Ala Shan Desert

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ala Shan Desert


a desert in Central Asia, in northern China, between the Ala Shan Range (Heilungkiang) and the Hwang Ho River in the east, the Jo Shui (Etsin Gol) River in the west, the foothills of the Nan Shan in the south, and the Gobi tectonic depression at the border between China and Mongolia in the north. It has an area of about one million sq km. The altitude ranges between 820 m in the northwest to 1,660 m in the south. The Ala Shan is a stratified plain with small isolated ranges of a relative altitude of 150–200 m (Bayan Ula, Hara Ula, and others) and areas of low rounded hills composed of ancient gneiss, granulites, amphibolites, quartz, and other rocks. There are numerous closed depressions with fresh or salt subsoil waters not far from the surface and salt lakes that are sometimes dried out (Hara Nur, Zhalatai Daws). There are large tracts of moving sands: in the southwest, Badan Zhareng; in the south, Kholalis; in the southeast, Tengri; and in the northwest, Ulanpukho. The Badan Zhareng tract has the largest sand ridges, attaining heights of 300–400 m. The river system is rich in seasonal streams, which flow only in the summer—during monsoon or other heavy rains. The biggest rivers are the Jo Shui and Shuihe. There are many lakes but most of them are very small, except the Sogo Nur and Shara Burdu lakes. The major types of landscape are the gobi, a sand and gravel rolling plain with monadnocks, having primitive stony soils, sparse brushwood vegetation (zygophyllaceae, ephedra, and others), and elements of steppe vegetation; tracts of moving sand dunes with very sparse vegetation (pea shrub, hedysarum, wormwood, and others); tsaidams, lowlands with fresh subsoil waters close to the surface and with a rich grass vegetation (reed mace, mace, cane, chee grass, reed grasses, licorice, and others); solonchaks with halophilious vegetation (potash plant, nitraria, genus Salsola); and desert woodlands of Haloxylon aphyllum with genus Nitraria vegetation on the lower tier. The animal world is represented by the saiga antelope, desert hare, suslik, sanderling, jerboa, and reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes); occasionally one finds kiiangi (wild donkeys). The population is primarily nomadic, and the chief occupation is animal husbandry. Permanent communities are located in the big lowlands.


Obruchev, V. A. Vostochnaia Mongoliia, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1947.
Sinitsyn, V. M. Tsentral’naia Aziia. Moscow, 1959.
Petrov, M. P. Pustyni Tsentral’noi Azii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.