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Asia’s landmass area is the largest of the continents (its western end continues into the European continent; this combined land is arbitrarily divided along a line set just east of the Ural Mountains, runs south to Magnetogorsk, and then moves west until it turns south again to the Caspian Sea). It’s landscapes are also extremely diverse as its climates range from arctic through arid to tropical humid. Asia contains the most extensive mountain systems on any continent. The Landsat images shown on this page (and its continuation on page 6-14a) well illustrate this diversity. References to images in other Sections confirm this.


Parts of Asia have been imaged prior to this Section. In addition to the already shown subscene images of Tokyo (page Intro-23) and Beijing and Shanghai (page 4-4), other images (mostly Landsat) of Iran (page 2-6) and China (page 2-7), Other Asian images are shown for Iran-Pakistan-India (page 7-3), and Iran, Pakistan, the Ganges in India, South China, and Java, (first part of Section 17) in the pages specified.

An idea of just how vast Asia is as a landmass becomes evident in this relief map that shows its extent and the major mountain systems in various regions within it:

Relief map of Asia, including mountains and the trenches along its eastern margin in the Pacific.

The current geopolitical units (countries) in Asia are named in this map:

Geographic map of Asia

By convention the land designated now as Russia consists of European Russia (to the Urals) and Asiatic Russia. The largest expanse of land in the world that is a single political unit is Siberia, the huge tract that makes up most of Russia. Siberia is sparsely populated relative to European Russia, owing mainly to its harsh winter climate. It is, however, one of the richer sections of the Earth’s crust in mineral wealth and timber. Three types of landscape/ecosystem are predominant: the lowlands steppes, the subarctic tundra, and vast stretches of mountains. Because of its size, we will show only three examples.

As said, the boundary between European Russia and Asiatic Russia (Siberia) is arbitrarily set at the western edge of Ural Mountains. This north-south range of folded Paleozoic rocks rises abruptly from flatlands on both sides:

Part of the Ural Mountains as imaged by Landsat.

Typical flat and largely barren steppes are found around the city of Kurgan, east and south of the Urals. In this May 1972 Landsat image, the dark gray areas have yet to be covered with vegetation since snow cover had only recently been melted. But some areas have become to produce spring vegetation.

The steppes of southwest Siberia.

The second scene shows the westward flowing stretch of the Ob River, in the western Siberian Lowlands, about 500 km (300 miles) east of the Urals; as it moves further west it will turn north into the Kara Sea above the Arctic Circle. Its overall length is more than 4000 km (2500 miles). This meandering river now is in flood (June) after spring snow melt. The myriad of lakes in the upper half are formed as sinks owing to poor drainage in the underlying glacial tills. The entire region lies within the taiga forest zone, consisting of Siberian fir, stone pine, larch, and spruce. Surgut is the only town of any size in the image.

The Ob River valley that flows across the glaciated steppes of western Siberia.

In the far eastern reaches of Siberia, mountainous terrain predominates. Here are mountain-like hills and divides on a rolling plateau surface etched by past glaciation and current stream erosion; these extend from the Chersogo Mtns just to the south. Already, by this October 28th, 1972 date, the entire region is snow covered. The main drainage path is the Indigirka River (lower left), into which flow the Ulakhan (mid-left) and Nera (upper left) rivers. Only a large village, Oymyakon on the Indigirka, is show on the regional map.

Snow-covered mountainous terrain in eastern Siberia.

The image below is part of the Kyzul Kum desert region of Uzbekistan, one of the Muslim countries loosely tied to Russia. The region is north of Afghanistan, in southwest Asia. The major river, running up through the center of the image, is the Amu Dar’ya, the longest (2300 km; 1440 miles) in this part of Asia, and is noted for carrying the heaviest sediment load (derived from the Tian Shan mountains) of any major river in the world. This load is carried into the Aral Sea (top) which actually is a large lake, slowly evaporating so that its maximum depth now is about 25 m (80 ft). The river has built a very large delta on which cane thickets and woody brushlands are widespread. Marshlands are indicated by the deep reds. Some farming occurs on the delta but is isolated owing to frequent flooding and is most prevalent where irrigation ditches have been dug. The swarm of sandy "islands" in the upper right are dunes now dissected and submerged by locally rising waters.

The Aral Sea (a lake) in Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan, with a large delta formed by inflow of the sediment-laden Amu-Dar’ya River.

In the largest of the former Soviet Union southern republics, Kazakhstan, is Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater body in the world - 23000 cubic kilometers (5520 cubic miles), holding 20% of all such water on the continents. At its deepest, the depth reaches 1620 meters (5310 ft), also a world record. The city of Irkutsk is to its west. Only the southern half of the lake is shown here:

Space image showing part of Lake Baikal.

Most westerners think of Siberia as desolate and in places almost uninhabitable. While there are vast stretches that are sparsely populated, some larger towns and a few cities are growing as the Russian people are encouraged to resettle in Siberia. About 100 km (62 miles) north of Lake Baikal is the city of Irkutsk, on the Trans-Siberian Railway. This astronaut photo shows its extent. It is the source of much of the electric power in that part of Siberia, generated at the Dam shown:

Irkutsk, southern Siberia; astronaut photo from the ISS.

The capital of Kazakhstan, in one of the breakaway Republics from the former Soviet Union, is Almaty (formerly called Alma-Ata). This is a city of more than a million. It lies between the southern edge of steppe agriculture and a small mountain range:

Almaty, capital of Kazakhstan.

We have seen images of Afghanistan before, in the Overview and elsewhere. Here is another, a photo taken by an astronaut during the Apollo 7 mission. The extreme ruggedness of the terrain offers strong evidence for why it has so far proved so difficult to find and capture Osama bin Laden, the terrorist behind 9/11.

The mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; Apollo 9 photo.

This next scene includes literally "The Top of the World". The Himalaya Mountains, highest on Earth, and the highest flatlands on our planet making up the Tibetan Plateau to the north. This Terra MISR image shows much of both topographic features:

MISR image of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalaya Mountains to its south.

We remind you with this illustration (seen before in Section 2) that the Himalayas are the result of a massive collision by the northward migrating Indian subcontinent against the offshore sediments and land rocks in the "underbelly" of Eurasian plate along South Asia. The result was a mix of crumpling and uplift of these rocks.

Schematic showing the progressive northward drift of the Indian subcontinent leading eventually to collision with South Asia, forming the Himalayas and surrounding mountain systems in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (Burma).

The grandeur of these mountains has been captured in these two photos taken from the International Space Station from a height of 120 miles. The first looks to the north, over the foothills, and includes Mt. Everest on the far right top. The second looks from the south with the seventh tallest mountain in the Himalayas, Dhoulogiri, being labeled; the Tibet Plateau is in the middle ground.

The south approach to that part of the Himalayas that includes Mt. Everest; ISS astronaut photo.

The north side of the Himalayas, photographed by an astronaut on the International Space Station.

The Himalayas occupy nearly all of the country of Nepal (a bit of India is present at the bottom of the next image). Its capital, Katmandu, is visible in the valley above the left center edge. Going northward from the bottom, one passes across the High Plains of the Ganges to a line of dissected gravel deposits, known as the Siwalik Hills (elevations up to 1300 m [4300 ft], carried down from the high mountains during active uplifts in the later Tertiary. Their deeper red color indicate subtropical forests of bamboo and other vegetation. The relief becomes strikingly rugged in the Lesser Himalayas (3000 m [10000 ft]), that continue to rise towards the crest region of the High Himalayas (6000-8800 m [20000 to 29000 ft) marked by snow cover in this December image. Mt. Everest (8848 m [29030 ft]) does not stand out from neighboring peaks; it is near the upper right corner. Surprisingly, snow is largely absent from the intermediate heights, owing to the drying out of monsoonal rain clouds that have crossed the Indian subcontinent.

Landsat image of the High Himalayas, and their foothills, in Nepal and northern India; Mt Everest, in the scene, does not stand apart and is hard to find.

This is a good time to introduce an odd-shaped image, made by the Large Format Camera (LFC) flown on one of the Space Shuttle missions (the camera and mission will be reviewed in more detail on page 12-4). What you see below includes the area in the above Landsat scene (find it) but also goes much farther west and north.

Large Format Camera photo (taken from the Shuttle) extending (on the southeast) from the Siwalik Hills across the Himalayas to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau (on the northwest).

When one thinks of the Himalayas, often the name "Mount Everest" flashes through the mind. This tallest (28030 ft) peak on Earth is the ultimate goal of intrepid mountain climbers (more than 200 have died in their attempt to reach its summit). It lies on the border between eastern Nepal and Tibet (annexed by China). Here is a photograph of Everest, looking southward at the North Face which shows the mountain at its most challenging:

Mount Everest, a ground photo from Kallapattar.

Compare this photo with a view of Everest made by combining SRTM elevation data with a Landsat subscene, in which Everest is even more prominent because of vertical exaggeration:

Perspective view of Mt Everest and approaches maded from SRTM/Landsat data; to the writer this image symbolizes his strong belief that Ludwig von Beethoven's 9th Symphony is the Everest of all music.

The best reason for trying this daring feat was given by Mallory's famous (and profoundly simple) dictum: "Because it is there". More than 1400 have since scaled it following the first successful try by Sir Edmund Hillary (July 3, 1953) and his sherpa, Tenzing. Here are two views: the top a SIR-C radar image that brings out the rugged topography; the bottom a Landsat view:

Two views (SIR-C; Landsat) of the same stretch of the Himalayas containing Mt. Everest.

Recently, the IKONOS multispectral sensor made a notable image at 4 meter resolution that includes Mount Everest. It is the triangular-shaped feature just above the center; with this pattern, go back to the previous figure to locate the peak, keeping in mind that the IKONOS image is "upside-down" relative to the SIR-C and Landsat images.

IKONOS image of the Mt. Everest area; the peak lies near the arrow associated with the South Face; note that north points downward.

Most expeditions to Mt. Everest begin at Katmandu, the capital of Nepal. Here are a pair of images made from Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission (SRTM) data in which the bottom is a b & w radar image in which Katmandu is seen as a darker area in a valley and the bottom shows the topography of its surroundings, as produced using several SRTM bands and a Landsat subscene:

SRTM images of the topography in the Katmandu, Nepal area; the bottom shows a radar view of this small city.

Before entering India again, lets first look at much of Pakistan and western India as imaged by Terra's MODIS. The fertile valley of the Indus River is bright green. Note the mountain structures of Pakistan to the west which we will see again in a mosaic in Section 7.

MODIS image of much of Pakistan and adjacent western India.

The Gulf of Kutch (lower left) in western India (State of Gujarat) is surrounded by the Kutch lowlands on the north and the Kathiawar Peninsula on the south. The region is also known as the Rann of Kutch. Vast tidal and saline marshes, with little vegetation, are distributed both in the upper left (the Great Rann) and at the head of the Gulf. (the Little Rann). These mudflats are superposed on alluvial plains, possibly developed when the Indus River to west once emptied further east into the Indian Ocean. The dark brown areas on land are low rises capped by part of the Deccan basalt flows that extend over much of western India. Only the area in the lower right is notably populated.

The Rann of Kutch, in western India; landscape consists both of weathered basalts and alluvial sediments.

South of the Rann, on India's west coast, is one of its famed cities - Bombay (now renamed Mumbai, to detach it from its English colonial history). Here it is in a Landsat-7 ETM+ image.

Bombay, India.

Moving north, then east we see two PROBA images, the top of India's capital, New Dehli, and then below, its most crowded city, Calcutta.

New Dehli; PROBA image.

Calcutta; PROBA image.

New Delhi is a comparatively young city, being built largely during and after the last years of British rule in India. Below is a skyline view of the modern part, and finally some government building in the style typical of Indian architecture:

Part of the New Delhi skyline

Government building in New Delhi.

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Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email: