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Siberia

 

Siberia (possibly from the Mongolian for "the calm land") is a vast region of Russia and northern Kazakhstan constituting almost all of northern Asia. It extends eastward from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the borders of both Mongolia and China. All but the extreme south-western area of Siberia lies in Russia, and it makes up about 75% of that country's territory.

Siberia was occupied by differing groups of nomads such as the Yenets, the Nenets, the Huns, and the Uyghurs. The Khan of Sibir in the vicinity of modern Tobolsk was known as a prominent figure who endorsed Kubrat as Khagan in Avaria in 630. The area was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century and eventually became the autonomous Siberian Khanate.

The growing power of Russia to the east began to undermine the Khanate in the 16th century. First groups of traders and Cossacks began to enter the area, and then the imperial army began to set up forts further and further east. By the mid-17th century, the Russian-controlled areas had been extended to the Pacific.

Siberia remained a mostly unexplored and uninhabited area. During the following few centuries, only a few exploratory missions and traders inhabited Siberia. The other group that were sent to Siberia were prisoners exiled from western Russia.

The first great change to Siberia was the Trans-Siberian railway, constructed in 1891 - 1905. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly-industrializing Russia of Nicholas II. Siberia is filled with natural resources and during the 20th century these were developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.

With an area of over 9,653,000 km2, Siberia makes up roughly three-quarters of the total area of Russia. Major geographical zones, include the West Siberian Plain and the Central Siberian Plateau.

 

The West Siberian Plain consists mostly of Cenozoic alluvial deposits and is extraordinarily flat, so much so that a rise of fifty metres in sea level would cause all land between the Arctic Ocean and Novosibirsk to be inundated. Many of the deposits on this plain result from ice dams’ having reversed the flow of the Ob and Yenisei Rivers, so redirecting them into the Caspian Sea (perhaps the Aral as well). It is very swampy and soils are mostly peaty Histosols and, in the treeless northern part, Histels. In the south of the plain, where permafrost is largely absent, rich grasslands that are an extension of the Kazakh steppe formed the original vegetation (almost all cleared now).

The Central Siberian Plateau is an extremely ancient craton (sometimes called Angaraland) that formed an independent continent before the Permian (see Siberia (continent)). It is exceptionally rich in minerals, containing large deposits of gold, diamonds, and ores of manganese, lead, zinc, nickel, cobalt and molybdenum. Only the extreme northwest was glaciated during the Quaternary, but almost all is under exceptionally deep permafrost and the only tree that can thrive, despite the warm summers, is the deciduous Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica) with its very shallow roots. Soils here are mainly Turbels, giving way to Spodosols where the active layer becomes thicker and the ice content lower.

Eastern and central Sakha comprise numerous north-south mountain ranges of various ages. These mountains extend up to almost three thousand metres in elevation, but above a few hundred metres they are to an extraordinary degree, devoid of vegetation. The Verkhoyansk Range was extensively glaciated in the Pleistocene, but the climate was too dry for glaciation to extend to low elevations. At these low elevations are numerous valleys, many of them deep, and covered with larch forest except in the extreme north, where tundra dominates. Soils are mainly Turbels and the active layer tends to be less than a metre deep except near rivers..

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