Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

1.2: Formation of the Asian Continent

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    ( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\)

    \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\)

    \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\)

    \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorA}[1]{\vec{#1}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorAt}[1]{\vec{\text{#1}}}      % arrow\)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorB}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorC}[1]{\textbf{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorD}[1]{\overrightarrow{#1}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectorDt}[1]{\overrightarrow{\text{#1}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vectE}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash{\mathbf {#1}}}} \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \)

    \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)

    Formation of the Asian Continent

    The Himalayas represent a remarkable geological feat, encompassing an impressive area of 612,000 square kilometers and reaching towering heights of over 8,849 meters at its highest point, Mount Everest. This majestic mountain range was formed over a span of millions of years through the gradual collision of the Indian Plate with the Eurasian Plate, culminating in the Himalayas' current height and expanse. A true testament to the raw power and beauty of our planet's geological processes, the Himalayas are a natural wonder of unparalleled scale and grandeur.

    Map of the Indian plate crashing into the Asian plate
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Indian Plate (AlataristarionCC BY-SA 4.0)
    When the Indian and Eurasian Plates Collided

    What does the Indian tectonic plate have to do with the Himalayas, climate change and...whales? This Think video explores how plate tectonics put the Indian subcontinent on a global stage.


    The plateaus encompass more than 3.6 million square kilometers and despite the name, it is not uniformly flat. The plateau contains low mountains and low river basins and as an average, is 600 meters above sea level. The Tibetan Plateau, also known as the “Rooftop of the World,” is the largest and highest plateau in the world and averages more than 5000 meters above sea level. The ice and snow from the plateaus and mountain glaciers provide the largest freshwater outside the poles. As the glaciers melt, they feed Asia’s largest rivers providing water for thousands of years to the cultures that live downriver. 

    Ariel view of the high Tibetan plateau
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Tibetan Plateau (Public Domain)

    The Western Siberian Plain holds the title for the world's largest continuous flatland. It spans an impressive 2400 kilometers by 1900 kilometers. Interestingly, less than half of it reaches heights exceeding 100 meters above sea level. The plain also boasts the largest floodplains and swamps on Earth. Additionally, Central Asia is known for its steppe landscape of flat, treeless grasslands. This region tends to be quite arid, with desert-like weather. Finally, it's worth noting that the Rub' al Khali, covering most of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, is the world's largest sand sea.

    Ariel view of the Saudi Arabian penninsula
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Rub’ al Khali (Public Domain)

    Lake Baikal boasts the title of the deepest lake on Earth, hosting approximately one-fifth of the world's unfrozen freshwater. It is also renowned as the oldest lake, dating back an estimated 25 million years. Meanwhile, the Yangtze River, spanning over 6,300 kilometers from the Tibetan Plateau, stands as Asia's longest river. The basin surrounding it is home to nearly one-third of China's population and is instrumental in the country's economy. Covering an area of 234,000 square kilometers, the Persian Gulf harbors about half of the globe's oil reserves. Lastly, the Bay of Bengal ranks as the largest delta in the world, sourcing from multiple rivers, including the Ganges.

    Map of the Bay of Bengel
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Bay of Bengal (NormanEinsteinCC BY-SA 3.0)

    Plate tectonics is a crucial factor in shaping the Earth's climate, and its influence cannot be overstated. The way sunlight is distributed across different regions is significantly impacted by the redistribution of land and ocean formations. Mountains and plateaus can obstruct atmospheric circulation, creating different climatic zones, and altering hydrological cycles. Additionally, the movement of continents can significantly reshape oceans, leading to changes in oceanic currents and temperature. Furthermore, plate tectonics can trigger volcanic eruptions, which can have a profound impact on the environment and climate. It is worth noting that the impact of plate tectonics extends beyond the environment to the evolution of humans as well. The migration of early humans was significantly influenced by the movement of continents, and it is believed that plate tectonics played a crucial role in shaping the habitats in which early humans lived and evolved.


    [1] Lambert, T. A Brief History of Russia