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The Gobi Desert of eastern Asia is unlike any other desert in the world due to its year-round extreme changes in temperature, which include sub-zero temperatures in the winter and blistering heat in the summer. The desert's northerly location and its elevated position above sea level (as much as 5,000 feet in some locations) contribute to the wide temperature swings. The Gobi is very dry, though it does receive some water in the winter thanks to snow which is carried by wind from Siberia to the north.
The Gobi, which covers extensive regions of the Mongolian People's Republic and the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of China, is the largest desert in Asia and the fifth largest in the world. The Gobi extends about 1,000 miles from east to west, and about 600 miles from north to south, with a total area of about 800,000 square miles. Unlike other sandy deserts, the Gobi is mostly covered by bare rock, which is created by a series of basins that are surrounded by the Altai Mountains and grasslands of Mongolia to the north, the Tibetan Plateau to the southwest and the North China Plain to the southeast.
In the Mongolian language, Gobi means "waterless place." The Gobi receives about 10 inches of rain annually, including monsoonlike conditions, along its northern and eastern regions, with the southeast part without water. North of the Gobi are the Siberian Steppes, and in the winter, winds carry snow from the Siberian Steppes and circulate it across the Gobi.
In the winter, temperatures in parts of the Gobi desert can drop down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the summer, temperatures can surpass 120 degrees F in some places. The area is prone to high winds, and can experience icy sandstorms in the winter.
The Gobi is comprised of five ecological regions, each of which has different climate conditions. The Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe is a region comprising many low-lying areas. The annual mean temperature in this region is between 28 degrees F and 42 degrees F. The Alashan Plateau semi-desert is an arid region of low mountains and sand dunes which experiences severe changes in temperature. The Gobi Lakes Valley Desert Steppe in southwestern Mongolia is a valley bounded by mountain ranges which sees annual temperature swings of between 3 degrees F in January to about 68 degrees F in July. The Junggar Basin of northwestern China is colder than other parts of the desert, with temperatures dropping as low as minus-4 degrees F, and with annual precipitation of between 3 inches and 10 inches. The Tian Shan mountain range of northern China experiences temperature swings of about 104 degrees F in the summer to permanent snow and below-freezing temperatures in the higher altitudes during winter months.