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5 Geographic Facts That Will Change the Way You Look at Asia
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March 3, 2020
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Alexa Baray
geography

Asia is the largest of the seven continents. It contains about 30% of Earth's landmass and 60% of the world's population. Thanks to its massive size, there's no shortage of interesting landscapes to explore. Asia contains everything from arid deserts to subtropical islands. Here are five facts about Asia's geography that will change the way you look at the continent.

At Its Closest Point, Asia Is Only About 50 Miles From North America

A view of a small Russian fishing town and mountains off the coast of the Bering Strait
Credit: Andrei Stepanov/ Shutterstock

For those living in North America, Asia can feel like it's on the other side of the world. After all, one is in the Western Hemisphere and the other occupies the eastern half of the globe. The average flight time from Asia to North America is about 16 hours, which is no small undertaking, but the two continents aren't as far apart as you might think. Asia and North America are only about 53 miles apart at the Bering Strait, a body of water that separates Russia and Alaska. It's believed that during the Ice Age, the water levels in the Bering Strait fell so low that the area became a land bridge between Asia and North America, which allowed both animals and people to migrate from one continent to the other.

Asia Has the Highest and Lowest Points in the World

A backpacker looks toward the snowy peak of Mount Everest
Credit: Daniel Prudek/ Shutterstock

The title of "Highest Point in the World" officially belongs to Mount Everest, which sits on the border of Nepal and Tibet. This massive mountain peak reaches an amazing 29,035 feet above sea level. That measurement might change in the future though. "The Washington Post" reports that a Nepalese group is working on re-measuring the mountain. They believe it might have shrunk after an earthquake in 2015. The new measurements are unlikely to take away the mountain's title as the world's highest point though.

The lowest point on Earth lies 3,000 miles to the east of Mount Everest along the borders of Israel and Jordan. The honor belongs to the Dead Sea, which sits at 1,377 feet below sea level. It's getting even lower too. The Dead Sea sits on top of a tectonic fault line that causes the sea to sink about a meter every year. The Dead Sea also has a 30% salinity rate — meaning it's very salty and 10 times saltier than sea water! All that salt makes swimmers much more buoyant in the water, so it is very easy to float on the surface. Swimming in the Dead Sea is a bucket list item for many world travelers.

A Dozen Countries Are Landlocked

The Tiger Monastery in Bhutan, built into the side of a mountain with prayer flags
Credit: Kardd/ iStock

Asia contains 48 countries. That's about one-quarter of the world's countries on one continent. Since Asia is such a massive continent, however, not every country is lucky enough to border a major body of water. In fact, twelve of Asia's countries are landlocked — meaning they don't have direct access to the sea. These landlocked countries are Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Laos, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The "World Bank" notes that there are some very real disadvantages to being a landlocked nation. These countries have a difficult time with imports and exports. This is because both take longer to reach their final destinations when traveling overland instead of by sea. Landlocked countries often pay more for goods too, thanks to the added difficulty of getting goods in and out. Turns out seaports are a big advantage in a global market.

One Body of Water Might Be a Lake or a Sea

The Caspian Sea, as seen from the rocky shore on a cloudless day
Credit: Rafael_Wiedenmeier/ iStock

Depending on who you ask, the Caspian Sea is either a lake or a sea. According to "The Economist," the five countries that border the body of water (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) disagree on its classification. Those who call for lake classification point out that the body of water doesn't have any outflows or connections to the ocean, which are characteristics of a lake. On the other hand, the size, depth, and salinity of the water are all characteristics of a sea.

Does it really matter if it's a lake or a sea? Yes, actually — a lot. It's not just a matter of semantics because the difference between "lake" and "sea" changes the resources each country controls. If the Caspian is a lake, then the countries should split the resources of the water five ways. If it's a sea, though, then the United Nation's Law of the Sea governs the body of water. This law dictates that the countries share the body of water in proportion to the amount of coastline they control. That means Iran (with the shortest coastline) controls less of the water's deposits of oil and gas. They'd prefer we call it Caspian Lake, which would give them an equal 1/5 share. The terminology is still under debate though.

One Plateau in Central Asia Provides Water to Two Billion People

Herd of yak stands in a grassy field on the Tibetan Plateau
Credit: Martinez de la Varga/ Shutterstock

In Central Asia, there is a high, flat plain called the Tibetan Plateau. It covers an area of land that's roughly about the size of the western United States. The plateau sits about 16,400 feet above sea level. Its enormous height and size earn the area the nickname, "Roof of the World." It's not just geography that makes the Tibetan Plateau an interesting place though. It's also notable thanks to its role in providing water to more than two billion of the continent's residents.

The plateau contains the highest number of glaciers outside of the North and South Poles. As these glaciers melt, the water runs into Asia's largest rivers including the Yangtze and Mekong rivers. Unfortunately, manufacturing and mining in the area are putting those freshwater resources at risk. Activists are encouraging the governments to step in to protect this precious water source that flows to billions of people and sustains life all across Asia.