Malay Archipelago

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Malay Archipelago,

great island group of SE Asia, formerly called the East Indies. Lying between the Asian mainland and Australia, and separating the Pacific Ocean from the Indian Ocean, it includes Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and E Malaysia.

Malay Archipelago


the world’s largest group of islands, situated between mainland Asia and Australia and including the Greater Sunda Islands, the Lesser Sunda Islands, the Philippines, the Moluccas, and many groups of smaller islands. Countries lying wholly or partly within the archipelago are Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. There are more than 10,000 islands with a total area of about 2 million sq km. The largest islands, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Java, form the Greater Sunda Islands.

Terrain. Middle-elevation and low mountains predominate, and the maximum elevation is 4,101 m (Mount Kinabalu on Kalimantan). There are also hilly plains and lowlands composed of alluvial and marine deposits; the largest and swampiest lowlands are on Sumatra and Kalimantan. The archipelago is part of the region of Late Cenozoic and recent folding. Neocene geosynclinal detrital strata breached by granite intrusions are widespread. There is intensive volcanism; of the more than 330 volcanoes, some 100 are active (the most famous is Krakatoa). The capitalist world’s largest deposits of tin are found in the archipelago, and it also has large deposits of oil, iron, nickel, tungsten, manganese, and bauxite.

Climate. The central part of the archipelago lies in the equatorial zone, and the northern and southern rims are in subequatorial zones of the northern and southern hemispheres. Yearly temperature variations are slight, ranging from 23°-26° C in the plains to 15°-17°C in the mountains. There are perpetual snows on Mount Kinabalu. The annual precipitation in the plains ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 mm, and in mountainous areas it exceeds 5,000 mm. In the equatorial zone precipitation falls evenly, but in the subequatorial zones with monsoon circulation, it falls mainly in the summer months, which differ in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Rivers and lakes. The river network is dense, and the rivers are deep but short, with the exception of the largest rivers, the Barito, Kapuas (Kalimantan), Musi, and Indragiri (Sumatra), parts of which are navigable. In their upper reaches the rivers often flow through mountainous terrain and are full of rapids. The rivers have enormous hydroelectric potential. In the plains they are used for irrigation.

Soils and vegetation. Red and lateritic soils predominate in areas with adequate or excessive rainfall, and red-brown and brown soils, in regions with seasonally insufficient rainfall. Brown and mountain-meadow soils occur in the mountains, and alluvial-meadow and meadow-swamp soils in the river valleys.

The flora of the Malay Archipelago is among the richest in the world. On Java alone there are more than 6,000 species, and on Kalimantan, more than 11,000. Many of the plants are native to the archipelago; more than 500 genera and about 30-35 percent of the species are endemic. There is altitudinal zonation. In plains and low mountains (to 1,200-1,300 m) there are tropical evergreen rain forests, characterized by a great diversity of species, including palms (up to 300 species), pandanuses, bamboos, rasamalas, trees of the genus Ficus, and wild bananas. At higher altitudes there are evergreen forests with subtropical plants, and at elevations of 2,000-4,000 m there are very humid mountain forests with an abundance of mosses, giving way to a zone of shrubs and mountain meadows. Deciduous monsoon forests and savannas predominate in subequatorial zones, and mangrove forests are found in deltas and along seacoasts. Most of the plains are under cultivation (rice and tropical farming).

Wildlife. The archipelago is part of the Malaysian subregion of the Indo-Malaysian zoogeographic region and the Papuan subregion of the Australian region. Typical representatives of wildlife include anthropoid apes, dog-faced baboons, elephants, rhinoceroses, Malay bear, Malay red wolf, flying lemurs, and flying squirrels (Pleromys volans).

Natural regions. The Malay Archipelago is divided into three natural zones: the Greater Sunda Islands have an equatorial climate, even and abundant precipitation, and extensive rain forests; the Lesser Sunda Islands have a subequatorial climate (southern hemisphere), a long dry season, and a predominance of savannas; and the Philippines have a subequatorial climate (northern hemisphere), even rainfall, and dense evergreen and deciduous monsoon forests.


Malay Archipelago

a group of islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, between SE Asia and Australia: the largest group of islands in the world; includes over 3000 Indonesian islands, about 7000 islands of the Philippines, and, sometimes, New Guinea