|Russia has vast and varied natural resources, but it also experiences a variety of environmental problems. Large areas of the country’s farmland are in a critical condition because of irrigation, erosion, and industrial pollution. Nuclear waste and spills are also causing serious health and environmental problems in parts of the country. The country’s heavy industries and mines and its dependence on coal for electricity are contributing to the pollution of many rivers, urban air, and soil. Changes in fuel consumption, along with wider use of natural gas, have led to some improvement. While nearly half the country is forested land, deforestation threatens some areas. Current reforms encourage investment in the environment and the spread of safer technology. Some cities have drawn up long-term plans for environmental protection. The following information is to be sought: - Status of knowledge of the freshwater fauna; - Existence of conservation plans; - Information on major aquatic habitats or sites within the country; - Current major threats to species; - Future potential threats to species; - Contact(s) for further information.
|Geography and Climate
Russia can be divided into three broad geographic regions: European Russia, consisting of the territory lying west of the Ural Mountains; Siberia, stretching east from the Urals almost to the Pacific Ocean; and far eastern Russia, including the extreme southeast and the Pacific coast.
European Plain: European Russia is primarily a rolling plain with an average elevation of about 180 metres. The topography is rough in some areas, particularly in the north, where a maximum elevation of 1,191 metres is reached in the Khibiny Mountains of the central Kola Peninsula.
Ural Mountains: The European Plain terminates in the east at the Ural Mountains. The average elevation is only about 600 metres, and the highest elevation is in the north at Narodnaya Gora, at 1,894 metres above sea level.
West Siberian Plain: To the east of the Urals, the plain region continues in the West Siberian Plain. This expansive and extremely flat area is poorly drained and is generally marshy or swampy.
Central Siberian Plateau: Just east of the Yenisey River begins the rolling upland of the Central Siberian Plateau. Elevations here average about 500 to 700 metres above sea level. In all areas, rivers have dissected, or eroded, the surface and in some places have formed deep canyons.
East Siberian Uplands: To the east of the Lena River, the topography consists of a series of mountains and basins. The higher ranges in this region, such as the Verkhoyansk Range, Khrebet Cherskogo, and Kolyma Range, generally reach maximum elevations of about 2,300 to 3,200 metres. To the east, towards the Pacific Ocean, the mountains are higher and steeper, and volcanic activity becomes prevalent.
The harsh climate prevalent in Russia reflects its high latitude and the absence of moderating maritime influences. Winters are long and cold, and summers are short and relatively cool. High mountains along the southern boundary of Russia and Central Asia largely rule out penetration by maritime tropical air masses.During winter, the Arctic Ocean is frozen right up to the coast, so it does not exert a relatively warm ocean influence but is more like a snow-covered, frozen land mass. Because the territory lies in a westerly wind belt, warm influences from the Pacific Ocean do not reach far inland. This is particularly true in winter, when a large, cold high-pressure cell, which is centered in Mongolia, spreads over much of Siberia and far eastern Russia.The primary marine influence comes from the Atlantic Ocean in the west, but by the time Atlantic air reaches Russia it has crossed the entire western part of Europe and has undergone considerable change. It penetrates the land mass most easily during summer, when a low-pressure system generally exists over the land. At that time, warm, moist Atlantic air may push east deep into central Siberia. This is the principal moisture-bearing air mass to reach Russia, so most of the territory receives a fairly large amount of summer rain.
In the far eastern region, a monsoonal inflow of Pacific air occurs during middle and late summer. In northern regions, especially from Moscow northwards, featureless, overcast skies are so frequent, particularly during winter, that the Russians have a special name for the phenomenon, pasmurno, which may be translated as dull, dreary weather. During December, for instance, Moscow averages 23 days with overcast skies.
Annual precipitation in most of the country is only light to modest. Across the European Plain, average annual precipitation decreases from more than 800 millimeters in western Russia to less than 400 millimeters along the coast of the Caspian Sea.
Throughout Siberia and the far eastern region, annual precipitation ranges from 508 to 813 millimeters. In higher elevations, annual totals may reach 1,016 millimeters or more, but in interior basins precipitation may total less than 305 millimeters.
The climate of Russia is characterized by temperature extremes. The coldest winter temperatures occur in eastern Siberia. Air from the Atlantic Ocean tempers conditions somewhat in the west. Verkhoyansk, in the northern part of the far eastern region, is often called the cold pole of the world. During January, temperatures average -49°C and have reached as low as about -68°C. Although absolute temperatures during winter are somewhat higher along the Arctic and Pacific coasts, the winds are strong, and wind-chill factors below -50°C have been recorded along parts of the Arctic coast.
The same conditions that create cold temperatures during winter in the northeast, isolation from the sea and narrow valleys between mountains produce air stagnation in summer, which allows for strong heat under nearly continuous daylight periods at these high latitudes. During July, temperatures in Verkhoyansk average 15°C. Temperature extremes in the city have reached as low as -68°C and as high as 35°C.
Russian lands encompass a number of distinct climate zones, which generally extend across the country in east-west belts. Along the Arctic coast a tundra climate prevails and extends south in the far eastern region on upper mountain slopes. To the south is a broad belt of subarctic climate that extends south to the city of St Petersburg and broadens east of the Urals to envelop almost all of Siberia and far eastern Russia. Most of European Russia is occupied by the more temperate continental climate. This belt is widest in the west; it stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, then tapers eastwards to include a narrow strip of the southern West Siberian Plain. It is also found in the extreme southeast portion of far eastern Russia. Moscow, which lies in the continental climate zone, has average temperatures of -9°C in January and 19°C in July.
A broad belt of drier steppe climate with cold winters begins along the Black Sea coast and extends northeast across the lower Volga Valley, the southern Urals, and the southern part of western Siberia. It continues eastwards in isolated mountain basins along the extreme fringes of Siberia and far eastern Russia, and in the North Caucasian Plain.
Ref. Microsoft, 1996
The longest rivers of Russia are all located in Siberia and far eastern Russia. The largest single river system is the Ob-Irtysh. These rivers together flow 5,570 kilometers from western China north through western Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. The second longest system is the Amur-Shilka-Onon, which flows out of northern Mongolia eastwards along the Chinese-Siberian border for 4,353 kilometers to the Pacific coast.
Among individual rivers, the Lena River is the longest. It flows north through Siberia and far eastern Russia for about 4,270 kilometres to the Arctic Ocean. The next longest individual rivers are the Irtysh and the Ob.The fourth longest river is the Volga. With a length of 3,690 kilometers, it is by far the longest river in Europe. Together with its two main tributaries, the Rivers Kama and Oka, it drains a large portion of the eastern European Plain southeast to the Caspian Sea. The fifth longest river, the Yenisey River, flows north from Mongolia through eastern Siberia to the Arctic Ocean.
Russia has many natural lakes, particularly in the glaciated northwest portion of the country. In the south, forming part of Russia’s border, is the Caspian Sea. Although called a sea, it is actually a saline lake that occupies a land depression. The Caspian Sea has the largest surface area of any lake in the world, about 371,794 square kilometers, which is larger than the area of Germany.The second largest body of water in Russia is Lake Baikal, which has a surface area of 30,510 square kilometers. Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world, with a maximum depth of 1,742 meters, and has a greater volume of water (about 23,000 cubic kilometers) than any other lake in the world. It is estimated that the lake contains about one-fifth of the earth’s fresh surface water.
Ref. Microsoft, 1996