Geography of Kazakhstan

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Kazakhstan is located in Central Asia, northwest of the People's Republic of China, though the area of the country west of the Ural River is geographically, if not politically, located within Europe. With an area of about 2,717,300 square kilometers, Kazakhstan is more than twice the combined size of the other four Central Asian states, or about twice the size of Alaska. 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.

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Topography and drainage

There is considerable topographical variation within Kazakhstan. The highest point is the top of the mountain Khan Tengri, on the Kyrgyz border in the Tian Shan range, with an elevation of + 7,010 meters; the lowest point is the bottom of the Karagiye depression at -132 m, in the Mangystau province east of the Caspian Sea. Most of the country lies at between 200 and 300 meters above sea level, but Kazakhstan's Caspian shore includes some of the lowest elevations on Earth.

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 Kazakhstan'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 Kazakhstan, all of Kazakhstan'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 Kazakhstan. 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 Kazakhstan.

Some 9.4 % of Kazakhstan'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 %) or desert (44 %). The terrain in these regions is bare, eroded, broken uplands, with sand dunes in the Qizilqum ('The Red Sands'; in the Russian form, Kyzylkum) and Moyunqum (in the Russian form, Muyunkum (Муюнкум)) deserts, which occupy south-central Kazakhstan.

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