Dobrynin 15). Flora and fauna of the region, where ephemera and ephemerids, dangerous grasses and weeds have chocked many perennial plants, have also experienced the losses (Gabunshchina 140).

The features of death of some plants and near extinction of some of the animals are also evident in the demography of the region. Yet the problem is not only experienced in the desertification centers but in other areas as well, particularly in bordering territories. Among the changes are the unfavorable occurrences in people’s life, health and life-support systems: there is a rapid growth in inexplicable diseases in addition to people leaving the country due to desertification and covering of the bulk of settlement areas with sand (Gabunshchina 140). Desertification in Kalmykia has been responsible for the disappearance of more than 25 settlements from the Republic’s settlement map over the last few decades as it extend 40,000-50,000 hectares a year (Gabunshchina 140).

Conclusion

The ecosystem in Eurasia is undergoing tremendous changes largely due to human activities and climate change. Each country in the super continent has its unique features despite having related history, especially those under the former Soviet Union. As one of the countries in Eurasia, Mongolia has unique environmental and socio-economic features, which rightly define it as a country. Its mountain ranges with snow on top and harsh conditions have worked to preserve mountain range environment that is home to some endangered species. However, the country still battles with poverty, although the government has put measures and policies in place to combat poverty. On the other hand, the Caspian Sea faces environmental degradation due to environmental change, over-exploitation and pollution. The factors have worked together to cause the deterioration of the Caspian Sea environment and measures are therefore required to salvage what is remaining of the Caspian Sea ecosystem, especially the rare species of fish such as sturgeon. Similar measures are also necessary in Kalmykia, a republic that is currently facing desertification due to the excessive use of the land through activities such as overgrazing, over-plowing and inefficient irrigation methods among other causes. In all these, evident is the need for measures to curb the environmental degradation of the area, if the area is to support any human, plant and animal life in future.

Works Cited

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