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Uvs Lake: The Largest Lake in Mongolia
Uvs Lake Information and Facts
Uvs Lake is the largest lake in Mongolia by surface area, and also the largest saline lake in the country. The lake area is one of the most important biodiversity poles in Eurasia.
Uvs Lake is a highly saline lake in the endorheic Uvs Nuur Basin, which ranges from the permanent snowfields of the Turgen mountains over the lakes and wetlands area, towards the Desert of Altan Els. Uvs Nuur is part of a special protected area, together with the Altan Els Sand Dunes and Mount Tsagaan Shuvuut. The lake is bordered by the Tannu Ola Range on the north and the Sangilen Mountains in the northeast. The largest settlement in the lake area is the city of Ulaangom on the south. Although the majority of Uvs Lake sits in Mongolia, its northeastern tip is located in the Tuva Republic of the Russian Federation.
The lake is shallow, very saline, and is the remnant of a large saline sea, which existed several thousand years ago. Its salinity is mainly due to its sulphate and sodium ion concentration. Uvs has an average depth of 6 meters. The lake basin is separated from the Great Lakes Depression by the Kjan Khokii ridge.
The basin covers an area of approximately 70,000 km2 and it represents one of the best-preserved natural steppe landscapes of the continent. It is here that the westernmost northern desert meets the most southern tundra zone of the World. The basin is home to several smaller lakes compared to Uvs Lake, which all make up an important destination for waterfowl migration.
Protection and Science
The lake and its surrounding area have been declared protected sites. The UNESCO “Uvs Lake Site” is merely an umbrella term for not only the lake, but also the 12 separate clusters of protected sites, each representing a major Eastern Eurasian biome.
The lake was chosen as one of 10 study areas of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, in aim of understanding global change in our Planet’s atmospheric, biological, geological and hydrological systems.
The lake basin spans the geoclimatic boundary between Siberia and Central Asia, thus having extreme temperatures ranging from -58OC to 47OC. It has a harsh extreme continental climate, with warm summers and long, very cold winters. Average summer temperatures range between 20-22OC, whilst average winter temperatures are between -32 and -35OC. The basin is in the rain shadow of the Tannu Ola Mountains, so precipitation is between 150-200 mm yearly, 70-80% of it coming from summer showers and thunderstorms. The lake freezes from October to May every year.
Hydrology and Ecology
Uvs Lake has over 38 tributaries, of which the Tes-Khem River is the most important. Nariin, Kharkhiraa, Turgen, Sagil, Borshoo, Khundulun, and Torkhilog are other important inflows. There are 9 strictly protected areas in the lake basin, which represent the main ecosystems.
Because the population density in the area is low, and there’s no industry in the region, people live a more traditional lifestyle, which consists mainly of nomadic pasturing. This causes little impact on the lake basin, thus the ecosystem has remained pure and pristine.
The reed beds and the freshwater river deltas are significant resting and nesting places for numerous migratory species. More than 220 bird species can be found at and around Uvs Lake, including black storks, osprey, white-tailed eagles, whooper swans and black-headed gulls. More than 100 pairs of spoonbills also breed in the region. 29 different fish species can be found in the lake, of which one is suitable for human consumption. The mountain area is home to the Mongolian gerbil, the snow leopard, the wild sheep and the Asiatic Ibex.
Uvs Lake has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in 2003. It was nominated as “one of the largest intact watersheds in Central Asia”, where more than 40,000 archaeological sites can also be found, which once belonged to historically famous nomadic tribes like the Scythians, the Turks and the Huns. This represents one of the largest sites on the UNESCO List. This cultural heritage site is very important, since it also contains burial mounds (kurgans) and stone tablets (steles) of which many date back to the Paleolithic Era.
The lake’s name derives from the Mongol word “subsen”, which refers to the bitter sediment that is left behind in the process of making a Mongolian milk wine called “airag”. The word “nuur” is Mongolian, meaning “lake”. The name “Uvs” is a reference to the saltiness of the lake’s waters.
Tourism and Recreation
You can get to the lake by an hour’s drive from the city of Ulaangom, located 40 kilometers south of Uvs. The main activities which can be pursued at and around Uvs Lake are trekking, horse riding, camel riding, rafting, kayaking, climbing, and bird-watching.