Page:EB1911 - Volume 02.djvu/779

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GEOGRAPHY]
735
ASIA

while the great peninsulas of Arabia, Hindostan and Cambodia descend to about 10° N., and the Malay peninsula extends within a degree and a half of the equator. On the west the extreme point of Asia is found on the shore of the Mediterranean, at Cape Baba, in 26° E., nor far from the Dardanelles. Thence the boundary passes in the one direction through the Mediterranean, and down the Red Sea to the southern point of Arabia, at the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, in 45° E.; and in the other through the Black Sea, and along the range of Caucasus, following approximately 40° N. to the Caspian, whence it turns to the north on a line not far from the 60th meridian, along the Ural Mountains, and meets the Arctic Ocean nearly opposite the island of Novaya Zemlya. The most easterly point of Asia is East Cape (Vostochnyi, i.e. east, or Dezhnev), in 190° E., at the entrance of Bering Strait. The boundary between this point and the extremity of the Malay Peninsula follows the coast of the Northern Pacific and the China Sea, on a line deeply broken by the projection of the peninsulas of Kamchatka and Korea, and the recession of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Yellow Sea, and the Gulfs of Tongking and Siam.

On the east and south-east of Asia are several important groups of islands, the more southern of which link this continent to Australia, and to the islands of the Pacific. The Kurile islands, the Japanese group, Luchu, Formosa Islands. and the Philippines, may be regarded as unquestionable outliers of Asia. Between the islands of the Malay archipelago from Sumatra to New Guinea, and the neighbouring Asiatic continent, no definite relations appear ever to have existed, and no distinctly marked boundary for Asia has been established by the old geographers in this quarter. Modern science, however, has indicated a line of physical separation along the channel between Borneo and Celebes, called the Straits of Macassar, which follows approximately 120° E., to the west of which the flora and fauna are essentially Asiatic in their type, while to the south and east the Australian element begins to be distinctly marked, soon to become predominant. To this boundary has been given the name of Wallace’s line, after the eminent naturalist, A. R. Wallace, who first indicated its existence.

Owing to the great extent of Asia, it is not easy to obtain a correct conception of the actual form of its outline from ordinary maps, the distortions which accompany projections of large spherical areas on a flat surface being necessarily Form of continent. great and misleading. Turning, therefore, to a globe, Asia, viewed as a whole, will be seen to have the form of a great isosceles spherical triangle, having its north-eastern apex at East Cape (Vostochnyi), in Bering Strait; its two equal sides, in length about a quadrant of the sphere, or 6500 m., extending on the west to the southern point of Arabia, and on the east to the extremity of the Malay peninsula; and the base between these points occupying about 60° of a great circle, or 4500 m., and being deeply indented by the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal on either side of the Indian peninsula. A great circle, drawn through East Cape and the southern point of Arabia, passes nearly along the coast-line of the Arctic Ocean, over the Ural Mountains, through the western part of the Caspian, and nearly along the boundary between Persia and Asiatic Turkey. Asia Minor and the north-western half of Arabia lie outside such a great circle, which otherwise indicates, with fair accuracy, the north-western boundary of Asia. In like manner a great circle drawn through East Cape and the extremity of the Malay peninsula, passes nearly over the coasts of Manchuria, China and Cochin-China, and departs comparatively little from the eastern boundary.

Asia is divided laterally along the parallel of 40° north by a depression which, beginning on the east of the desert of Gobi, extends westwards through Mongolia to Chinese Turkestan. To the west of Kashgar the central depression is limited by General physiography. the meridional range of Sarikol and the great elevation of the Pamir, of which the Sarikol is the eastern face. The level of this depression (once a vast inland sea) between the mountains which enclose the sources of the Hwang-ho and the Sarikol range probably never exceeds 2000 ft. above sea, and modern researches tend to prove that in the central portions of the Gobi (about Lop Nor) it may be actually below sea-level. A vast proportion of the continent north of this central line is but a few hundred feet in altitude. Shelving gradually upward from the low flats of Siberia the general continental level rises to a great central water-parting, or divide, which stretches from the Black Sea through the Elburz and the Hindu Kush to the Tian-shan mountains in the Pamir region, and hence to Bering Strait on the extreme north-east. This great divide is not always marked by well-defined ranges facing steeply either to the north or south. There are considerable spaces where the strike, or axis, of the main ranges is transverse to the water-parting, which is then represented by intermediate highlands forming lacustrine regions with an indefinite watershed. Only a part of this great continental divide (including such ranges as the Hindu Kush, Tian-shan, Altai or Khangai) rises to any great height, a considerable portion of it being below 5000 ft. in altitude. South of the divide the level at once drops to the central depression of Gobi, which forms a vast interior, almost waterless space, where the local drainage is lost in deserts or swamps. South of this enclosed depression is another great hydrographic barrier which parts it from the low plains of the Amur, of China, Siam and India, bordered by the shallows of the Yellow Sea and the shoals which enclose the islands of Japan and Formosa, all of them once an integral part of the continent. This second barrier is one of the most mighty upheavals in the world, by reason both of its extent and its altitude. Starting from the Amur river and reaching along the eastern margin of the Gobi desert towards the sources of the Hwang-ho, it merges into the Altyn-tagh and the Kuen-lun, forming the northern face of the vast Tibetan highlands which are bounded on the south by the Himalaya. The Pamir highlands between the base of the Tian-shan mountains and the eastern buttresses of the Hindu Kush unite these two great divides, enclosing the Gobi depression on the west; and they would again be united on the east but for the transverse valley of the Amur, which parts the Khingan mountains from the Yablonoi system to the east of Lake Baikal.
If we consider the whole continent to be divided into three sections, viz. a northern section with an average altitude of less than 5000 ft. above sea, where all the main rivers flow northward to the Mediterranean, the Arctic Sea, or the Caspian; a central section of depression, where the drainage is lost in swamps or hamūns, and of which the average level probably does not exceed 2000 ft. above sea; and a southern section divided between highly elevated table-lands from 15,000 to 16,000 ft. in altitude, and lowlands of the Arabian, Indian, Siamese and Chinese peninsulas, with an ocean outlet for its drainage; we find that there is only one direct connexion between northern and southern sections which involves no mountain passes, and no formidable barrier of altitudes. That one is afforded by the narrow valley of the Hari Rud to the west of Herat. From the Caspian to Karachi it is possible to pass without encountering any orographic obstacle greater than the divide which separates the valley of the Hari Rud from the Helmund hamūn basin, which may be represented by an altitude of about 4000 ft. above sea-level. This fact possesses great significance in connexion with the development of Asiatic railways.
If we examine the hydrographic basins of the three divisions of Asia thus indicated we find that the northern division, Hydrography. including the drainage falling into the Arctic Sea, the Aralo-Caspian depression, or the Mediterranean, embraces an area of about 6,394,500 sq. m., as follows:—


Sq. m.
Area of Arctic river basins 4,367,000
  ”   Aralo-Caspian basin                                                                     1,759,000
  ”   Mediterranean 268,500
—————
                                                  Total 6,394,500
The southern division is nearly equal in extent—
Sq. m.
Pacific drainage                                                                                     3,641,000
Indian Ocean 2,873,000
—————
                                                  Total 6,514,000


The interior or inland basins, including the lacustrine regions south of the Arctic watershed, the Gobi depression, Tibetan plateau, the Iranian (or Perso-Afghan) uplands, the Syro-Arabian inland basin, and that of Asia Minor, amount to 3,141,500 sq. m. or about half the extent of the other two.
By far the largest Asiatic river basin is that of the Ob, which exceeds 1,000,000 sq. m. in extent. On the east and south the Amur embraces no less than 776,000 sq. m., the Yang-tsze-kiang including 685,000, the Ganges 409,500, and the Indus 370,000 sq. m.[1]
The lakes of Asia are innumerable, and vary in size from an inland sea (such as Lakes Baikal and Balkash) to a highland loch, or the indefinitely extended swamps of Persia. Many of them are at high elevations (Lake Victoria, 13,400 ft., being probably the most elevated), and are undoubted vestiges of an ancient period of glaciation. Such lakes, as a rule, show indications of a gradual decrease in size. Others are relics of an earlier geological period, when land areas
  1. Authorities differ in their methods and results of computation of these and other similar measurements.