Uzbekistan’s natural world is very diverse. It is composed of desert areas and snowy mountains, rivers and completely dry lands.
The most part of its territory lies in the Turon plain, where there are no sudden steep-drops and hills. The Turon plate and mainland, which later became the Tian Shan and Pamir – Alai Mountains, were formed in the Paleolithic period. Later, the sea covered the plate for a long time. The mountain chains are thought to have fully developed during the Alps orogenesis.
The mountain ranges blocked the humidity from the Indian Ocean. It caused considerable climatic change: the weather became dry and huge desert areas appeared. As rivers and winds kept changing their directions, the upper layer of soil was continuously displaced from one place to another. It led to the formation of the Kyzyl Kum and Kara Kum deserts.
Mountains and foothills make up about one-fifth of the territory of Uzbekistan. The highest point is 4,643 meters. Mountains cover the east of the country. Uzbekistan embraces western parts of the Tian Shan and Pamir-Alai mountain ranges, respectively. The mountain ranges are very different: there is a sharp contrast of heights, foothills, canyons, and watersheds. There are also small mountains such as Aktau, Karakchitau, and the western pan of the Zarafshon mountain range with their smooth shape. Rather big depressions stretch between the mountains: Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya, Zarafshon, and Samarkand. The largest depression is the Ferghana Valley – 370 km long and 190 km wide. It is surrounded by mountain ranges on three sides except on the western face. On the border with Afghanistan, there is the huge Amu Darya depression.
Numerous deposits of oil and gas have been discovered on the plains such as Gazli, Shakhpakhti, and others, of naturally formed salt in Borsakelmas, and materials used in construction elsewhere.
Deposits of coal (Angren, Shargun, and Boysun), precious, non-ferrous and rare metals, fluorite, and construction materials go back to the early stage of orogenesis.
A distinctive feature of Uzbekistan’s natural conditions is that the country is located in a seismologic zone. In the last two centuries the country has experienced numerous of disastrous earthquakes, including in Ferghana (1823), in Andijan (1889 and 1902), and Tashkent (1866, 1868, and 1966). Seismologic movement is more active in mountain areas than in plains. Special construction models are used in buildings in active seismological zones.
Uzbekistan does not have direct access to the sea or ocean. This makes the
country’s climate very hot, dry, and sharply continental. Temperate climatic conditions prevail in the north, while subtropical – in the far south.
The most part of the year is quite dry and hot. The daylight in summer is 15 hours and in winter it is no less than 9 hours. The annual average sunlight is 2,500-3,000 hours in the north, and 2,800-3,130 hours – in the south. For comparison, the same amount of sunlight share is typical for California, US. The winters are rather cold and summers are quite hot in Uzbekistan. The coldest month is January. The temperature goes down to 25 and 30 degrees Celsius below zero in the south, and it could much colder in the northwest of the country – 35 and 38 degrees Celsius below zero. However, there are enough warm days throughout the country in wintertime. Heavy and long-lying snowfall is not usual for the country. The average snowfall is 5-15 cm, and in foothills – it ranges from 10 to 12 cm.
In southern provinces of the country, the spring usually in February, but it reaches the Aral Sea region only in April In spring, the weather is very variable; the warm days may be followed by chilly and cold days.
In the south, the summer starts somewhere in May, and it usually lasts from four to five months. The hottest month is July when the temperature reaches 42-47 degrees Celsius. In mountainous areas the summer temperature is about 22-30 degrees Celsius. In summer the ground surface temperature could go up to 60 degrees Celsius, and in desert areas – up to 70 degrees Celsius.
The rainfall distribution is quite different. On the plains the annual rainfall is on average 100-200 mm and in mountains it reaches 900 mm. Most of the precipitation falls in spring and winter periods. From one to six percent out of the total annual precipitation falls during summer and from 10 to 20 percent -autumn.
The winter starts at the end of October on the Usturt plateau, late December – in the south. During this period the weather is very changeable with a combination of cold and warm days. The average humidity is about 70-80 percent in wintertime. In summer, this figure goes down to 35-50 percent. But in desert areas, the humidity is 20-30 percent.
The surface waters are unequally distributed in the country, due to climatic and geographic patterns. In contrast to entirely dry territories on the plains, the mountain areas usually have small rivers.
The country’s rivers are fed by mountain snow. It is not a main source for mountain rivers though. During winter, underground waters usually fill the rivers.
Two big rivers flow across the country: the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya. The middle and lower reaches of the Amu Darya River (about 1,415 km) and the middle reaches of the Syr Darya River (2,212 km) run along the territory of Uzbekistan.
Small rivers in the country are: Naryn, Kara Darya, Sokh. Zarafshon, Kashka Darya, Surkhan Darya, and Sherabad.
There are 80 lakes on the territory of Uzbekistan. All of them are small in size. The biggest lake is the Aral Sea, whose southern part belongs to Uzbekistan. Over the last decades the lake has considerably shrunk with water receding hundreds of kilometres from its shores. Numerous projects have been launched to tackle this problem. For instance, the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea was established.
Almost all of the lakes are in the mountains (at an altitude of 2,000-3,000 meters). Their surface is usually no more than 1 sq. km. The lakes on the plains are usually not very deep. Arnasoy and Sudoche lakes are rather big. Their size depends on the amount of water that comes from Chordara reservoir. There are artificial lakes – reservoirs that help to keep the seasonal balance of the water level in rivers. Big reservoirs are: Kayrakkum, Kattakurgan, Tuyabogiz, Chordara, and Southern Surkhan.
In some areas the bigger river valleys have turned into swamplands. Sometimes it is difficult to discern these kinds of swamplands from lakes due to the fact that in summertime the water level falls in some lakes.
Swamplands are rarely found in mountainous areas. There may be some but only small in size.
The total length of the canals constructed for melioration and derivation purposes is more than 156,000 km. The main ones are: Amu-Bukhara, Big Namangan, Big Ferghana, North Ferghana, Eskiangor, and South Ferghana.
With a view to meet its own needs in water, Uzbekistan exploits ground water resources as well. There are spring waters in mountain areas and artesian wells on plains. There are numerous mineral springs rich in hydrogen sulphide, iodine, radon and other minerals on the territory of Uzbekistan. The hydrogen sulphide springs in Ferghana and Surkhandarya basins are almost the same as Masesta spring waters in the Crimea.
Due to its various relief features, Uzbekistan has quite diverse flora. More than 3,700 types of plants have been recorded on the territory of Uzbekistan. Twenty percent of them grow only in Uzbekistan. Most of them grow on the mountains and only a few – in the desert and steppe areas.
The desert plants are particularly interesting. They are mainly there to protect soil from being swept away by constant desert winds. Only a few of the 400 types of plants that grow on the Usturt Plateau are important for the landscape. Most of the plateau is covered with haloxylon or saxaul. The black saxaul is the only plant that can grow in saline areas. It grows fast but lives too short. Saxaul is also a source of food for some desert animals like sheep and camels.
Desert plants are well adjusted to grow in moving and poor soils and in conditions of long drought or overheating. These plants adjust to desert condition by simply being leafless or having tiny leaves (for instance, saxaul or Calligonum).
The river valleys are vast in plains. The flora of the valleys is very diverse.
In foothills covered with grass, trees are rarely seen. Besides some cereals, these areas have different types of onion, tulip, rhubarb, iris, and other plants. These plants do not live long under the heat of the sun. As they disappear, other types of plants, which do well in heat, like the wormwood, occupy their place.
In foothills and semi-desert areas most of the plants are ephemeral. There are about 15-20 different types of ephemeral plants per square meter. These kinds of plants are hardly noticed in the landscape. In the past, these foothills and semi-desert areas had pistachio plants but now they grow only in areas difficult to access.
There are forests in low foothills. However, green plantation has been preserved only in areas difficult to access or unfit for agricultural purposes. The main plants in these areas are fir trees, the timber of which is highly valued. The fir trees grow very slowly and live quite long. There are fir trees more than 1,000 years old in the country.
Besides fir trees, there are deciduous trees like maple, cherry plums, and hawthorns. In some mountainous areas there are different types of wild apple trees. There are pistachio trees on Bobotag (mountain) and nuts in the Pskem valley.
The western Tian Shan areas are rich in birch woods. Plum trees, willow and poplar trees grow in most parts of the country. In the lower mountain areas there are honeysuckle, dog roses, barberry, and wild grapes. Also, there are a wide variety of herbs such as the Muscat sage, rhubarb, sorrel, and others.
There are plenty of Pskem onions – the wild type of onion used for medical purposes – found in the valleys of Chirchik River. The middle-size mountain areas are also rich in different types of herbs. Only 30 percent of high mountain areas are covered with plants.
As for the wildlife on the territory of Uzbekistan, it has formed in concordance with the flora. The fastest animals live in desert areas. Even the type of hedgehog that lives in desert areas has longer legs than those found in Europe. Also, desert birds are different in terms of running and flying speeds than those found in other habitats. Lizards are also among the fastest desert animals. Even the desert beetles have longer legs compare to those that live in a damp climate. Among the fast runners are ground beetles, phalanx, and, particularly, tarantula.
Among mammals, there are ground squirrel, jerboa, and others. Also, there are different types of wolves, hedgehogs, foxes, and other animals.
Many wood louses, phalanx, ants, and cicadas inhabit the loamy desert areas. Besides, other animals such as the Central Asian turtle, yellow ground squirrel, arrow snake, gazelle, and others are found in the area.
It is typical to run across the Central Asian cobra in the Karshi desert, other species of venomous snakes? in the Golodny Desert, as well as saygak and the four-striped runner – in the rocks. Among birds, there are reels, buntings, lentils, black vulture, and others. Also, there are mammals such as wild boars, wild goats, mountain sheep, badger, marten, fox, wolf, and others.
In general, the list of animals and birds that inhabit different areas of the country includes green toad, bear, panther, wolf, Siberian goat, mountain sheep, pheasant, cuckoo, magpie, jackal, black crow, southern nightingale, rat, Bukhara deer, and many others.
There are more than 70 types offish in the water reservoirs of the country. Besides, there are more than 300 types of invertebrates including 80 types of Crustaceans.