|The Ural Mountains|
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|Mountain formation near Saranpaul, Nether-Polar Urals||Rocks in a river, Nether-Polar Urals||Mountain Big Iremel||Entry to Ignateva Cave, South Urals|
The Urals are among the world's oldest extant mountain ranges. For its age of 250 to 300 million years, the elevation of the mountains is unusually high. They were formed during the Uralian orogeny due to the collision of the eastern edge of the supercontinent Laurussia with the young and rheologically weak continent of Kazakhstania, which now underlies much of Kazakhstan and West Siberia west of the Irtysh, and intervening island arcs. The collision lasted nearly 90 million years in the late Carboniferous – early Triassic. Unlike the other major orogens of the Paleozoic (Appalachians, Caledonides, Variscides), the Urals have not undergone post-orogenic extensional collapse and are unusually well preserved for their age, being underlaid by a pronounced crustal root. East and south of the Urals much of the orogen is buried beneath later Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments. The adjacent Pay-Khoy to the north is not a part of the Uralian orogen and formed later.
Many deformed and metamorphosed rocks, mostly of Paleozoic period, surface within the Urals. The sedimentary and volcanic layers are folded and broken, and form meridional bands. The sediments to the west of the Ural Mountains are formed by limestone, dolomite and sandstone left from ancient shallow seas. The eastern side is dominated by basalts similar to the rocks of the bottom of the modern oceans.
The western slope of the Ural Mountains has predominantly karst topography, especially in the basin of the Sylva River, which is a tributary of the Chusovaya River. It is composed of severely eroded sedimentary rocks (sandstones and limestones) that are about 350 million years old. There are many caves, karst sinks and underground streams. The karst topography is much less developed on the eastern slopes. They are relatively flat, with some hills and rocky outcrops and contain alternating volcanic and sedimentary layers dated to the middle Paleozoic period. Most high mountains consist of weather-resistant rocks such as quartzite, schist and gabbro that are between 570 and 395 million years old. The river valleys are laid with limestone.
The Ural Mountains contain about 48 species of economically valuable ores and minerals. Eastern regions are rich in chalcopyrite, nickel oxide, gold, platinum, chromite and magnetite ores, as well as in coal (Chelyabinsk Oblast), bauxite, talc, fireclay and abrasives. The Western Urals contain deposits of coal, oil, natural gas (Ishimbay and Krasnokamsk areas) and potassium salts. Both slopes are rich in bituminous coal and lignite, and the largest deposit of bituminous coal is in the north (Pechora field). The specialty of the Urals is precious and semi-precious stones, such as emerald, amethyst, aquamarine, jasper, rhodonite, malachite and diamond. Some of the deposits, such as the magnetite ores at Magnitogorsk, are already nearly depleted.
Rivers and lakes
Many rivers originate in the Ural Mountains. The western slopes south of the border between the Komi Republic and Perm Krai and the eastern slopes south of approximately 54°30'N drain into the Caspian Sea via the Kama and Ural River basins. The tributaries of the Kama include the Vishera, Chusovaya, and Belaya and originate on both the eastern and western slopes. The rest of the Urals drain into the Arctic Ocean, mainly via the Pechora basin in the west, which includes the Ilych, Shchugor, and the Usa, and via the Ob basin in the east, which includes the Tobol, Tavda, Iset, Tura and Severnaya Sosva. The rivers are frozen for more than half the year. Generally, the western rivers have higher flow volume than the eastern ones, especially in the Northern and Nether-Polar regions. Rivers are slower in the Southern Urals. This is because of low precipitation and the relatively warm climate resulting in less snow and more evaporation.
The mountains contain a number of deep lakes. The eastern slopes of the Southern and Central Urals have most of these, among the largest of which are the Uvildy, Itkul, Turgoyak, and Tavatuy lakes. The lakes found on the western slopes are less numerous and also smaller. Lake Bolshoye Shchuchye, the deepest lake in the Polar Urals, is Script error: No such module "convert". deep. Other lakes, too, are found in the glacial valleys of this region. Spas and sanatoriums have been built to take advantage of the medicinal muds found in some of the mountain lakes.
The climate of the Urals is continental. The mountain ridges, elongated from north to south, effectively absorb sunlight thereby increasing the temperature. The areas west of the Ural Mountains are Script error: No such module "convert". warmer in winter than the eastern regions because the former are warmed by Atlantic winds whereas the eastern slopes are chilled by Siberian air masses. The average January temperatures increase in the western areas from Script error: No such module "convert". in the Polar to Script error: No such module "convert". in the Southern Urals and the corresponding temperatures in July are Script error: No such module "convert". and Script error: No such module "convert".. The western areas also receive more rainfall than the eastern ones by Script error: No such module "convert". per year. This is because the mountains trap clouds from the Atlantic Ocean. The highest precipitation, approximately Script error: No such module "convert"., is in the Northern Urals with up to Script error: No such module "convert". snow. The eastern areas receive from Script error: No such module "convert". in the north to Script error: No such module "convert". in the south. Maximum precipitation occurs in the summer: the winter is dry because of the Siberian High.
The landscapes of the Urals vary with both latitude and longitude and are dominated by forests and steppes. The southern area of the Mughalzhar Hills is a semidesert. Steppes lie mostly in the southern and especially south-eastern Urals. Meadow steppes have developed on the lower parts of mountain slopes and are covered with zigzag and mountain clovers, Serratula gmelinii, dropwort, meadow-grass and Bromus inermis, reaching the height of 60–80 cm. Much of the land is cultivated. To the south, the meadow steppes become more sparse, dry and low. The steep gravelly slopes of the mountains and hills of the eastern slopes of the Southern Urals are mostly covered with rocky steppes. River valleys contain willow, poplar and caragana shrubs.
Forest landscapes of the Urals are diverse, especially in the southern part. The western areas are dominated by dark coniferous taiga forests which change to mixed and deciduous forests in the south. The eastern mountain slopes have light coniferous taiga forests. The Northern Urals are dominated by conifers, namely Siberian fir, Siberian pine, Scots pine, Siberian spruce, Norway spruce and Siberian larch, as well as by Silver and downy birches. The forests are much sparser in the Polar Urals. Whereas in other parts of the Ural Mountains they grow up to the heights of 1 km, in the Polar Urals the tree line is at 250–400 m. The polar forests are low and are mixed with swamps, lichens, bogs and shrubs. Dwarf birch, mosses and berries (blueberry, cloudberry, black crowberry, etc.) are abundant. The forests of the Southern Urals are the most diverse in composition: here, together with coniferous forests are also abundant broadleaf tree species such as English oak, Norway maple and elm. The Virgin Komi Forests in the northern Urals are recognized as a World Heritage site.
The Ural forests are inhabited by animals typical of Siberia, such as elk, brown bear, fox, wolf, wolverine, lynx, squirrel and sable (north only). Because of the easy accessibility of the mountains there are no specifically mountainous species. In the Middle Urals, one can see a rare mixture of sable and pine marten named kidus. In the Southern Urals, badger and black polecat are common. Reptiles and amphibians live mostly in the Southern and Central Ural and are represented by the common viper, lizards and grass snakes. Bird species are represented by capercaillie, black grouse, hazel grouse, spotted nutcracker and cuckoos. In summers, the South and Middle Urals are visited by songbirds, such as nightingale and redstart.
The steppes of the Southern Urals are dominated by hares and rodents such as gophers, susliks and jerboa. There are many birds of prey such as lesser kestrel and buzzards. The animals of the Polar Urals are few and are characteristic of the tundra; they include Arctic fox, tundra partridge, lemming and reindeer. The birds of these areas include rough-legged buzzard, snowy owl and rock ptarmigan.
The continuous and intensive economic development of the last centuries has affected the fauna, and wildlife is much diminished around all industrial centers. During World War II, hundreds of factories were evacuated from Western Russia before the German occupation, flooding the Urals with industry. The conservation measures include establishing national wildlife parks. There are nine strict nature reserves in the Urals: the Ilmen, the oldest one, mineralogical reserve founded in 1920 in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Pechora-Ilych in the Komi Republic, Bashkir and its former branch Shulgan-Tash in Bashkortostan, Visim in Sverdlovsk Oblast, South Urals in Bashkortostan, Basegi in Perm Krai, Vishera in Perm Krai and Denezhkin Kamen in Sverdlovsk Oblast.
The area has also been severely damaged by the plutonium-producing facility Mayak opened in Chelyabinsk-40 (later called Chelyabinsk-65, Ozyorsk), in the Southern Urals, after World War II. Its plants went into operation in 1948 and, for the first ten years, dumped unfiltered radioactive waste into the Techa River and Lake Karachay. In 1990, efforts were underway to contain the radiation in one of the lakes, which was estimated at the time to expose visitors to 500 millirem per day. As of 2006, 500 mrem in the natural environment was the upper limit of exposure considered safe for a member of the general public in an entire year (though workplace exposure over a year could exceed that by a factor of 10). Over Script error: No such module "convert". of land were contaminated in 1957 from a storage tank explosion, only one of several serious accidents that further polluted the region. The 1957 accident expelled 20 million curies of radioactive material, 90% of which settled into the land immediately around the facility. Although some reactors of Mayak were shut down in 1987 and 1990, the facility keeps producing plutonium.
The Urals have been viewed by Russians as a "treasure box" of mineral resources, which were the basis for its extensive industrial development. In addition to iron and copper the Urals were a source of gold, malachite, alexandrite, and other gems such as those used by the court jeweller Fabergé. As Russians in other regions gather mushrooms or berries, Uralians gather mineral specimens and gems. Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak (1852–1912) Pavel Bazhov (1879–1950), as well as Aleksey Ivanov and Olga Slavnikova, post-Soviet writers, have written of the region.
The region served as a "military stronghold" during Peter the Great's Great Northern War with Sweden, during Stalin's rule when the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Complex was built and Russian industry relocated to the Urals during the Nazi advance at the beginning of World War II, and as the center of the Soviet nuclear industry during the Cold War. Extreme levels of air, water, and radiological contamination and pollution by industrial wastes resulted. Population exodus resulted, and economic depression at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in post-Soviet times additional mineral exploration, particularly in the northern Urals, has been productive and the region has attracted industrial investment.
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- Производство плутония с ПО "Маяк" на Сибирский химкомбинат перенесено не будет [Plutonium production will not be transferred from Mayak], obzor.westsib.ru, 25 March 2010 (in Russian)
- Givental, E. (2013). "Three Hundred Years of Glory and Gloom: The Urals Region of Russia in Art and Reality". SAGE Open 3 (2). doi:10.1177/2158244013486657.
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ural Mountains.|
|40x40px||Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Urals.|
- Peakbagger.com page on the Ural Mountains
- Ural Expeditions & Tours page on the five parts of the Ural Mountains
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