The Taklimakan Desert in northwest China is a vast region of sand desert sitting in a depression between two high, rugged mountain ranges. The Taklimakan's rolling sand dunes stretch out over about 125,000 square miles in the Xinjiang region of China. The desert is hemmed in to the north by the snow-covered Tien Shan Mountain range and to the south by the rugged Kunlun Mountains; these mountains wring almost all the precipitation from the air passing through the region, leaving the Taklimakan bone dry. Also visible at the bottom of the image are the upper reaches of the Tibetan Plateau, just north of the Himalayas. Dust storms, shifting sand dunes, and desert expansion are critical natural hazards to the inhabitants, mostly farmers and grazers, who live at the desert margins. Images such as this one can be used to map the extent of soil degradation; for example, researchers from the Center for Environment Remote Sensing, Chiba University, Japan used MODIS images to create a classification system showing areas of no desertification, light desertification, middle desertification, and severe desertification. The results can be used to target high priority areas for remediation.
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