Taklimakan Desert, Western China
The light tans of the Taklimakan Desert are bounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas in this image of Western China. To the North is the snow-covered Tian Shan Mountain range and to the South are the rugged Kunlun Mountains. The lower left corner of the image is the Karakoram Mountain range, where the world's second highest mountain, K2, casts a shadow. The desert is one of the driest in the world, receiving less than 10 millimeters (0.5 inches) of rainfall annually. According to National Geographic, temperature is extremely variable on both a daily and a seasonal basis, changing by as much as 20 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Fahrenheit) from day to night and 30 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit) from summer to winter. The region is also subject to severe dust storms, tornadoes, and shifting sand dunes. Because of these factors, the desert is virtually devoid of vegetation; biological diversity is mostly limited to wild camels and asses. Desertification, or the degradation of dry land, is a major concern for the farmers and herders who live at the Taklimakan's edge. At the bottom of the image lies the Tibetan Plateau.