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Soils in the Hindu Kush Himalayas

Part of the book series: Geography of the Physical Environment ((GEOPHY))

Abstract

The name “Himalayas” means hima (“snow”) and alaya (“abode”) in the Sanskrit language. This range of mountains was earlier known as “Himalaya” in singular form, but now the range is mentioned as Himalayas (plural form). The Himalayas have many peaks above 8000 m but the highest peak, Mount Everest, has an elevation of 8,848 m above mean sea level. The Hindu Kush is an 800-km-long mountain range that stretches near the Afghan–Pakistan border, from central Afghanistan to northern Pakistan. It forms the western section of the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region (HKH). The HKH region, which is also known as the greater Himalayan region or “the roof of the World,” extends from 15.95º to 39.31º N latitudes and 60.85º to 105.04º E longitudes. The countries included in the Hindu Kush Himalayas are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region extends 3,500 km over all or part of eight countries from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east. The region spans over 3.441 million km2, which is about 2.9% of the global land area and approximately 18% of the global mountain area. Because of the great amount of tectonic motion still occurring at the site, the Himalayas have a proportionally high number of earthquakes and tremors. The Himalayas can be divided into four major tectonic zones according to their altitude and geographical position. These zones are (i) the Shiwaliks or sub-Himalayas, with an elevation varying from 250 to 800 m; (ii) the Lesser Himalaya; (iii) the Higher Himalayan Crystallines; and (iv) the Tethyan Himalaya. The Higher Himalayan crystalline is extremely rugged with perennial snow and glacier-capped peaks with an elevation of 3000 m to more than 8000 m. The Tethyan Himalayan Range has developed into a cold and dry desert, with sparse vegetation and naked rocks. The climate of the HKH Region varies from subtropical to alpine, which is conducive to a wide range of crops, forest species, range and grasslands, pastures, flora, and fauna. The Himalayan region holds significant importance in terms of biological (species) richness, biodiversity, socio-cultural diversity, and wealth. The region is one of 34 worldwide “biological hotspots” (i.e. a natural environment with a high biodiversity containing a large number of endangered endemic species). The unique floral and faunal wealth of the Himalayas is undergoing structural and compositional changes due to climate change. The Himalayan range alone has a total snow and ice cover of 35,110 km2 containing 3,735 km3 of eternal snow and ice. Increasing demands on ecosystem goods and services from the mountains are putting pressure on the natural resources that they contain. These demands stemming from a burgeoning human population and haphazard infrastructural development, combined with unsustainable use, poor management, and limited investment in conservation, have led to habitat degradation, biodiversity loss, and decreased agricultural productivity.

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Sharma, U.C., Datta, M., Sharma, V. (2022). Introduction. In: Soils in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. Geography of the Physical Environment. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-11458-8_1

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