Karakoram - download topographic map set
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Updated inJanuary 2015 (added 10 maps)
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The Karakoram Range (from the Turkic word meaning black stone mountains) is a mountain system in Central Asia located between the Kunlun in the north and the Gandisyshan Range in the south. The Karakoram mountain massif is about 500 km long and, if taken together with its eastern extension (the Changchenmo Range and Pangong Range which blend into the Tibetan highlands), the Karakoram is over 800 km long. It is also from 150 to 250 km wide. This mountain massif consists of several parallel ridges with the Saltoro ridge, the Sasir ridge etc. as spurs. The central part of the Karakoram is a monolithic crest. The Karakoram is one of the highest mountain systems in the world. The average height of the Karakoram is about 6 km and the highest summit of the Karakoram is Mount Chogori, or K2 (8,611 m). Other three prominent peaks rise to a height of over 8 km - Hidden-peak (Gasherbrum I, or K5), Broad-peak (peak K3) and Gasherbrum II (K4); eight more peaks are over 7500 m high.
Relief. The Relief of the Karakoram Mountains is alpine, typical for mountainous areas, with rocky ridges and steep slopes. The southern slopes are long, while the northern ones are short. There are a lot of slide rocks and stony foreslopes in the intramontane depressions in the valleys of the rivers Shayok and Karakash. Cross valleys are narrow, deep and steeply sloping canyons.
Rivers. The Karakoram forms the watershed between the basins of the Indus River and the Tarim River. The main source of feeding the rivers is melted water coming from seasonal snow and ice. Groundwater accumulates in the slide rocks and helps a more even drainage throughout the year.
Glaciers. The glaciation of the area is 17.8 thousand sq km. The largest middle-latitude glaciers are found in this region - Siachen (75 km), Baltoro (62 km), Rome (45 km) and Taldybulak (30 km). The southern, damper slope is more heavily glaciated.
Flora and Fauna. Stark contrasts in the humidification of the northern and southern slopes and height variations in the Karakoram Range lead to a great diversity of landscapes. On the northern slopes, up to 2,400-2,800 m high, desert landscapes with a thinned cover of vegetation such as kalidium, reaumuria and ephedra are very common. At higher altitudes, up to a height of 3,100 m, desert steppe landscapes are most common, with sparse thickets of eurotia and cereals (fescue grass and feather grass). At an altitude of less than 3,500 m, there are mostly high-altitude mountain steppes, while the most humid areas best protected from the wind are dominated by grassland steppes covered mostly by kobresia.
The Karakoram animal life includes the wild yak, the orongo antelope, the Przewalski's gazelle and a large number of rodents (the dwarf hamster etc.). Wild donkeys and such predator animals as snow leopards are common in the southern foothills. Birdlife includes the Pallas sand grouse, the Tibetan snowcock, the partridge, the ibis bill, the snow pigeon and the rose finch.
Climate. Most of the Karakoram region has a strongly continental climate. On the southern slopes, the humidifying influence of monsoons from the Indian Ocean is quite strong, while the northern slopes are very dry. At the foot of the slope, there is little rainfall - about 100 mm, while areas at an altitude of over 5,000 m receive more than 500 mm annually. Precipitation in the mountainous areas is always in the form of snow. Most of the Karakoram region has below-zero average annual temperatures. The distinct features of the Karakoram climate are intensive solar radiation, high amplitudes of air temperature fluctuations during the day and strong evaporation.