Geography of Mongolia

Mongolia is a landlocked country in Northern Asia, strategically located between China and Russia. The terrain is one of mountains and rolling plateaus, with a high degree of relief. Overall, the land slopes from the high Altay Mountains
of the west and the north to plains and depressions in the east and the
south. Huitenii Orgil (soc.period. sometimes called Nayramdalin
Orgil--Mount Friendship) in extreme western Mongolia, where the
Mongolian, the Russian,
and the Chinese borders meet, is the highest point (4,374 meters). The
lowest is 560 meters, an otherwise undistinguished spot in the eastern
Mongolian plain. The country has an average elevation of 1,580 meters.
The landscape includes one of Asia's largest freshwater lakes (Lake Khövsgöl),
many salt lakes, marshes, sand dunes, rolling grasslands, alpine
forests, and permanent montane glaciers. Northern and western Mongolia
are seismically active zones, with frequent earthquakes and many hot
springs and extinct volcanoes.



Mountain regions

Mongolia has three major mountain ranges. The highest is the Altai
Mountains, which stretch across the western and the southwestern
regions of the country on a northwest-to-southeast axis. The Khangai
mountains also trending northwest to southeast, occupy much of central
and north-central Mongolia. These are older, lower, and more eroded
mountains, with many forests and alpine pastures. The Khentii Mountains
near the Russian border to the northeast of Ulan Bator,
are lower still. Much of eastern Mongolia is occupied by a plain, and
the lowest area is a southwest-to-northeast trending depression that
reaches from the Gobi Desert
region in the south to the eastern frontier. The rivers drain in three
directions: north to the Arctic Ocean, east to the Pacific, or south to
the deserts and the depressions of Inner Asia. Rivers are most
extensively developed in the north, and the country's major river
system is that of the Selenge, which drains into Lake Baikal. Some
minor tributaries of Siberia's Yenisei River also rise in the mountains
of northwestern Mongolia. Rivers in northeastern Mongolia drain into
the Pacific through the Argun and Amur
(Heilong Jiang) rivers, while the few streams of southern and
southwestern Mongolia do not reach the sea but run into salt lakes or


Snow covers Mongolia in patches in this image from December 21, 2003. Snowfall is normally light and blows away quickly during the winter, so to see this much snow on the ground at once is rather unusual.

Snow covers Mongolia in patches in this image from December 21, 2003.
Snowfall is normally light and blows away quickly during the winter, so
to see this much snow on the ground at once is rather unusual.

Mongolia is high, cold, and dry. It has an extreme continental
climate with long, cold winters and short summers, during which most
precipitation falls. The country averages 257 cloudless days a year,
and it is usually at the center of a region of high atmospheric
pressure. Precipitation is highest in the north, which averages 20 to
35 centimeters per year, and lowest in the south, which receives 10 to
20 centimeters. The extreme south is the Gobi Desert,
some regions of which receive no precipitation at all in most years.
The name Gobi is a Mongol meaning desert, depression, salt marsh, or
steppe, but which usually refers to a category of arid rangeland with
insufficient vegetation to support marmots but with enough to support
camels. Mongols distinguish Gobi from desert proper, although the
distinction is not always apparent to outsiders unfamiliar with the
Mongolian landscape. Gobi rangelands are fragile and are easily
destroyed by overgrazing, which results in expansion of the true
desert, a stony waste where not even Bactrian camels can survive.

Average temperatures over most of the country are below freezing
from November through March and are about freezing in April and
October. January and February averages of -20° C are common, with
winter nights of -40° C occurring most years. Summer extremes reach as
high as 38° C in the southern Gobi region and 33° C in Ulaanbaatar.
Most of Mongolia is covered by discontinuous permafrost
(grading to continuous at high altitudes), which makes construction,
road building, and mining difficult. All rivers and freshwater lakes
freeze over in the winter, and smaller streams commonly freeze to the
bottom. Ulan Bator lies at 1,351 meters above sea level in the valley
of the Tuul River.
Located in the relatively well-watered north, it receives an annual
average of 31 centimeters of precipitation, almost all of which falls
in July and in August. Ulaanbaatar has an average annual temperature of
-2.9°C and a frost-free period extending on the average from mid-June
to late August.

Mongolia's weather is characterized by extreme variability and
short-term unpredictability in the summer, and the multiyear averages
conceal wide variations in precipitation, dates of frosts, and
occurrences of blizzards and spring dust storms. Such weather poses
severe challenges to human and livestock survival. Official statistics
list less than 1 % of the country as arable, 8 to 10 % as forest, and
the rest as pasture or desert. Grain, mostly wheat, is grown in the
valleys of the Selenge river system in the north, but yields fluctuate
widely and unpredictably as a result of the amount and the timing of
rain and the dates of killing frosts. Although winters are generally
cold and clear, there are occasional blizzards that do not deposit much
snow but cover the grasses with enough snow and ice to make grazing
impossible, killing off tens of thousands of sheep or cattle. Such
losses of livestock, which are an inevitable and, in a sense, normal
consequence of the climate, have made it difficult for planned
increases in livestock numbers to be achieved.


  • Altai montane forest and forest steppe
  • Khangai Mountains conifer forests
  • Selenge-Orkhon forest steppe
  • Sayan montane conifer forests
  • Trans-Baikal conifer forests
  • Daurian forest steppe
  • Mongolian-Manchurian grassland
  • Altai alpine meadow and tundra
  • Khangai Mountains alpine meadow
  • Sayan Alpine meadows and tundra
  • Alashan Plateau semi-desert
  • Eastern Gobi desert steppe
  • Gobi Lakes Valley desert steppe
  • Great Lakes Basin desert steppe
  • Junggar Basin semi-desert

Environmental concerns

Detailed map of Mongolia

Detailed map of Mongolia

After many years of uncritical fostering of industrial and urban
growth, Mongolia's authorities became aware in the late 1980s of the
environmental costs of such policies. Belated Soviet concern over the
pollution of Lake Baikal encouraged Mongolian actions to preserve their
counterpart Lake Khövsgöl,
which is linked to Lake Baykal through the Selenge-Moron. A
wool-scouring plant that had been discharging wastes into Lake Khövsgöl
was closed; truck traffic on the winter ice was banned; and the
shipping of oil in barges on the lake was stopped. Deforestation in the
Hangayn Nuruu, had reduced the flow of northern Mongolia's rivers,
which were polluted by runoff from the fertilized and pesticide-treated
grain fields along their banks, by industrial wastes, and by untreated
sewage from growing settlements. Ulaanbaatar--located in a valley--with
factories and 500,000 inhabitants who depend on soft coal, had severe
air pollution, especially when the air was still and cold in winter. Deforestation,
overgrazing of pastures, and efforts to increase grain and hay
production by plowing up more virgin land had resulted in increased
soil erosion, both from wind and from heavy downpours of the severe
thunderstorms that bring much of Mongolia's rain. In the south, the
desert area of the Gobi was expanding, threatening the fragile Gobi
pasturelands. The government responded by founding the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 1987 and by giving increased publicity to environmental issues.

Natural hazards: dust storms can occur in the spring; grassland fires

Environment - current issues: limited natural fresh water
resources; policies of the former communist regime promoting rapid
urbanization and industrial growth have raised concerns about their
negative effects on the environment; the burning of soft coal in power
plants and the lack of enforcement of environmental laws have severely
polluted the air in Ulaanbaatar; deforestation, overgrazing, the
converting of virgin land to agricultural production have increased
soil erosion from wind and rain; desertification and mining activities
have also had a deleterious effect on the environment

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto
Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental
Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone
Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Area and boundaries

Desert - Inner Mongolia

Desert - Inner Mongolia

total: 1.565 million km²
land: 1.565 million km²
water: 0 km²

Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Alaska

Land boundaries:
total: 8,114 km
border countries: China 4,673 km, Russia 3,441 km

Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Maritime claims: none (landlocked)

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Hoh Nuur 518 m
highest point: Khuitny Orgil, Tavan Bogd Uul 4,374 m

Resources and land use

Natural resources: petroleum, coal, copper, molybdenum, tungsten, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, fluorspar, gold

Land use:
arable land: 1%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 80%
forests and woodland: 9%
other: 10% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 800 km² (1993 est.)

Retrieved form Wikipedia July 15th, 2007

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