The Kura-Araks Ecological Zone
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The relief of Azerbaijan has the form of a chute, stretching from the northwest to the southeast, the socket of which is oriented to the Caspian. Such a location is very favorable in the climatic sense, for the country is directed towards the southeast and the Caspian Sea, which directly influences all the country up to the most remote areas. The central part of this chute is occupied by the Kura-Araks lowland, the climate of which is arid subtropical. Due to its territory and share in the national economy, the zone is of great importance. In this region cotton-growing and cattle-breeding are highly developed; also there are many valuable subtropical fruits: pomegranates, figs, olives, pistachios, almonds, Japanese per-simmons and others.

The climate is warm with a pro-longed hot summer and mild winter. In the central part, the number of hot months is 4 - 5. With the increase of the area above the sea level from the east to the west towards the spurs and slopes of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, the climate gradually turns to moderate-warm, mainly due to the reduction in hot months to 3 months and the temperature decrease during the coldest month down to 0 - 1oC.

In the largest continental zone precipitation falls mainly in late spring and early summer (May-June). Towards the Caspian the maximum precipitation occurs in

Left Border

earlier months (March-April), and in the coastal area it occurs during the autumn-winter period. Mostly local periodical winds dominate: monsoons in the valleys of the Kura and Araks rivers, coastal breezes, mountain-valley winds and fans.

The zone is divided into three natural regions: Shirvan, Mill-Karabakh and Mugan-Salyan, which are very similar in the ecological sense and represented by moderately changed natural landscapes (long-term crop culturing) and identical ecological situations and problems.

The Shirvan area occupies the territory on the left side of the Kura-Araks lowland from Mingachevir to the Caspian. It includes two plains: Shirvan and South-east Shirvan.

The Shirvan plain is situated in the northern part of the lowland, adjacent to the foothills of the Greater Caucasus. It is formed from the flat cones of mountainous river drifts joined together. In the southern part, adjacent

Tugai forests in the Kura zone; lower reaches of the Kura river. (photo - State Committee for the Environment)

to the Kura river, which is the southern border of the plain, there are swamps, and soils are mostly sierozems (grey desert soils).

South-east Shirvan occupies the left side of the Kurn lower reach. It is adjacent to the foothills of Gobustan in the north, and washed by the waters of the Caspian in the east. Because of the high salinization of soils and water deficiency considerable areas of south-east Shirvan are used for winter grazing pastures. However a part of the territory is meliorated and planted with cotton.

In the coastal area, oil has been discovered and its industrial extraction is carried out by the enterprise "Shirvanneft".

The Mill-Karabakh region is situated between the Kura and Araks rivers and consists of two plains: Karabakh-in the north-west and Mill-in the south-east.

The Karabakh plain is formed from the drifts of the Lesser Caucasus rivers. Its surface is jagged by river beds and irrigation channels. A considerable part of the land is ploughed. The main crop is cotton. There are many orchards on the plain, a pistachio grove has also been preserved.

The Mill plain is very similar to the Karabakh plain according to its surface structure and topsoil, however in its eastern part there are marsh-ridden areas, for example in the Aggel and Sarisu areas, where a considerable number of waterfowls and coastal species of migrating birds stay over winter.

At present the lands of the plain are mostly developed and are covered mainly by cotton crops.

The upper and lower Karabakh irrigation channels go through the region (frorn north to south) from the Mingechavir water reservoir, where more than a hundred agricultur;tl channeli st;trt.

The Mugan  Salyan region occupies the right bank of the Kur’t river, north and northe;tst t’rwn the place where the Araks falls into it. This is the flattest part of the reg,ion;md completely situated below sea level. It consists of two plains: the Mugan arul the Salyan

The Mugan plain, which extends along the right bank of the Araks and Kura  rivers has a net of irrigation channels, which irrigate the numerous plantations of cotton.

The Salyan plain is situated between the Kura river and its former br;mch  Akush. It has smooth plain surface.

The given characteristics suggest that the landscape and climatic features of all the regions of the Kura  Araks lowland, as well as the topsoil and vegetation, have many common features. In addition, the main peculiarity of this ecological zone is the long  term history of agriculture, which has strongly affected the whole environment.

These landscapes according Io resistance to population pressure are included in the resistant category. At present more than 58% of the Kura  Araks lowland territory is cultivated for cotton and vines, as well as for grain and gardening areas. Considerable area are used for winter grazing pastures. As a result of long  term irrigation, thc water  physical properties of soils, their nsineral composition, as well as the number of micro  elements, and humus”have strongly changed. Soils over a rather big area have been exposed to repeated salinization, swamping and ravine  formation, which has had a considerable impact on the productivity of the

Takyr in Southern part of Kura-Araks Lowland (photo by F.Mammedov)

landscape. There are a number of general problems common for the whole zone caused by long  term anthropogenic pressure:

 preservation of bio  diversity and natural landscapes, contamination and degradation of topioil, degradation of vegetation and contamination of water resourcei.

Besides, the Ali  Bayramli, Mingechavir, and Salyan industrial regions create prohlemi of air contamination, and the existence of the Ganja and Apsheron industrial regions close to the horder of this region aggravates this problem. A considerable contribution to air contnmination is made by motor transport. The share of contamination due to motor transport in the region is 65%, and near the motor ways it reaches 88%. The total amount of hazardous discharges into the atmosphere in this region reaches 40 thousand tons/year, including about 1S thousand tones from stationary sources and 24 thousand tons/year from motor transport. Air contamination results in the contamination of soils, especially near the highways, where the contamination by lead;tnd other heavy metals is observed, which exceeds the MAC by ten times.

The development of melioration and irrigated agriculture contribute to the degradation of topsoil and an acceleration in erosion. The main factori of soil degra  dation in Azerbaijan”and in the Kura  Araks lowland in particular, are erosion, salinization, soil consolidation, techno  genic disorders, wash  out of humui and other nutritious substances from the soil profile, and aggravation of water  physical properties.

Salinization of soil mainly occurs in the Kura  Araks lowland, where the total area of salinized lands is more than 387 thousand hectares, of them more than 40 thousand hectares are strongly salinized  and more than 80 thousand hectares are very strongly salinized. Among salinized lands the most dangerous are graden  salinized soils, the area of which is 133.7 thousand hectares. Violation of the regime and norms of land irrigation have considerably developed this repeated salinization. Over 83% of irrigated lands need a certain fornl of melioration.

Water and wind erosion on the territory of the Kura  Araks lowland also significantly influences soil conditions. Over 35 % of arable lands and 25% of winter pastures are exposed to erosion processes. Almost 134 thousand hectares of lands are eroded to a certain extent, and more than 66 thousand hectares are strongly eroded lands. The vioiation of the regime and norms of in igation in the Kura  Araks lowland resulted in the wash  out of almost 400 thousand hectares of lands.

Chemical contamination of soils is caused by the use of mineral fertilizers and chemicals. Generally, in the Republic, during the period of 1988  1992 more than 800 thousand hectares were annually treated by chemicals, including almost 400 thousand hectares by herbicides (up to 15 kg of chemicals were used per one hectare of land). Over 65% of treated areas belong to the Kura  Araks lowland. The use of chemicals has resulted in considerable contamination of soil by chlorine organic substances  pesticides (COPs) and heavy metals. The most eco  toxicological regions of the Kura  Araks lowland are in the southeastern part  Mugan  Salyan region, where the aver;tge content of COPs equals 0.s)4 mg/kg with the amount of residual DDT exceeding permissible standards by 9 times. The reduction of chemical use by ten times durin

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