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Travel, Teach, Live in Asia

How to Locate Asian Landforms
By:Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Asia is the world's largest continent, as well as the most populous. It encompasses a staggering range of landscapes and ecosystems, from seemingly endless boreal forest in northern Siberia to mist-wrung tropical rain forests in Southeast Asia, and from the glacier-capped crests of Earth's loftiest mountains to huge grasslands and deserts. Any traveler in Asia can easily be entranced by gargantuan cities and a dizzying array of cultures and foods, but paying a little heed to the physical face of the continent can take you to some of the world's most stirring and scenic places.

The Ganges helps form the world's biggest delta along the Bay of Bengal coast.
Understand the local lay of the land. To a trained geologist or geomorphologist (one who studies the creation of landforms), this can be a very technical procedure, but even an informed layperson can begin to understand the configuration of Asian landforms by thinking in basic geographical terms. For example, the largest delta in the world is that of the Ganges-Brahmaputra on the border of India and Bangladesh, home to millions and to the tiger-prowled Sunderbans mangrove forests. For the most part, deltas will be found at the mouths of rivers in large bodies of water -- in this case, the Bay of Bengal, an arm of the Indian Ocean.

Southeastern China showcases some of the most well-known karst topography in the world.
Find striking "karst" landforms in regions underlain by limestone and other highly soluble rock. In such places, rainfall percolating downward and groundwater dissolve rock layers and create intricate depositions. This can result in extensive sinkholes and cavern systems. Differential erosion in karst landscapes can form enigmatic, steep-sided towers, and southeastern China and northern Vietnam feature some of the most famous and extensive examples of these in the world.

The volcanoes of Russia's Kamtchatka Peninsula are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Identify areas of major mountain-building. Asia has the planet's most massive mountain chain, the Himalaya, which owes its existence to the convergence of the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates: Essentially, rock layers are upthrust and crumpled together along the grinding tectonic frontier. In the Russian Far East, the volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula owe their existence to a somewhat similar process, the subduction of the Pacific Plate -- in symmetry with the "Ring of Fire" volcanoes of the American Northwest on the other side of the ocean.

Large areas of steppe blanket much of Central Asia.
Research that other iconic Asian landform, the steppe. Vast areas of Central Asia are covered in rolling grasslands, much like the North American interior. And, like the American Great Plains, the shortgrass plains of Inner Mongolia and other steppe regions historically supported large numbers of hoofed mammals like Mongolian gazelle, saiga antelope and wild horses, as well as nomadic human cultures.

Asia also boasts expansive deserts like the Gobi, which features such landforms as towering sand dunes.
Explore the unique landforms of Asia's various deserts, such as the Gobi or the Arabian. These include wind-scoured dunefields, saline flats and isolate escarpments. The largest dunes may be hundreds of feet high, as in the Arabian Peninsula's massive Rub' al-Khali Desert.

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