Betpak-Dala Desert

About Betpak-Dala Desert

Betpak-Dala or Betpaqdala  is a desert region in Kazakhstan. It is located between the lower reaches of the Sarysu River, the Chu River, and Lake Balkhash. In the north, near the 46°30’ parallel, Betpak-Dala borders on the Kazakh melkosopochnik (area of low, rounded, isolated hills). Its area is approximately 75,000 km2. The desert is a flat, gently rolling plain with an elevation ranging from 300 to 350 m (1,000 to 1,500 feet) and a general south-western incline. Elevations are greatest in the east. In the southeast, the Zhel’tau highland reaches an elevation of 974 m at Mount Dzhambul.

The western part of Betpak-Dala is composed of folded Mesozoic rock and horizontally layered Paleogene friable rock (sand, sandstone, clay, and conglomerates). The eastern hilly region has a plicate structure and is composed of Lower Paleozoic sedimentary-metamorphic rock series and granite. The climate is sharply continental. The annual precipitation is between 100 and 150 mm, of which only 15 percent occurs in summer. Summers are dry and hot; winters are cold with little snow. The average temperature in January ranges from -12° to -14 °C, and the average temperature in July ranges from 24° to 26 °C.

There are many shallow, often saline lakes. Underground waters, emerging in places, are abundant. The predominant soils are gray-brown desert solonchak and solonets. The western region of Betpak-Dala is an argillaceous sagebrush desert; Anabasis salsa grows in the salt-marsh depressions, while Pamirian winterfat (Krascheninnikovia ceratoides) and Siberian pea shrub (Caragana arborescens) grow on the sand dunes. In the east the argillaceous desert merges with the stony desert where Salsola arbuscula grows on the rocky hills. Betpak-Dala is used as a spring and autumn grazing land.

In Autumn 2014, English explorer Jamie Bunchuk completed an expedition to cross the Betpak-Dala to its fullest longitudinal extent, from Lake Balkash in the east to the Sarysu River in the west. He also ran 190 miles, nearly eight marathons, back-to-back, over the course of eight days within the region.

An epizootic of pasteurellosis occurred in Betpak-Dala in May 2015, in which more than 120,000 saiga antelope — representing more than a third of the global population — were confirmed dead.

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