Amu Darya

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Related to Amu Dar'ya: Amudarja, Oxus River

Amu Darya



(both: ämo͞o` däryä`, ä`mo͞o där`yə), river, c.1,600 mi (2,580 km) long, formed by the junction of the Vakhsh and Pandj rivers, which rise in the Pamir Mts. of central Asia. It flows generally northwest, marking much of the northern border of Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan before flowing through the Kara KumKara Kum
, two deserts, one in Kazakhstan and one in Turkmenistan. The Caspian Kara Kum or Garagum, the larger desert (c.115,000 sq mi/297,900 sq km), is W of the Amu Darya River and includes most of Turkmenistan. The Murghab and Tejen rivers flow out of the Hindu Kush Mts.
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 desert of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and entering the S Aral Sea through a delta. The river drains c.180,000 sq mi (466,200 sq km). It flows swiftly until it reaches the Kara Kum where its course braids into several channels.

The Amu Darya provides water for irrigation, but this heavy draw on its water has prevented the Amu Darya from replenishing the Aral SeaAral Sea
, salt lake, SW Kazakhstan and NW Uzbekistan, E of the Caspian Sea in an area of interior drainage. To the north and west are the edges of the arid Ustyurt Plateau; the Kyzyl Kum desert stretches to the southeast.
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. Additionally, the river's water is contaminated by agricultural runoff and industrial wastes released in its basin. The Kara Kum Canal (c.500 mi/800 km long) carries water from the Amu Darya near Kelif across S Turkmenistan to Ashgabat and supplements the flow of the Tejen and Murgab rivers. The Amu Darya is paralleled by the Trans-Caspian RR, which has lessened the river's importance as a transport route. In ancient times the Amu Darya was called the Oxus and figured importantly in the history of Persia and in the campaigns of Alexander the Great.

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Amu Darya


(Latin, Oxus; Arabic, Jaihun), a river in the USSR, the largest in Middle Asia, lying partly on the border between the USSR and Afghanistan. It is formed by the confluence of the Piandzh (Panj) and the Vakhsh and discharges into the Aral Sea. Its length is 1,415 km or 2,540 km if measured from the source of the Piandzh. The area of the Amu Darya basin, as far as the city of Kerki, is 309,000 sq km, not counting the basins of the Zeravshan and the Kashkadar’ia. The catchment area which produces the volume of flow is 227,000 sq km (including the water basins of the Zeravshan and Kashkadar’ia rivers). The basic volume of flow of the Amu Darya derives from the water basins of the Piandzh and the Vakhsh, where névés and glaciers cover large areas (about 10,000 sq km). From the Piandzh-Vakhsh confluence to the Il’chik Gorge, the width of the present-day Amu Darya valley is usually 4–25 km. After passing through the Il’chik Gorge, the river valley becomes box shaped. It is considerably narrower than in the preceding region (for the most part no wider than 2–4 km). The Karakum and Kyzylkum deserts border directly on the river valley. Beyond the Tiuiamuiun Gorge, the Amu Darya passes through the alluvial deposits of an ancient delta; here the valley broadens, achieving a width of several dozen kilometers. The present-day delta begins at the village of Takhiiatos. The channel is subject to frequent variations; the river strays about over its floodplain, eroding now the left, now the right bank. Tributaries enter the Amu Darya only during the first 180 km; for the rest of its length the waters of the Amu Darya are tapped for irrigation and lost to evaporation and seepage, so that its flow gradually diminishes. The principal tributaries of the Amu Darya are the Surkhab (Kunduz), the Kafirnigan, and the Sur-khandar’ia. The water of the Amu Darya is derived mainly from the Piandzh and the Vakhsh, which are fed by glaciers and snow. Influx of water into the Amu Darya usually increases in March, as a result of the thawing of snow in the lower parts of its water basin and partly as a result of flooding from rains. Because of the thawing of snow, firns, and glaciers, the water of the Amu Darya is highest from June through August. Peak flow at the city of Kerki is usually reached in July; the low-water mark for the year is reached during January or February, only rarely in March. Up to 1960, the average volume of flow at Kerki was 2,000 cubic meters per second or 63 cubic kilometers a year. Because of increased tapping of water by the Karakum, Amu-Bukhar, and other canals, the volume of flow of the Amu Darya is diminishing, especially in the lower course of the river during the low-water period. The water of the Amu Darya is noted for its high turbidity (3.3 kilograms per cubic meter); the river has one of the highest figures of suspended sediment in the world. Up to 1960, the Amu Darya carried 210 million tons of sediment a year (at Kerki). The lower course of the Amu Darya freezes over every year. Near the city of Nukus, the river is icebound for almost four months. Along the river, especially the lower course, the banks are lined with tugaic forests (thickets of poplar, tamarisk, oleaster, and reeds). The Amu Darya is inhabited by various species of fish: Pseudoscaphirhynchus, sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris), barbel, Aspius aspius, carp, and others.

The Amu Darya and its tributaries are important sources of irrigation water, supplying the Tadzhik, Uzbek, and Turkmen SSR’s, as well as Afghanistan. Not counting the basins of the Zeravshan and the Kashkadar’ia or Afghanistan, the Amu Darya basin has 1.26 million hectares of irrigated farmland. Owing to the closed character of the Aral Sea basin and its extremely unfavorable navigational conditions, the Amu Darya is of little value for transportation. The hydroelectric resources of the river and its tributaries are scant. The cities of Kerki and Chardzhou are located along the Amu Darya, and the cities of Urgench, Nukus, and Termez are near the river.

The Amu Darya, within whose basin were located the ancient states of Middle Asia—Chorasmia (at the mouth of the river), Sogdiana, and Bactria (on the middle and upper courses), was already well known in ancient times. In the Middle Ages and subsequently, the river functioned as a trade route from Rus’ to Chorasmia and Bukhara, by way of Astrakhan’ and Emba and then the Aral Sea. The Amu Darya has attracted great attention since the time of Peter I, who sought to bring the river into the orbit of Russian trade. It was at this time that Russian maps appeared, showing the Amu Darya as discharging into the Aral Sea. More or less systematic study of the river began only toward the end of the 19th or the start of the 20th century.


Shul’ts, V. L. Reki Srednei Azii, 2nd ed., parts 1–2. Leningrad, 1965.


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

Amu Darya

a river in central Asia, rising in the Pamirs and flowing northwest through the Hindu Kush and across Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to its delta in the Aral Sea: forms much of the N border of Afghanistan and is important for irrigation. Length: 2400 km (1500 miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
These rivers normally bear enormous amounts of suspended particles (silt); the water of the Amu Dar'ya is chocolate brown.
The main sources of freshwater were the Amu Dar'ya, the Sir Dar'ya (flowing into the Aral Sea), and a large number of artesian wells.
The lower stretches of the Amu Dar'ya and Sir Dar'ya have now almost completely lost a unique ecosystem, the tugai relict forest, all that remains of the forest that covered large areas in the Tertiary.
The tokai in the flood plain of the Amu Dar'ya started to suffer from water deficiency in 1962, when the reservoir of the Nurek Dam, far upstream, was filled.
Reduction (or stoppage) of water discharge into the Aral Sea from the Amu Dar'ya and Sir Dar'ya has caused the level of the Aral Sea to fall by 49 ft (15 m) and its surface area to decrease from 25,483 mi2 to 12,355 mi2 (66,000 [km.sup.2] to 32,000 [km.sup.2]).
The sharp decrease in the discharge of the Amu Dar'ya and Sir Dar'ya, together with the fall in the water level in the Aral Sea, meant that the beds of these rivers started to act as drainage channels; this caused the rapid desertification of the adjacent areas.
The only water the lake receives is drainage water from the irrigated areas of the left bank of the lower reaches of the Amu Dar'ya. This site was occupied in ancient times by a lake fed by the Amu Dar'ya, and through this lake and the Uzboy Channel there was a periodic connection with the Caspian Sea (see page 377).
The salt content of the Amu Dar'ya also increased greatly, though in this river chlorides prevail.
It should also be remembered that before its level fell, when it still received the waters of the Amu Dar'ya and the Sir Dar'ya, the Aral Sea was the final receptor of the salts from a huge area.
The increasing salinity of soils over a vast area means many plots, especially in the lower and middle stretches of the Amu Dar'ya, are now irrigated with highly salty water, containing more than 1.5 g/l, far in excess of acceptable levels.
The Bactrian camel takes its name from the place where it was first domesticated more than 2,000 years ago--the ancient kingdom of Bactria (between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Dar'ya, and also known as Bactriana).
The transfer of water from the Amu Dar'ya toward Merv and Ashkhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan, made possible the irrigation of hundreds of thousands of hectares (1 hectare=2.5 acres) and was a great boost to the region's economy.