Takla Makan

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Takla Makan


a desert in western China; one of the largest sandy deserts in the world. The Takla Makan extends over 1,000 km from west to east and has a maximum width of 400 km, with a sandy area of more than 300,000 sq km. It was formed under conditions of prolonged accumulation of sediment within the Tarim Basin; the basin, in turn, was formed principally of alluvial deposits from the Tarim River and its tributaries, partially dispersed by wind.

The relief is flat. Elevations gradually decrease to the north and east from 1,200–1,300 m to 800–900 m. In the west, solitary ridges composed of sandstones rise over the Takla Makan to an elevation of 1,664 m, at Ch’iao-lo. Sandhills predominate in the southwest; the northeast has sand ridges of complex configuration, including large, extended ridges called whalebacks, which often reach lengths of 10–13 km, and pyramidal sand dunes 150–300 m high. Much of the area surrounding the Takla Makan has solonchaks.

The Takla Makan has a moderately warm, markedly continental climate with negligible precipitation (less than 50 mm per year). The atmosphere contains high concentrations of dust. Rivers flowing from the Kunlun Mountains penetrate 100 to 200 km into the desert and gradually dry up in the sands. Only the Hot’ien River crosses the desert, carrying its waters in summer to the Tarim River, which flows along the western and northern edges of the Takla Makan. In low-lying areas, the groundwater lies 3–5 m below the surface within old deltas and along former river channels. The water is usually not easily accessible to plants, and most of the area is without vegetation cover. Only in places where the groundwater is very close to the surface are there sparse thickets of tamarisk and plants of the genera Nitraria and Phragmites. The river valleys and edges of the desert have Euphrates poplar, camel thorn, annual saltworts, and plants of the genera Elaeagnus and Haloxylon. Wildlife is scarce, with a few antelope herds, rabbits and hares, the suslik Citellus fluvus, jerboas, and microtins. Wild boars are found in the river valleys.

The Takla Makan has no permanent inhabitants. There are individual oases along the rivers that flow from the Kunlun Mountains. In the sands near the southern edge of the Takla Makan there are ruins of ancient settlements, which are of the same age as the dry valleys.


Sinitsyn, V. M. Tsentral’naia Aziia. Moscow, 1959.
Kun’lun’ i Tarim: Ocherki prirodnykh uslovii. Moscow, 1961.
Fizicheskaia geografiia Kitaia. Moscow, 1964.
Murzaev, E. M. Priroda Sin’tsziana i formirovanie puslyn’ Tsentral’noi Azii. Moscow, 1966.
Petrov, M. P. Pustyni Tsentral’noi Azii, vol. 2. Leningrad, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The sand deserts of A-la Shan, Takla Makan, Dzungaria, and the eastern Tsaidam are just the opposite: these are areas where materials from the erosion of the surrounding mountains have been accumulating since the Cretaceous.
The Takla Makan Desert is one of the largest sand deserts in Asia and the entire world.
(Takla makan means place of no return in Uygur.) In the summer, precipitations are usually only 2-3 in (50-75 mm) and in some places are less than half an inch (as low as 9 mm).
The extremely low total precipitation means that the Takla Makan Desert is almost totally lacking vegetation.
The wind bears the sand particles to the neighboring Takla Makan and A-la Shan deserts, while the smallest particles (dusty silt) are blown south, where they cluster as loess accumulation.
167 The characteristic polygonal structure of the takyrs, seen here in the Aydingkol Depression (492 ft [150 m] below sea level) in the Tarim endorheic basin (Xinjiang, China), between the Takla Makan and the A-la Shan deserts.