The Planteau and the Mountains
Iran, which has a surface area of some 1,648,000 square kilometres (636 square miles), is an elevated plateau with an average height of over 1,000 metres (3,000 feet) above sea level, set between two depressions, the Caspian Sea to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south. The central desert plateau is surrounded by tall chains of mountains. In the north, the Alborz Range creates a formidable but narrow barrier between the plateau and the fertile coastal plains along the Caspian. The physical differences on either side of the mountains are striking: from the heat and dust of Tehran (1,100 metres, 3,600 feet) the road climbs quickly up to the mountain passes before descending again to the humidity and luxuriant vegetation of the coast situated at an average of 40 meters (130 feet) below sea level. While the annual rainfall in Tehran is only 210 millimeters, it is as high as 1,224 millimeters at Rasht, by the sea. It is tn this coastal area that rice, tea and various citrus fruits are grown. The Alborz Chain includes several peaks over 4,000 metres (13,000 feet) in height, including the Alam Kuh (4,840 metres, 15,875 feet) and Mount Demavend (5,671 metres, 18,600 feet), an extinct volcano which dominates the skyline of Tehran. The chain stretches east into Khorassan Province but is lower there than further west and cut by fertile valleys. This region is one of the few areas giving easy access on to the Iranian Plateau and has been used for centuries by nomads and invaders from Central Asia.
|Chalous road-Mazandaran Province|
To the west of the Plateau, the Zagros Chain stretches south from lake Van in Turkey to the Persian Gulf, and also reaches over 4,000 metres (13,OO feet) in height in Places The mountain ridges, which lie in regular folds running from the northwest to the southeast, are cut by transverse valleys. The remains of what were once vast oak, Pistachio, almond and walnut forests are visible on the mountainsides, now occupied mainly by grazing herds of sheep and goats. In the valleys wheat, cotton, tobacco and barley are grown.
To the southeast of the plateau, the Makran Chain forms a barrier between the sea of Oman and the central plateau, while along the frontier with pakistan is yet another chain. Its highest point is Mount Taftan (4,042 metres, 13,260 feet) a still active volcano, near the town of Zahedan.
The Plateau itself has an average height of 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level. In the centre of it are two areas of desert: the Dasht-e Kevir, the salt desert in the north and the Dasht-e-Lut, the sand desert in the south. These are among the most arid areas in the world. While the Dasht-e Kevir does have some oases in it, the Dasht-e-Lut cannot support any form of life at all. The zones of human settlement are therefore to be found mostly along the edges of the plateau and in the oases.
To the southwest of the Zagros lie the plains of Khuzestan a sort of enclave of the Mesopotamian plain through which flow the Arvand- rud (better known as the Shatt el-Arab) and the Karun. The coastal area of the Persian Gulf, which stretches for some 800 kilometres (497 miles) from the Iraqi frontier to the Straits of Hormuz, is arid with only very little natural vegetation and a few palm groves. The main source of income in the region is oil, first drilled for here in 1908. To the east, near Bandar-e Abbas are several offshore islands which belong to Iran, including Qeshm, Kish, Kharg and Hormuz. Like the neighboring states around the Caspian Sea (Turkey Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan), Iran is located in an active earthquake zone and tremors are a frequent phenomenon, sometimes occurring very violently. The area around Tabriz, Qazvin and the Caspian has suffered considerably from earthquakes over the centuries, most recently in September 1978 when 25,000 People were killed in the region of Tabas, and in June 1990 when another earthquake hit the towns of Rudband Rasht in Gilan Province, leaving 48,000 PeoPle dead Other regions of the country are also prone to earthquakes, particularly in the south, from Fars Province east to Baluchestan.
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