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The 1,900-mile-long Kunlun Mountain range has peaks that reach heights of over 20,000 feet. It is the mountain range that stands as the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. It spans about 1,900 miles across to the Wei River until it reaches the North China Plain. It is considered as one of the longest mountain chains in the region. Liushi Shan at 23,514 feet is its highest peak. The climate of the Kunlun Mountain range varies according to elevation with the lower portions having cool temperate conditions, while the upper elevations close to Tibet having freezing temperatures. High winds dominate the high altitude regions of the mountain range.
The legendary Silk Road passed through the northern edge of the Kunlun Mountains for hundreds of years on its way to Southwest and Central Asia. Early British explorers tried to reach the western end of the mountain range but failed. Later, the Swedes were more successful in reaching its western region. In 1949, scientific explorations were organized by the Chinese government to determine the region's geology. Later expeditions concentrated on the adaptability of the ethnic groups on the sparse high altitude environment of the mountain range. The 1980s brought international research cooperation between Chinese and French as well as American scientific teams to study the Altun Fault System and the geological development of the Kunlun.
The Kunlun has abundant natural resources such as coal, soda ash, and petroleum.The mountain region has indigenous inhabitants living there since the earliest times. The northern sides of the Kunlun Mountain are primarily occupied by Uighurs as well as a few Mongols. The northern area's southern steppes are where Tibetan nomads continue to use the grazing plains. Near the Karakoram and Pamir ranges, Tajik and Kyrgyz settlements still occupy the valleys of the western regions. Han Chinese settlements can be found close to the gravel highways near the mountains. A modern city is forming in Golmud on the windy Qaidam Basin. Its economic needs are supplied by trucks delivering fuel, construction materials, vegetables, and sundry goods.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The Kunlun encompasses several types of natural habitats, namely, volcano cones, steppes, desert, piedmont plains, and montane coniferous forests. These first three environments support slow vegetation growth. The piedmont plains contain oases-like environments with arid grasslands while the patches of coniferous forests contain pine trees. There are saline lakes in the medial ridges of the high valley areas of the mountain. Lower altitudes are mostly moors and bogs. Large sand dunes dominate the rest of the area. Fauna consists of wild yaks, goat antelope, sheep, Tibetan gazelle, and wild asses. Brown bears, wolves, and snow leopards also make appearances. Birds populate the lakes in the region during the migration season.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
The Kunlun Mountain Range has been the subject of geological research studies since 1949. Since the majority of the Kunlun is desert, volcanic land, steppes, and arid grasslands, threats from the sparsely populated human inhabitants and their activities, is minimal. The climate itself is freezing and windy for most of the year. However, there are some concerns related to infrastructure projects such as Golmud-Lhasa railway, hydropower dams, and water transport projects, threatening to displace the local flora and fauna of the region. With this in mind, the Chinese government has taken steps to protect and improve the welfare and living conditions of the people in the western regions of the country.
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