With an area of about 2,717,300 square kilometers, Kazakstan
is more than twice the combined size of the other four Central
Asian states. The country borders Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and
Kyrgyzstan to the south; Russia to the north; Russia and the Caspian
Sea to the west; and China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
to the east.
Topography and Drainage
There is considerable topographical variation within Kazakstan.
The highest elevation, Khan Tengri Mountain, on the Kyrgyz border
in the Tian Shan range, is 6,995 meters; the lowest point, at
Karagiye, in the Caspian Depression in the west, is 132 meters
below sea level (see fig. 2). Only 12.4 percent of Kazakstan is
mountainous, with most of the mountains located in the Altay and
Tian Shan ranges of the east and northeast, although the Ural
Mountains extend southward from Russia into the northern part
of west-central Kazakstan. Many of the peaks of the Altay and
Tian Shan ranges are snow covered year-round, and their run-off
is the source for most of Kazakstan's rivers and streams.
Except for the Tobol, Ishim, and Irtysh rivers (the Kazak names
for which are, respectively, Tobyl, Esil, and Ertis), portions
of which flow through Kazakstan, all of Kazakstan's rivers and
streams are part of landlocked systems. They either flow into
isolated bodies of water such as the Caspian Sea or simply disappear
into the steppes and deserts of central and southern Kazakstan.
Many rivers, streams, and lakes are seasonal, evaporating in summer.
The three largest bodies of water are Lake Balkhash, a partially
fresh, partially saline lake in the east, near Almaty, and the
Caspian and Aral seas, both of which lie partially within Kazakstan.
Some 9.4 percent of Kazakstan's land is mixed prairie and forest
or treeless prairie, primarily in the north or in the basin of
the Ural River in the west. More than three-quarters of the country,
including the entire west and most of the south, is either semidesert
(33.2 percent) or desert (44 percent). The terrain in these regions
is bare, eroded, broken uplands, with sand dunes in the Qizilqum
(red sand; in the Russian form, Kyzylkum) and Moyunqum (in the
Russian form, Moin Kum) deserts, which occupy south-central Kazakstan.
Most of the country lies at between 200 and 300 meters above sea
level, but Kazakstan's Caspian shore includes some of the lowest
elevations on Earth.
Data as of March 1996