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Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of Russia & Central Asia

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  • 0:00 Human Characteristics
  • 1:25 Central Asian & Russian Cities
  • 2:20 Dams and a Man-Made Desert
  • 3:20 Mountains and Valleys
  • 5:05 Lakes and Deserts
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the most important physical and human characteristics of Russia and Central Asia and place them on a map.

Human Characteristics

Russia is pretty well known in Western countries. Central Asia, not so much. If you ask someone, 'Where is Central Asia?', many people won't be able to answer. The center of Asia, it would seem when you look at a map, is pretty much just the west part of China and the surrounding Himalayas. But we do have a standard definition of Central Asia, which is five countries: Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. If you look at this area, you might think, 'That should be called West Asia.' But nope, it's Central Asia, home to over 200 million people.

Humans have been in Central Asia for tens of thousands of years, and so it shouldn't be surprising that they've left a lot of things behind. Those things are human characteristics, which are anything that impacts the surface of the earth that is caused directly by humans. Examples include roads, cities, power lines, railway tracks, canals, and dams. Some dams are natural, and we'll learn about both man-made and natural dams later in the lesson.

Geography is concerned with the earth and everything on its surface. And it's pretty clear that humans have had more impact on the landscape of the earth than anything else. We've built incredible cities, changed the path of water across the earth, pushed species of animals and plants to extinction, created gigantic explosions, and built millions of miles of tunnels. So, let's talk about that most grand of human endeavors: cities.

Central Asian & Russian Cities

The cities of Russia and Central Asia are not as large as in other places. This is a fairly sparsely populated part of the world, with only a few truly huge ones. The biggest by far is Moscow, over here in Russia, at 12 million people as of 2013, followed by St. Petersburg, which has 5 million people. You then have to go all the way down to 2.2 million people in Tashkent, the biggest city in Uzbekistan, though that number is an estimate from 2009.

Information about this part of the world can be patchy sometimes. Nevertheless, there are still a lot of cities in Central Asia and Russia, even if those cities are modest in size. Much of the rest of the population is in the countryside. Agriculture is a big deal in many of these places, and most of the land in Central Asia has been adapted by humans for that purpose.

Dams and a Man-Made Desert

Aside from cities, Central Asia is also home to the second tallest man-made dam in the world: Nurek Dam in Tajikistan, which is about 980 feet high. Though this is one feature where physical characteristics are king. Tajikistan is also home to Usoi Dam, which is the highest natural dam in the world and the highest dam of any kind at 1,860 feet.

A more dramatic and interesting human characteristic of Central Asia is Aralkum, a man-made desert on what used to be the bed of the Aral Sea. In 1960, the Aral Sea was the 4th largest lake in the world, a tenth of the size of California. Now, thanks to water moved for irrigation, mostly by the old Soviet Union, the lake has almost completely dried up. The area that was once the Aral Sea is now called Aralkum. This shows the huge power humans have to affect the earth's landscape.

Mountains and Valleys of Central Asia

While Russia and Central Asia might not be the most dramatic landscapes in the world, there are no shortages of mountains and valleys. Central Asia is on the Western side of the Himalayan Mountains, though many of the biggest mountains are in other parts of Asia. The tallest mountain of Central Asia is Jenish Peak in Kyrgyzstan at 24,406 feet. Also significant is the Kopet Dag range, which lies on the border between Turkmenistan and Iran.

Being quite a dry part of the world, Central Asia has its fair share of dusty canyons and valleys. The Fergana Valley is a place that is unusually fertile compared to the dry, dusty land that surrounds it, making it super important for agriculture. Much of these nutrients are supplied by the Naryn and Kara Darya Rivers at the bottom. This huge, 186-mile-long valley spans over three countries: Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona? It's pretty impressive. But did you know that Central Asia has its own Grand Canyon? It's called the Sharyn Canyon and is 96 miles long, and up to 980 feet deep. It's located here, in Kazakhstan.

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