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(Turkic, “red sands”), a sandy desert between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, in the Uzbek and Kazakh SSR’s and partly in the Turkmen SSR. The desert is bounded in the northwest by the Aral Sea, in the northeast by the Syr Darya, in the east by the spurs of the Tien-Shan and Pamir-Alai mountains, and in the southwest by the Amu Darya. It has an area of 300,000 sq km.
The Kyzylkum is a plain sloping to the northwest with elevations ranging from 300 m in the southeast to 53 m in the northwest. It has a number of closed depressions and isolated, dissected monadnocks—Bukantau (764 m), Kul’dzhuktau (to 785 m), Tamdytau (922 m)—composed of highly dislocated and metamorphosed Paleozoic schists, hornfels, limestones, and granites. Desert conditions prevail in the mountains, and most have leveled peaks and rocky, strongly dissected slopes. The greater part of the Kyzylkum is occupied by ridges of semifixed sand, usually having a meridional orientation. Relative elevation of the ridges varies from 3 to 30 m; the highest point is 75 m. The desert’s level areas are composed of Cenozoic clays and sandstones, and, in the north and northwest, of sandy loam river deposits from the Zhandar’ia and other ancient channels of the Syr Darya and from the Akchadar’ia, an ancient channel of the Amu Darya, all flowing into the southeast corner of the Aral Sea. There are many takyrs in the northwest.
The climate is continental. Summers are hot, with average July temperatures of 26°-29°C; in January the average temperature is 0° to — 9°C. Precipitation totals 100–200 mm per year, falling mainly in winter and spring.
Although the desert has no surface streams, there are abundant reserves of fresh underground water. Most of the desert lies in the middle subzone of the temperate zone deserts; in the south it borders on subtropical deserts. Soils are gray-brown and sandy, and solonets and solonchak are also found.
The vegetation cover is rich in ephemerals. Sand sedge, white saxaul, Ammodendron conollyi, and Salsola richteri are common on the sand ridges, and wormwood grows on the clayey hills. Thickets of Anabasis salsa and saltworts are found in the northwest, and in the valleys of dry riverbeds are black saxaul woodlands. The desert is inhabited by animals adapted to living without watering places, getting all or most of their water from their food. To decrease their need for water, many of them are nocturnal. The mammals are represented by the Persian gazelle, long-clawed suslik, large-toothed suslik, gerbil, jerboa, sand and steppe cats, wolves, corsac fox, and Cape hare. Birds include the crested lark, desert warbler, houbara bustard, and saxaul jay. There are also snakes (saw-scaled viper, levantine viper, sand boa, and arrow snake), lizards, and Horsfield’s terrapin.
The economy is based on a growing mining industry and livestock raising, mainly fine-fleeced and karakul sheep. In the central and western parts of the desert large artesian basins have been discovered and are being exploited in many areas. As a result of irrigation many small oases have been created, which are the centers for livestock farms. In the monadnocks, marble, graphite, and turquoise are extracted, and the Muryntau gold deposit is being worked. In the southern desert one of the USSR’s largest deposits of gas, Gazli, is being exploited. Several highways cross the Kyzylkum, and in the middle is the raion administrative center of Tamdybulak.