Betpak-Dala is a region in Kazakhstan. Betpak-Dala (from Turkic batpak, “swampy,” or Persian bedbaht, “unlucky” and Turkic dala, “plain”), also known as the Northern Hungry Steppe, a desert in the former Kazakh SSR, located between the lower reaches of the Sarysu River, the Chu River, and Lake Balkhash. In the north, near the 46°30’ parallel, Betpak-Dala borders on the Kazakh melkosopochnik (area of low, rounded, isolated hills). Its area is approximately 75,000 km2. Betpak-Dala is a flat, gently rolling plain with an average elevation of 300–350 m and a general southwestern incline. Elevations are greatest in the east. In the southeast the Zhel’tau highland reaches an elevation of 974 m (Mount Dzhambul). The western part of Betpak-Dala is composed of folded Mesozoic rock and horizontally layered Paleogene friable rock (sand, sandstone, clay, and conglomerates). The eastern hilly region has a plicate structure and is composed of Lower Paleozoic sedimentary-metamorphic rock series and granite. The climate is sharply continental. The annual precipitation is between 100 and 150 mm, of which only 15 percent occurs in summer. Summers are dry and hot; winters, cold with little snow. The average January temperature is -12° to -14 °C, and the average July temperature is 24° to 26 °C. There are many shallow, often saline lakes. Underground waters, emerging in places, are abundant. The predominant soils are gray-brown desert solonchak and solonets. The western region of Betpak-Dala is an argillaceous sagebrush desert; Anabasis salsa grows in the salt-marsh depressions, and European winter fat and Siberian pea shrub grow on the sand dunes. In the east the argillaceous desert merges with the stony desert where Salsola arbuscula grows on the rocky hills. Betpak-Dala is used as a spring and autumn grazing land. In Autumn 2014, English explorer Jamie Bunchuk completed an expedition to cross the Betpak-Dala to its fullest longitudinal extent, from Lake Balkash in the east to the Sarysu River in the west. He also ran 190 miles, nearly eight marathons, back to back over the course of eight days within the region.
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