(from Turkic kara hum; literally, “black sand”), a sandy desert northeast of the Aral Sea in the Kazakh SSR. Area, approximately 35, 000 sq km.
The Pre-Aral Karakum is characterized topographically by basin-hummocky and barchan-hummocky undulating plains alternating with small lakes and solonchaks in fluvial depressions, derived chiefly from the overwinnowing of ancient alluvium. The climate is markedly continental; the mean January temperature ranges from — 12° to — 14°C; the July temperature, from 24° to 26°C (absolute maximum, 42°C; absolute minimum, — 42°C). Precipitation averages between 100 and 150 mm per year. The vegetation is erkek (Agropirum sibiricum)-white wormwood and erkek-green wormwood on the slightly undulating plains and psammophilous on the hummocky and barchan-hummocky sands (calligonum, giant lyme grass, wormwoods). In the lowlands, where fresh groundwaters are nearby, there are beds of Elaeagnus and willow together with mesophilic grasses, such as reed. There is pastureland for small livestock, cattle, horses and camels. Water is supplied from draw wells and artesian wells.