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Gobi(gō`bē), Mandarin Yintai shamo, great stony desert of N central Asia, c.500,000 sq mi (1,295,000 sq km), extending c.1,000 mi (1,610 km) from east to west across SE Mongolia and N China from the Da Hinggan (Great Khingan) Mts. to the Tian Shan; one of the world's largest deserts. The Gobi, located on a plateau from 3,000 to 5,000 ft (910–1,520 m) high, consists of a series of shallow alkaline basins; the western portion of the desert is entirely sandy. The Kerulen River is the Gobi's largest permanent stream; intermittent streams flow into small salt lakes or disappear into the sand. Nearly all the region's soil has been removed by the prevailing northwesterly winds and deposited in N central China as loess; fierce sand- and windstorms are common. The Gobi has cold winters and short, hot summers. Precipitation is in the form of widely spaced cloudbursts. The Gobi's grassy fringe supports a small population of nomadic Mongolian tribes engaged in sheepherding and goatherding. The Gobi is crossed by a highway and by the Trans-Mongolian RR, which links Ulaanbaatar with Jining, China. The railway shortens the Moscow-Beijing run by c.700 mi (1,130 km). Coal is mined at Tawan-Tolgoi, Mongolia; oil fields are located at Saynshand, Mongolia, and Yumen, China; and there are copper and other mineral deposits. Many paleontological finds, including early mammal and dinosaur fossils, have been made in the Gobi. Prehistoric stone implements, some c.100,000 years old, have also been excavated.
(1) The general term for desert and semidesert landscapes in northern and northeastern Central Asia. “Gobi” indicates plains or slightly hilly places, sometimes with enclosed salty depressions, with sparse vegetation, and not infrequently with rocky or saline soil lacking surface water.
(2) The desert terrain of Central Asia, in China and the Mongolian People’s Republic. It is divided into the Trans-Altai Gobi, the Mongolian Gobi, the Alashan Gobi, the Gashun Gobi, and the Dzungaria Gobi. Structural plains predominate at altitudes of 900-1,200 m and consist chiefly of chalk and Paleocene and Neocene rocks. These alternate with more ancient ridges of low hills, crests, and mesas reaching 1,800 m in relative altitude. It is bounded on the north by the Mongolian Altai and Hangkai and on the south by the Nan Shan and Altyn Tagh ranges. Sloping plains below the mountains are divided by many dry river beds that fall into closed depressions occupied by dry lakes, salt deposits, or hard clay surfaces; small massifs of shifting sands are also found. The climate is definitely continental and of the temperate zone, with annual maximum and minimum temperatures differing by 85° C (January average, -40°; July average, 45° C). Precipitation varies from 68 mm in the northwestern Alashan Gobi to 200 mm in the northeastern Mongolian People’s Republic, with the maximum in summer. There are almost no rivers with permanent flows, and most of the riverbeds contain water only in the summer. The soil is grayish brown or brown and often combined with sandy, saline, and takyr clay desert soils. Carbonate, gypsum-bearing, and coarse gravel soil variations are typical. Desert vegetation is sparse and thin. On the plateaus and piedmont plains there is small brush gypsophil vegetation (cockspur, bean caper, winter fat, Réaumuria, and several types of Nitraria and Russian thistle). On the salt marshes, tamarisks and potash plants are found in addition to Nitraria and Russian thistle; on the sandy areas are found sand wormwood, Zaisan saxaul, Hedysarum, and perennial and annual grasses. In the northeastern and eastern parts of the Mongolian People’s Republic, semiarid lands are extensive, with wormwoods, Russian thistle, grain groups, and occasional beds of bush pea tree. The animal life varies from area to area. Wild camels still exist, as well as the onager, Przevalski’s horse, and several types of antelope. There are many rodents and reptiles and many endemic species of flora and fauna.
The basic occupation of the people of the Gobi is herding. Small horned stock, camels, and horses are kept, and to a lesser extent large horned stock. Groundwater is quite abundant and is very important to the water supply. Agriculture is developed only in river valleys.
REFERENCESObruchev, V. A. Vostochnaia Mongoliia, parts 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Murzaev, E. M. Mongol’skaia Narodnaia Respublika, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1952.
Petrov, M. P. Pustyni Tsentral’noi Azii, vols. 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966-67.
M. P. PETROV