Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Sino-Mongolian Border

John H has highlighted the fascinating views you get from space, especially the way you can see how political borders affect land use. He asked if some other people can suggest any interesting borders visible from space.

Here is a shot of the Mongolian-Chinese border along Khalkhyn Gol (site of a famous battle in 1939 BTW), in the far eastern part of Mongolia. To the bottom left is Mongolia; the brown is grass. To the top-right is China. The tan is dust. The border today runs through what was the traditional divide between Inner Mongolia and "Outer" Mongolia, and was virtually undemarcated. Since then, Han (ethnic Chinese) immigration, bouts of efforts to promote agriculture, increased raising of more commercial sheep and cashmere goats, which damage the range more than large stock, and finally a very ill-conceived plan to divide up the range-land, have all lead to increased desertification on the China side of the border. As an added bonus you can also look at the different styles of Chinese and Mongolian (imitating Russian) farming in the top right and bottom left respectively.

On the other hand, in this view, the border is clear, but greener on the Chinese side (right) and drier on the Mongolian side (left). Another interesting part of this, if you zoom in, is the mini-green belt formed by the border fences, which create a reserve area nibbled by neither side's livestock. Why the big difference here? I don't know!

Another view of the border (to the south of Mongolia's salient into China) is here. Mongolia is to the north, China to the south.

This is the border around the twin rail towns Erenhot (on the Chinese side, the urban area just below center) and Zamyn Üüd (the little town just north of the brown zone. Here both sides are pretty denuded of grass cover, but the big frontier zone on the Mongolian side has fresh unused grass. Zoom in on the towns and you can see the Trans-Mongolian railway. (The times of border crossing is always arranged to be at night, so that you can't take photos of the sensitive border area.)

Finally, here you can see the heartland of China's cashmere belt. Bottom right is the irrigated Hetao area, where water from the Yellow River is used for irrigation. North of it is a line of mountains separating the Hetao from the Urad region in China's Inner Mongolia. That region has been slated for heavy cashmere goat use (if you have a cashmere sweater it may well have come from there). To the north you can see a line of tan desert and then browner gobi (semi-desert) basically following the Sino-Mongolian border (China to the south, Mongolia to the north).

Originally posted at Here We Stand, here and here