In the plains the summer is hot and dry, autumn is warm and rainy, winter is cool and in spring the weather is irregular. In the mountains there are strong contrasts between wind-free slopes and those exposed to sun and wind. These are the general climatic characteristics of Azerbaijan, which is basically transient to subtropical.
Most of the territory of the Republic has either dry, subtropical plains or humid regions in the AlazanAgrichay valley and the Lenkoran lowlands where subtropical crops can be grown. These climatic features are affected by the geographical location of Azerbaijan, the diversity of the soils that cover it and its weather patterns.
Atmospheric circulation over Azerbaijan is typical of a subtropical zone. One of the main features is the way air masses move, especially in the cold periods of the year. During warm periods there is usually less cloud and the weather can be markedly hot. At such times of the year winds from the mountains blow into the valleys and sometimes reach high speeds. In the plains they form light winds which become coastal breezes when they
reach the sea. In summer, there is drought and the weather is hot and dry. Hot and dry winds come from continental tropical air carried from Central Asia by anti-cyclones or from the south and south-west on variable high pressure systems and these cause damage to agriculture as much as drought.
The dynamics of what is happening in the atmosphere in the cold period of the year are quite different. The territory of Azerbaijan is affected by cold fronts, which start off almost imperceptibly but which become intensively cold with Arctic air which alternates with that of more temperate latitudes.
There are polar anti-cyclones, which extend to all of Europe and the Caucasus. When these reach the subtropics they create favorable conditions for the formation of polar high-frontal zones. There is also a variable southern cyclonic weather pattern that appears in the Mediterranean and moves towards the southern Caucasus. Frontal zones bring tropical air masses from the Atlantic and warm fronts are created in the mountains of Azerbaijan which gives a high rate of rainfall during the period between autumn and winter. Rainfall is also increased when cold fronts and anticyclones and southern cyclones reach the region. The mountain system of the Caucasus has a strong influence on the general weather processes in Azerbaijan.
The Greater Caucasus range stands as a natural barrier between the cold air masses from the north, and the hot tropical air from the south. This creates favorable conditions for a warm and mild climate. Simultaneously, the complex interaction of the atmosphere with the mountain system of Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea causes differences in the distribution of rainfall. This explains why there are different levels of rainfall in the different regions of the Republic. The intrusion of cold air masses causes unfavorable weather conditions with snowstorms and drifts and strong frosts that inconvenience the population at large. North winds can also reach hurricane strength in Baku and in the Absheron peninsula there are also strong south-westerly
winds. The highest average temperature during the year is observed in the plains of Azerbaijan, in the KuraAraz and Lenkoran lowlands, where temperatures exceed 41°C. In the mountains the temperature drops to between 4.5°C and 6.6°C at heights of 2,000 meters. When the altitude is above 3,000 meters it can fall to – 10°C. The average temperature in January in the plains and in the foothills usually exceeds 0°C, but some falls
of temperature are accompanied by strong frosts when, in the Lenkoran lowlands, the temperature can reach -13 to -17°C and elsewhere even -20°C. One can usually guess the temperature in the mountains since the temperature drops 0.5°C for each 100 meters of altitude. In this way, in both the Greater and Lesser Caucasus an altitude of 2,000 meters would indicate that the average temperature in January is close to -5°C to -10°C at 3,000 meters. The air gets dramatically warmer in the plains and foothills in the spring because of the dry warm winds from the Talysh Mountains and the arrival of tropical air.
The hottest months are July and August. The average temperature in July is 25-27°C in the Kura- Araz plain, in the foothills to the south and west of the Absheron peninsula and in the foothills of Nakhchivan. The moderate influence of the Caspian Sea extends only to the coastal line. At different times the arrival of tropical air from the south can cause heat waves both in the lowlands and along the Caspian. In Nakhchivan the temperature can reach 40-43°C degrees. At an altitude of 2,000 meters the average temperature in July is close to 15°C degrees; above 3,000 meters it is 3-9°C degrees and on the highest peaks can drop even below 0°C. It is interesting that despite the proximity of a water source as large as the Caspian Sea, the main sources of humidity are the Atlantic air masses and not those of the Caspian. For example, rainfall is higher in the southeastern end of the Greater Caucasus compared to the central region near the Kura basin. This relationship exists despite the fact that on the Caspian coastline some monsoon circulation is observed.
In summer, the cold air from the sea is drawn into the area of low pressure above the hot plains, and in winter the wind blows from the land towards the ice-free seas. But here the summer ‘monsoon’, as it is called, does not bring rainfall as in the Far East and South Asia. Although the Caspian produces humid air it does not always result in high levels of precipitation. Humidity levels above the sea vary from a monthly average of eighty per cent to eighty-five per cent in the winter and drop to seventy per cent or seventy-five per cent in the summer. In the mountains the humidity index
is barely seven per cent. In the regions away from the sea, relative humidity in summer is also much less than in coastal regions (average twenty per cent). Evaporation from the surface of the Caspian Sea is blown by the wind which creates humidity in the sea air along the coast and which is cold in winter. Rainfall is unequally distributed over the territory of Azerbaijan. South of the Absheron peninsula yearly precipitation is never more than 200 mm, whereas in the south of the Lenkoran lowlands, for example, there is an annual rate of more than 1,600 mm. Most of the Kura-Araz lowlands, the Nakhchivan plain bordering the Araz, the high mountain zone in Talysh and northern Absheron all receive 200-300 mm of precipitation annually. Dew provides additional moisture in the Kura-Araz lowlands. In the sloping plains below the foothills there is an average of 300-400 mm, in the foothills in much of Nakhchivan 400-600 mm, and from 600 mm to 900 mm in central areas of the Lesser Caucasus. In the mountains of the central area of the Greater Caucasus, however, the annual index can reach 600 mm to 1,200 mm. The range’s southern slopes and the centre of Lenkoran both have levels higher than 1,200 mm, and up to 1,700 mm in the far south of the Lenkoran lowlands. Snow cover in many parts of Azerbaijan appears irregularly and in varying quantities. In all the lowlands and foothills snow does not remain long, on average less than 10-15 days per year. Snowfall stabilizes only in altitudes exceeding 1,400-1,500 meters above sea level, sometimes lasting from fifty to one hundred days and for more than half a year in some places. In Nakhchivan snow remains for a long time at altitudes of 900 to 1,000 meters and above. Occasionally there are hailstorms that damage vineyards, gardens and plantations, especially in the middle and upper mountain zones in both Caucasian ranges and in Nakhchivan. There are between five and ten hailstorms every year in these regions. On average every thirty to forty-five days there are thunderstorms in the mountains and every five to fifteen days along the coastal plains and the Kura-Araz lowlands. The semi-deserts and dry steppes of the Araz River zone of Nakhchivan have a cold climate in winter and hot dry summers. The climate of the forest-covered areas on the southern and north-eastern slopes of the Greater Caucasus is moderately warm with regular precipitation. Higher up, above 2,700 meters, there are cold and dry winters, as well as in the Lesser Caucasus at altitudes between 1,400 meters and 2,700 meters. There is also plenty of moisture and a moderately warm climate most of the year in the subtropical areas of the Lenkoran lowlands and the Talysh foothills. A cold climate with dry summers is typical for Nakhchivan, especially up to
1,000 meters. However, towards Zengezur and high up, between 2,700 and 3,000 meters, there is a cold and humid climate all year round.
2. Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the largest salt lake in the world. But its size, hydrologic characteristics and origin also provide the reasons for it to be called a sea. It is thought that in the past, the Caspian was linked to larger seas in the west and the north. The past connection with northern seas can be seen through the paleontological data of some types of animal forms preserved in the Caspian (up to fifteen types of Crustacea and fishes and other representatives of cold water fauna). The total area of the Caspian is 394,000 square kilometers and therefore larger than some seas. The volume of water is 76,000 cubic kilometers. The length of the coastline is approximately 6,380 kilometers of which 800 are in Azerbaijan. The northern coast of Azerbaijan borders the Middle Caspian and the Southern Caspian in the south-east. These two areas are divided by a marine ridge which is a continuation of the mountain system of both Caucasian mountain ranges and the Absheron peninsula. In 1862 the expedition of N Ivashnikov came to the conclusion that the Caspian’s shallower part was 185 meters deep and the depths adjoining to the north were 500-600 meters deep. The deepest section in the Derbent trough of the Middle Caspian was 760 meters, whereas the Lenkoran trough was 1,020 meters deep. Surface and underground outflows, together with atmospheric precipitation, fill the Caspian Sea with water at an annual rate of approximately 417 cubic kilometers. The same amount evaporates from the surface. The sea level changes when this balance is not achieved. The present level of the sea is 28 meters lower than mean sea level, but this fluctuated greatly in the past. There is evidence for this from historical documents, archaeological ruins and coastal terraces.
The level of the Caspian Sea is changing at present, as well. This affects the development of many of branches of the economy, for example, maritime transport, the oil industry and fishing. During the past forty years the level of the Caspian Sea has fallen by 2.5 meters. One reason for this is global warming; there is also the increase in the use of river water for industrial needs and some changes may have been due to tectonic factors. Annual variations are between 0.5 meters and 0.6 meters. The level rises despite strong evaporation in summer. The Bay of Baku can be affected through the differences in pressure affecting the winds over the seagiving variations of 0.7 to 0.8 meters.
The temperature of the water also changes significantly according to the season and the area of the sea. The average temperature in summer varies from 22°C degrees along the north coast of Azerbaijan to 26°C degrees in the south. In winter the water can fall to 5°C degrees in the north to 8°C degrees in the south. Salt levels in the Middle and Southern Caspian vary between 11-13 per cent and drop to nearly 0 per cent near river estuaries.
The color of water changes from blue-green in the open seas to dark brown near the coast and especiallynear the rivers, which also affect the degree of clarity. Currents depend on wind speeds and they can reach 1.5 to 2 meters per second.
Storms in the north cause waves of 9 to 10 meters high and 14 to 15 meters where there is no influence from the land mass. The Absheron coast with its frequent storms is often thought to be among the most difficult for navigation and hydro-technical construction work. Only the northern part of the Caspian Sea freezes in winter and this does not affect Azerbaijan except sporadically at the end of winter (February). But in abnormally cold years, ice is driven from the north by winds and currents up to Absheron and they threaten the oil fields and platforms in the sea. The formation of local ice 20-25 cm thick has been also observed here. Azerbaijan’s north-eastern sea coast is almost straight, with hardly any indentations at all. Only the Absheron peninsula stands out into the sea for approximately 70 kilometers and with a width of around 35 kilometers. Further south the coast is more indented. Capes, bights, bays and archipelagos have been formed because the coastline was susceptible to tectonic changes. Mud volcanism is active here too. The coast sinks into the water and again islands and even ruins of human settlements arise from the waters. There are ancient legends of sunken cities in the Caspian Sea and about a neck of land which once connected the western and eastern sea coasts. Yunan-Sheher (‘City of the Greeks’) was the name given to a supposed city close to Baku and now popularly presumed to be submerged under the Caspian waters. Another city which is described in ancient times is on an island off the Kura River estuary, ‘Devil’s Settlement’, mentioned by the Arab geographer Istakhri
(951-1000 AD). This name also appeared on an 1825 map for a nearby island. In May 1861 an island appeared near Kumani shoal as a result of an eruption. It had disappeared by the beginning of 1862 and research indicated it arose again as a shoal in 1869. It arose and disappeared again, even in the past ten years. Could this have been the legendary sunken island? Even today fishermen and navigators call this area Kharaba-Shekher (‘Rums of the City’). In the Caspian Sea there is evidence of permanent tectonic activity with underwater mud volcanoes and earthquakes (for example, that of 27 January 1963), which may partly explain some of its history. 30 The Caspian Sea is crucial to Azerbaijan as a transport route and a source of different salts and, of course, the oil and gas from the seabed.
Rivers of Azerbaijan can be divided into the three main groups regarding their water flow specifications:
1) perennial rivers;
2) seasonal rivers that flow only during the melting of snow in spring.
3) episodic rivers that flow in episodes after a downpour of rain of flash flood.
These three groups differ from each other for the volume of underwater supply to their streams. Perennial rivers are fed by a constantly flowing base flow (groundwater). Seasonal rivers are fed by an elevated water table during the rainy period, while episodic rivers are not at all dependent on base flow.
Like in all other countries, rivers have different feeding sources in Azerbaijan. Most rivers are fed by snow, rainfalls and ground waters. Snow is the predominant feeding source for the rivers of the Major Caucasus, while ground waters contribute the most to water supply of rivers in the Minor Caucasus. The Kur and Araz rivers pass Azerbaijan in their lower and middle courses.
The Kur River is the largest river of Azerbaijan. It stretches for 1,515 kilometers and covers an area of 188 thousand sq. km. The Kur originates from the Hel River in Turkey, passes through Azerbaijan and flows into the Caspian Sea in south-eastern part of the country. The Araz River covers an area of 86 thousand sq. km until its junction with the Kur River. It originates from the Bingol mountains in Turkey at the altitude of 3300 meters. On the whole, the Araz River forms Azerbaijan’s border with Turkey and Iran. It passes through Azerbaijan in its lower 80 kilometers and joins the Kur River near Sabirabad. These two rivers belong to the group of rivers, flowing at full under the influence of snow and rainfalls in spring and rainfalls in autumn. Weather produces the greatest impact on the river flow in Azerbaijan. Intensive rise in temperature causes melting of snow at heights of over 1500. The melting of snow further intensifies after heavy rainfalls of April and May. Snow melts more intensively in the high altitudes (over 2500-3000 meters) from early April through May until June. The melting process influences river flow even in summer time. Thus, melted snow water, absorbed by soil, emerges on the surface and raises water level in rivers. Low river basins (except for those of the Talysh region) are less influenced by the precipitation in spring and summer periods. Winter and autumn rainfalls account for the most part of precipitations in the Talysh region. Rivers are less full of water in summer in Azerbaijan. Heavy rainfalls that may from time to time occur in July and August, lead to floods, causing agricultural damages. Severe floods have been registered in the rivers of southwestern slopes of Major Caucasus Zengezur part. Rivers of the Major and Minor Caucasus mainly flow in hot seasons, while rivers of the Talysh regions flow in colder seasons of year. Rivers, flowing in hot seasons account for most part of all rivers (60-80%).
Such seasonal flows are difficult for industrial use. On the whole, rivers of the Azerbaijan Republic are divided into two groups, according to their water regime: 1) rivers of full-flowing regime; 2) rivers of flood regime. Flood Rivers are the Lenkoran Rivers and episodic rivers of Gobustan. Other rivers are included into the first group of rivers.
Complex topography and other natural factors cause a non-standard flow across the country. The flow increases with altitudes and reaches its top at a certain height (2800, on the north-eastern slope of the Major Caucasus, 2000-2200-on its southern slope and 2200-2400 on the Minor Caucasus). The flow starts to decline from above the indicated height. Due to the orographic specifications of the Talysh Mountains, the flow is inconsistent with the average height. It decreases with the increase of altitude in the Talysh Mountains, while in Peshteser and Burovar mountains it raises with the altitude.
The full-flowing rivers of the Republic of Azerbaijan mainly flow on the southern slope of the Minor Caucasus. The average flow of such rivers exceeds 45 l-cm. The flow falls to 5 l-cm till the Alazan-Ayrichay lowland. The flow module of rivers of the north-eastern slope of the Major Caucasus 18 l-cm. The increase of flow with the increase of altitude is relatively uniform in this part of the Major Caucasus. The intensive increase in the module of flow is registered on the area between the Yah mountain chains and the Major Caucasus Mountains. (upper Qusar, Qudyal and other rivers.). The Average annual module of flow is from swings
hesitates from 10 to 20 l-cm.
The flow of rivers, originating in the slopes of the Yah Mountains, differs from that of the rivers, flowing from the Major Caucasus. The flow increases intensively and reaches from 6 to 18 l-cm at a height of 1000-2000 meters, due to high level of precipitation. The flow gradually decreases till the Caspian Sea shore down to 0.5 l-cm. the flow decreases beginning from the north-west of till south east of the seaside lowland and reaches zero level on the Apsheron peninsula. Compared with the Major Caucasus, the flow in the Minor Caucasus is more complicated, due to its geographic complexity and differing location of mountain chains. The highest flow has been registered in the rivers flowing from the slopes of Gamish and Qapidjic mountains (over 28 l-cm).
In the Karabakh plateau precipitation is absorbed by soil rocks, thus turning the region into the arid area, while in some places it bursts onto the surface thus increasing the water level in the rivers. That is typical of the upper Terter, Hekeri and other regions as under water provides 70-80% of water to them. The flow fluctuates from 0.8 to 22 l-cm in south east of the Minor Caucasus (rivers, originating in the Caucasus Mountains) and from 0.5 to 10 l-cm in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. The flow gradually decreases to the level even lower than 0.5 l-cm on the plains on the side of Araz. In the Talish region the flow increases in the direction from the north to south and from the west to east. The flow reaches its peak (over 25 l-cm ) in Tengerud and Astara river basins in the central part of the region, while it reaches its minimum north of the Vilesh river, as well as in the Lankaran and Vilesh rivers. Gobustan, Nakhchevan and Kur-Araz plains account for the lesser part of water system in Azerbaijan.
Rivers of Azerbaijan carry large quantity of sediment, the result of erosion in the river basins. The rivers in Azerbaijan are the most polluted rivers in the world. Their average annual pollution rate changes from 0.07 to 9 kg-1 cubic mete per region. It reaches its top on the north slope of Major Caucasus and minimum-on the Karabakh plateau. The surface erosion is intensive in the north slope of the Major Caucasus (100-6800 t/sq/km), and it becomes weaker on the Karabakh plateau (5-10 t/sq.km). The surface erosion in the rivers of the Major Caucasus (0.53 mm) is by 13 higher from that of the Minor Caucasus (0.03 mm per year) and Talish Mountains (0.04 mm per year).
Hydrological system and its importance
The hydrological system of the Republic of Azerbaijan contains 10.3 billion cubic meters of water reserves. These water reserves together with those, entering Azerbaijan from neighbor countries (20.6 billion cubic meters) make up 30.9 billion cubic meters. Each square meters of the country receives 90 thousand cubic meters of reserves, while the annual per capita volume of water reserves total 1270 cubic meters. The basin of the river Kur accounts from most part of the water reserves. The nonuniformal distribution of water reserves across the region and around the year hammers the utilization of these reserves and as a result of that the reserves are not able to meet constantly growing demands for fresh water. The situation requires the regulation of water flow. 60 water reservoirs of the country with the capacity of over 1 million cubic meters account for 21 billion cubic meters of water reserves. Most part of these reserves are used in different spheres (irrigation, water supply, industry, fishery, etc). The establishment of water reservoirs of the Middle Kur plays the important role to meeting demands for water. Currently, serious measures are undertaken to preserve pure water reserves and to prevent their polluting with communal and industrial wastes.
The Canals of the Republic of Azerbaijan are the main source of irrigation. The canals used for the said purpose extend to 47058.8 kilometers. with canals, used by several farms, accounting for 8580.3 kilometers and those, used only by one farm-for 38478.5 kilometers. The amount of 11 billion cubic meters of water is used in irrigation each year. Irrigated area of Azerbaijan totals 1.4 million hectares.
The Republic of Azerbaijan has a very rich flora. There are more than 4,500 species of higher plants here. The flora of Azerbaijan is much richer in the number of species than the flora of the other republics of the South Caucasus. Sixty-six per cent of the species growing in the whole Caucasus can be found in Azerbaijan. The richness of Azerbaijan’s flora and the variety of its vegetation results from the variety and richness of its physical-geographic and natural-historic conditions and from its compound history influenced by the remote floristic regions. Relict genera of the tertiary period can be frequently found in all the zones of Azerbaijan, especially in Talysh. They are the iron tree (Parrotia persica), the Lenkoran acacia (Albizzia julibrissin), the basket oak (Quercus castaneifolia), the Caucasian persimmon (Diospyrus lotus), the evergreen shrub of Ruscus hyrcana, the box tree (Buxus hyrcana), etc. There are 240 endemic species of plants in Azerbaijan. In the flora of Azerbaijan there are representatives of all the types of floristic areas, e.g. ancient wood, boreal, plain, xerophytic, desert, Caucasian and accidental. The representatives of the ancient wood type are most widely spread in the region of Talysh, and the boreal type is spread in the high mountains of the Minor and Great Caucasus and a little in the lower areas. Meanwhile, the xerophytic, Caucasian, plain and desert types are spread on the lowlands, foothills, the Steppe Plateau and, most of all, on the Kura-Araz lowland. The accidental type of floristic areas is represented inconsiderably. In the Kura-Araz, Near Caspian and other lowlands there are many lakes, pools and bogs rich in vegetation. Cosmopolite-like thickets of reed (Phragmites communis) are widely spread along rivers and irrigation canals, in boggy places and, locally, in the lowland districts. In them one can find Alopecurus myosuroides, Cynanchum acutum, Cressa cretica, Typha sp., Echinochloa, Calamagrostis, etc. Here Erianthus purpurascens of obviously savanna type has been preserved. In the ditches of the Kura-Araz plain Cynodonetum (Cynodon dactylon), Glycyrrhizetum (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and Bolboschoenus maritimus is spread more or less widely. In the Karabakh plain more often occur Limonium scoparium, Polygonum patulum, Stachys palustris, Lythrum salicaria, Iris, etc. They form thickets and also occur in those produced by other species.
In the dead water and estuaries (especially the Agzibirchala estuary) an abundance of Typha species occurs. Rather typical are Nelumbium caspicum, Nymphaea alba, Nymphoides peltatum, Utricularia vulgaris occurring here and there. Widely spread is Salvinia natans and other aquatic plants. They also often occur in the Kura-Araz lowland. The thickets of Arundo donax are also typical of the lowlands. Marshy territories are widely spread in the territory of the Talysh plain. There are marshes with predominant Potamogeton pectinatus, Myriophyllum spicatum, Trapa hyrcana, Ceratophyllum demersum, Iris pseudocorus, Sparganium erectum, Heleocharis eupalustris, and others. In drying marshes scattered all over the plain typical are short plants. Among them the most widely spread are Ranunculus ophioglossifolius, Buschia lateriflora, Lippa nodiflora, Mentha aquatica, Polygonum minus, Alisma plantago, etc. Water-boggy plants occur also in foothills and in mountainous zones of different heights. They are especially numerous in sub-alpine zones, where more than 100 marshes and marshy habitats are represented. Vast areas of the Kura-Araz, Near Caspian and other plains are covered with desert and semi-desert vegetation. Halocnemetum is most developed in the saline deserts. Short bushes of Halocnemum strobilaceum
contribute to formation of hummocks. Especially large hummocks are observed in the saline places of Lokbatan, Mugan and East Shirvan. Kalidietum is developed mainly on the Near Caspian plain and in the Kura-Araz lowland.
The Halostachydetum desert is also spread in these zones. As compared with the above-mentioned desert formations, up to 5 or 6 ephemeral and sub-ephemeral species are observed among the Halostachydetum. The Suaedetum desert occurs in East Shirvan and partly in foothills. Three kinds of Salsoletum create vast and fruitful semi-deserts in the Kura-Araz lowland. Especially Salsola nodulosa creates deserts, or semi-deserts on developed soils, independently or with the Artemisia fragrans wormwood. The Salsoletum dendroides desert formation coincides with slightly saline soils and contains dozens of ephemeral and sub-ephemeral species.
These communities produce semi-desert thickets with wormwood, Alhagi and Glycyrrhiza. There are 22 species of Salsola in Azerbaijan, most of them creating formations. In the Sheki plateau region thickets of these species are observed in slightly saline habitats, being very bright and colorful while bearing fruit. Wormwood formations (Artemisietum) are the most widely spread type of desert vegetation. It is mainly developed on fine-earth alkaline gray soils of low salinity. They often form semi-desert formations with Salsola species or perennial cereals. All the kinds of Artemisietum include 30-35 or even 50-55 species of ephemeral and sub-ephemeral plants. E.g., Poa bulbosa, Bromus japonicus, Lolium rigidum, Eremopyrum
orientale, Erodium cicutarium, Medicago minima, Medicago coerulea, etc. are believed to be constant members of wormwood formations. Low shrubs also occur in those communities. The littoral and sandy coastal soils are habitats for Artemisia arenaria, Artemisia scoparia, Convolvulus persicus, Melilotus caspius, Astragalus hyrcanus and dozens of ephemeral plants. The rare species richly represented in the coastal vegetation of Apsheron are mainly observed in spring, when they are biologically active. Then they fade soon. As for the semi-steppe and steppe vegetation, it mainly includes copiously spread cereals, such as Festuca, Stipa, Agropyrum cristatum, and also Medicago Transcaucasia, Centaurea reflexa, Gypsophyla steveni,
Teucrium polium and other perennial and annual species. Mountainous xerophytic vegetation often mixes with steppe formations, producing particular communities.
In the torrid regions of the republic (the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, Jabrayil, Zanghelan, Steppe Plateau, Zuvand) a specific mountainous xerophytic vegetation is developed, forming communities known under the names of Phrygana, Shiblyak, Tragakanth, Acantholimon, juniper, pistachio and other formations, etc. The Phrygana of Nakhchivan is very diverse at 1,000 to 1,500 meters above the sea level, with more than 300 species represented. The species of thyme (Thymus) are very typical of those arid habitats. The following species are often observed there: Lactuca, Berberis, Zygophyllum atriplicoides, Astragalus szovitsii, Salvia dracocephaloides, Pyrethrum, Marrubium, Achillea, Phlomis, etc. In the republic the Shiblyak vegetation occupies small areas, as compared to Phrygana. Well-preserved are in some places of the Nakhchivan Autonomy such representatives of the Shiblyak as communities formed by Paliurus spina-christi, Rhamnus pallasii, Cotoneaster racemiflora, Amygdalus fenzliana, Caragana grandiflora, Spiraea crenata, etc. Those formations are represented well in mountainous xerophytic vegetation. The formations of Pistacia mutica, Juniperus, Cotinus, Celtis, etc. are also typical of the republic and create particular communities.
In the arid Eldar Oyugu range located in the northwest of Azerbaijan there is an isolated spot of typical thin forest formed by Pinus eldarica, which is an endemic relict of the tertiary period. The natural thin forest includes such higher plant species as juniper, pistachio, Paliurus spina-christi and 30-35 others. These communities obviously belong to the mountainous xerophytic type.
Along the major rivers (Kura, Araz, Ganikh, Gabirri) as narrow interrupted lines stretched are Tugai forests with southern willows, mulberry trees, elms, pomegranates, hybrid-type poplars, Elaeagnus, Tamarix, etc. A considerable number of shrubs sometimes form a mixed forest along the banks of mountainous rivers or in river valleys, e. g. Hippophae rhamnoides, Elaeagnus, willows (Salix), Rhus coriaria, Tamarix, mulberries, pomegranates, wild roses, blackberries, etc. Hippophae rhamnoides is most widely spread in the valleys of the Shin, Kish, Damiraparan, Turyan, Geychay, Agsu, Velvele and Terter rivers. Along the rivers of Talysh grow Pterocarya pterocarpa and Alnus subcordata, sometimes forming considerable plantations. Another species of alder, Alnus barbata, is typical of boggy woods in Talysh. In the coastal forests of Talysh typical are local endemic species of fig (Ficus hyrcanica), Humulus lupulus, Smilax excelsa, Sambucus ebulus, Carex of many species, Cardamine, Poa, etc. In the marshes the species of Juncus form the marshy communities of Juncetum. Local-type lowland forests can be found in Guba-Khachmas and Karabakh and also in the Alazan Ayrichay valley. They mainly include such trees and shrubs as Quercus longipes, Ulmus, Crataegus sp. div.,
Mespillus germanica, etc. The Alazan-Ayrichay valley forest also includes Acer velutinum, Tilia caucasica, Fraxinus excelsior, Pyrus caucasica and several other trees and shrubs. Here occur such creeping plants as Smilax excelsa, Hedera helix, Clematis vitalba, Vitis silvestris. There are various forms of the long-stalk oak (Quercus longipes) in the lowland forests.
As for the lowland forests of Talysh, Parrotia persica and Quercus castaneifolia are the most typical species of trees there. Besides those relict species, the Talysh lowland forests are rich in Carpinus caucasica, Zelkova carpinifolia, Zelkova hyrcana, Ulmus elliptica, Prunus caspica, Populus hyrcana. At the lower layer of the wood occur the evergreen shrubs of Ruscus hyrcana and Danae racemosa. The Caucasian persimmon (Diospyrus lotus) forms groves usually on more shadowy and humid hillsides. Gleditschia caspica is the major species of tree in Talysh. It forms autonomous forests in the Talysh foothills, with Albizzia julibrissin, Tilia and others admixed to them on the hillsides facing the sea. At somewhat higher level above the sea Acer velutinum occurs, and Fagus orientalis occurs on the northern hillsides, forming high forests. Taxus baccata, box trees (Buxus) and Danae form the lower layer of the wood. In the Great and Minor Caucasus Mountains broad-leaved forests occur at 600-1,800 meters above sea level. Quercus iberica, Fagus orientalis and, in the higher zones, Quercus macranthera are the main species there. Fagetum is a very productive forest rich in species. Besides beeches (Fagus) and oaks (Quercus), there are
lime trees (Tilia), hornbeams (Carpinus), 5-6 species of maples (Acer), and especially Acer trautvetteri growing together with the Eastern oak (Quercus macranthera). No grass cover can normally develop in thick beech forests, but if they are lighter to a certain extent, then shrubs and grasses grow. E. g., holly, ferns, blackberries, Rhododendron, Sambucus, Fragaria vesca and numerous cereals are spread in the lower layer of the wood.
Quercus iberica and Carpinus caucasicus form a wide strip in the medium mountain belt, with rowan trees (Sorbus) widely spread.
In the alpine belt (1,800-2,000 meters) Quercus iberica is replaced by Quercus macranthera, which forms forests of park type. In this belt there are also sub-alpine meadows and high grasses located close to parktype forests. Quercus macranthera, Betula litwinowii, Betula pendula, Acer trautvetteri are spread on the sides of high mountains, forming woods there. Birch (Betula) trees are often stooped on the northern slopes because of snowy avalanches. The Caucasian rowan tree (Sorbus caucasigena) is typical in thin forests. Among the conifers two species of pine trees (Pinus eldarica and Pinus kochiana) are spread in Azerbaijan. Pinus eldarica occurs on the Steppe Plateau at 600 m above sea level, while Pinus kochiana occurs at 1,600 m above sea level in the region of Gyok-Gyol (the Minor Caucasus) and in the medium mountain belt in the Bulanig river valley of the Belokan region in the Great Caucasus. Pinus kochiana and birch trees form mixed groves on the large rocks near Gyok-Gyol. Besides, such representatives of conifers as Taxus baccata occur in forests, and juniper species occur everywhere. Among the evergreen shrubs Rhododendron caucasicum forms small thickets in the sub-alpine belt of the northwest of the Great Caucasus, particularly in the Zakatala and Belokan districts.
At 1,800-3,200 m above sea level sub-alpine and alpine meadows and meadow-steppes are spread. True sub-alpine meadows include dozens of formations depending on the relief of the high mountains and the macroclimatic peculiarities. High grasses also create a peculiar formation in the sub-alpine zone, with the structure and composition being very various. High grasses and most of the sub-alpine plants are post-wood species. The high grasses mainly include Heracleum, Achillea, Cephalaria gigantea, Filipendula ulmaria, Calamagrostis arundinacea, Brachypodium silvaticum, Agrostis capillaris, Poa nemoralis, Koeleria gracilis, Vicia, Melilotus, clover (Trifolium), Verbascum, Aconitum, Delphinium, Dactylis glomerata, various species of
the Rose family, etc. The sub-alpine belt includes more or less mesophytic meadows and drier meadow-steppes up to xerophytic formations. Those meadows include various species of cereals and clover, Geranium, Inula, Cephalaria, Scabiosa, Galium, Tragopogon, Betonica, Primula, Plantago, Rumex, Urtica, Cirsium, etc. Some 1,000 species are spread in sub-alpine meadows.
The alpine belt vegetation is widely spread at 2,400 to 3,200 m above sea level and is represented by the elements of meadows and carpet grass. Vegetation is formed at these altitudes mainly on sloping hillsides, cupola-like peaks, mountain passes, saddles, etc. The alpine vegetation is not so rich in species as the sub-alpine vegetation, but it forms very bright and colorful meadows and carpets, which are of certain economic importance. The alpine vegetation of Azerbaijan is represented by two versions – alpine meadows and carpet grasses. Short-grass alpine meadows are represented by sedges, cereals, such as Carex, Festuca ovina, Zerna, Elyna, Kobresia, etc. Myosotis alpestris, Veronica gentianoides, Taraxacum stevenii, Trifolium ambiguum, Alchimilla caucasica, Potentilla, etc. are very frequent here. Meanwhile, carpet grasses also include two types of formations: 1) typical alpine carpet grasses on the fine earth substrate (caraway, Alchimilla, Plantago, etc.); and 2) stony carpet grasses on the stony substrate (Sibbaldiae, Campanulae, Macrotomiae).
The diversity of various types of animals, which inhabit and populate a defined ground or water area, is the animal kingdom. The first reports on the richness and diversity of animal life in Azerbaijan can be found in travel notes of Eastern travelers. Animal carvings on architectural monuments, ancient rocks and stones survived up to the present times. The first information on the animal kingdom of Azerbaijan was collected during the visits of naturalists to Azerbaijan in 17th century. Unlike fauna, the concept of animal kingdom covers not only the types of animals, but also the number of individual species.
The animal kingdom of Azerbaijan is very rich, partly due to diversity of its natural complexes. There are 97 species of mammals, 357 species of birds, 67 species of reptiles and amphibians, 97 species of fish and over 15 thousand species of invertebrates in Azerbaijan. People use the animal kingdom resources for food, as well as for raw materials in industries and working power in field works. Vertebrates are used to produce meat, eggs, feather, leather, horns, as well as butter and technical oil. Their products are used to produce drugs, perfumes, fertilizers and fodder. The natural habitat of various types of animals is very different within the country. Some species populate special restricted areas (lakes, parts of mountainous areas) while others are spread throughout the country. For example, passerines can be found anywhere in the territory of Azerbaijan. Protozoa parasites are also registered in all areas of the country, depending on natural habitat of carrier animals (cattle, poultry, etc.). Among mammals, jeyran gazelles populate plain areas, Caucasian goat inhabits the Major Caucasus areas, most species of birds can be found in forests, some in water basins. Pest insects occupy different agricultural fields, while others populate defined biotopes only. The Red Book of the Azerbaijan Republic includes 108 species of animals, including 14 species of mammals, 36 species of birds, 13 species of reptiles and amphibians, 5 species of birds and 40 species of insects. A number of natural preserves have been created and the hunting rules were brought into effect for protection of fur and hoofed animals in Azerbaijan. The golden eagle inhabits mainly mountainous areas. The Caucasus tetra occupies the sub-Alpine areas of the Major and Minor Caucasus, while the green head duck populates the Caspian Sea coast and inland water reservoirs. Goats and West Caucasus moufflons inhabit Nakhichevan, jeyran gazelles can only be found in Shirvan natural preserve, Bendovan and Korchay regions of Azerbaijan. The Caucasus goat populates western slopes of the Major Caucasus in Balakan, Qabala, Zaqatala and Ismayilly regions. The country’s fresh water basins and the Caspian Sea account for 30 species of fish. They are fished in the Kur River, surrounding lakes, as well as in the Mingechevir reservoir. Most of fish are anadromous or semianadromous (the young grow up in salt water and migrate to fresh water to breed after they reach maturity). The most valuable of anadromous fish are salmon, sturgeon, stellate sturgeon and beluga. Aspius, Chalcalburnus and eel are also anadromous fish. Sturgeon meat and caviar are highly valuable. Beside, the water basins of
Azerbaiajn contain such valuable fish species as bream, sazan, rutilus kutum and others. Such fish species as herring are fished in the Caspian Sea. Due to the construction of a number of hydrotechnical plants on the Kur river after 1959, the regulation of the river water flow, as well as the Caspian water pollution led to the significant reduction in the number of valuable fish species. Three hatcheries (Kuragzi, Alibayramli and Kur experimental sturgeon hatchery) for melioration and fish-farming purposes were launched to restore the fish reserves and to increase the number of fish in species. Azerbaijan’s fish-farming establishments and hatcheries account for breeding of 20 million sturgeons, 600 thousand salmons, over 800 thousand. A new hatchery with the capacity of 20 million sturgeons was put in commission in Khyly in 2000.
6. National parks and natural reserves
A network of protected areas has been established in Azerbaijan in order to preserve areas of natural importance from the negative of human activities. These protected areas are recognized as having ecological, scientific, cultural and aesthetic values, and fall under the following categories:
- state natural reserves, including biosphere reserves
- national and natural parks
- ecological parks
- natural monuments
- state natural restricted areas
- zoological parks
- botanic and dendrological parks
- health spas and resorts
There are also special buffer zones around these areas, and other natural areas such as rivers and water sources. The level of protection given to different protected areas depends on their significance – be it international national, regional or local. The protected areas are not evenly distributed across the country, but the main landscapes of ecological importance are represented within the protected areas system. The types of protected area in the network include National Parks, Natural Reserves (designated for the protected of the natural environment, and scientific purposes), Restricted Areas, and other sites (table). The Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources manages protected areas of biological importance, including two National Parks, the State National Reserves, State Restricted Areas and natural monuments. A range of individual trees are also protected as national monuments, however a number of important trees have been lost as a result of a number of factors, including the direct and indirect impacts of the Armenian conflict and occupation of territory. The number of protected ancient trees has declined from 2,083 to 1,810, whilst the total area of protected forest declined from 15,097 to 6,944 hectares.
In 1988 the government published a plan for the future development of the national protected areas system up to 2010, with a target for covering a total of 954,000 ha. To date the area covered five of the protected areas has been increased by 36,600 ha, and they now cover a total area of 70,700 ha. In addition, a Presidential Decree established Ordubad National Park (12,131 ha), Shahbuz State Natural Preserve in Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (3,139 ha), Gakh State Natural Restricted Area (36,836 ha), Shirvan National Park (54,373 ha) and Ag-Gol National Park (17,924 ha). Future expansions are still planned.
Shirvan National Park
Established with the purpose of protection and breeding of jeirans and waterfowls. Several types of vegetation are developed in the reserve. It is prevailed sweet absinthium. There are many gramineous plants. From Amphibious there can be found Syrian green toad, tree-frog and lacustrine frog; from reptiles there are marsh, Caspian and Mediterranean turtles, striped lizards, ordinary and water snakes, lizard snakes – giurza and etc. Bustard, Turach, Little Bustard, Erne, Rock Egle, Falcon, Baloban, Black-belly Sandgrouse inhabit in the reserve. In winter lot of migratory birds stay on reservoirs: Grey Ducks, Mallards, Pintails etc. From rare species of mammals here there are jeiran, wild boar, wolf, jackal, fox, badger, cane cat, grey hare and etc.
Ag-Gol National Park
Area – 17924 hectares. It encloses Lake Ag-Gol area of water. Preserved Lake Ag-Gol (White Lake) can be named “ornithological oasis” – this is not only a preserved area but one of the important wintering places in the republic. 20 species of fishes inhabit in the reserve. Green toad, lake and ordinary frogs are to be met out of amphibians in the reserve. Out of reptiles – there are Caspian and marsh turtles, ordinary and water snakes. 134
species of birds are included in ornithofauna. There are Marble-teal, Pink and Curly Pelicans. 22 species are presented out of mammals. Wild boar, coypu and cane cat are to be often found. Unique colonial nests of waders and long-legged birds were preserved here. Zagatala reserve Zagatala state nature reserve organized on the area of 25218 hectares from which 48 hectares – isoccupied by reservoirs. Present-day flora of the reserve counts more than one thousand species. From ancient plants there can be found yellow rhododendron, cherry-laurel herb, Caucasian bilberries, yew-berry (Taxus baccata), velvety maple, fern, eastern beach, also pale maple, Georgian oak. Fauna of the reserve is rich as well. Here there inhabit dagestani tur, chamois, deer, roe deer, wild boar, brown bear, badger, fox, weasel, stone and forest marten, lynx, forest cat, squirrel, etc.
Fauna of birds includes 104 species, among of which there are several big birds of prey: Eared Owl, Kestrel, Egyption Vulture, White-head Vulture, Black Vulture and etc. Amongst rare, particularly protected birds there are Golden Eagle, Falcon, Caucasian Heath-cock and Ular. Eight species of amphibious are spread in the reserve: comb triton, Caucasian garden-spider, green and ordinary toads, lacustrine frogs, Transcaucasian and Asia Minor frogs. From reptiles there can be found aesculapius and Transcaucasian runners, water snakes, grass-snakes.
Ilyisui state nature reserve organized in 1987 on a space of 9.2 thousand hectares. Favorable climatic conditions (mild winter, cool summer, warm spring and autumn, abundance of precipitation, absence of long droughts and strong frost) assist in formation of lavish vegetation, and particularly forest. Around 300 species of plants are to be found on the reserve territory. There are herbs (about 50), endemic and rare disappearing species in the reserve flora, such as berry, birch. 93% of the territory is occupied by deciduous forests. Beech, oak and hornbeam are prevailing. Lime, nut-tree, chestnut, ash-tree, maple and etc. are growing.
From fauna there are tur, deer, chamois, roe deer, bear, wild boar, marten and etc. There are a lot of river trout, eastern bistryainka, and barbel. From amphibious there are frogs, green and ordinary toads, Caucasian and Minor Asia frogs. Reptiles are presented by 12 species in the reserve. There more than 91 species of birds in fauna: Black Hawk, Black Kite, Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Lammergeyer, Vulture, Falcon, Caucasian Heath-cock, Scops Owl, Eagle Owl, Eared Owl, Hoopoe, Woodpecker, etc.
Ismailly state nature reserve organized on a space of 5778 hectares and preserves mainly natural oak and chestnut forests. About 170 species of vertebrates inhabit in the reserve. River trout, khramuli, eastern bistryanka and barbel are found in rivers. There are 6 species of amphibious; rare in Azerbaijan comb triton inhabits in forest zone. In the reserve 17 species of reptiles are to be found: turtles – Caspian, marsh and Mediterranean, runners – yellow stomach, olive, four-lane and patterned, snakes – Caucasian cat snakes, grasssnakes. 104 species of birds are found in the reserve. So rare birds such as Golden Eagle and Caucasian Heathcock, Lammergeyer are nestling here. Brown bear, wolf, jackal, marten, badger, wild cat, notably deer, roe deer, wild boar, chamois, Dagestani tur and etc. inhabit here.
Pirkulli state nature reserve organized in 1968 with the purpose of protection of characteristic natural complex and landscapes Samakhly plateau – one of the beautiful regions of the south-east part of the Greater Caucasian range. Area of the reserve is 1521 hectares, most part of it – forest tract where 45 rare and endemic species are to be found such as yew berry (Taxus baccata). From predator mammals brown bear, wolf, jackal, fox wild cat, lynx, badger, forest and stone marten, weasel, raccoon inhabit in forests. Striped hyena is also to be found – rare species for all Caucasian fauna. Wild boar and roe deer, notably deer live here.
60 species of arboreous and shrubs grow on the reserve territory. These are: pistachio-tree, three sorts juniper, Georgian oak, ordinary ash-tree, Caucasian carcas, ordinary pomegranate etc. 24 species of mammals and 112 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and 3 species of amphibious inhabit in the reserve. From birds there can be met Keklik, Rock Pigeon, Turtle-dove, Kestrel, White-head Vulture, Black Vulture etc. From mammals there are wild boars, brown bear, badger, stone marten, lynx, jackal, wild cat, hare etc.
Bastuchay state nature reserve is organized on area of 107 hectares with the aim of protection of unique platan groves. Plane-trees are approx. 107 years old, but real giant trees are also to be found, aging 1200-1500 years.
Geygel state nature reserve is the first nature reserve in Azerbaijan. Here is the only grove of Eldar pine-tree in the world. Geygel – is the biggest and the most beautiful mountain lake in Azerbaijan. The water is fresh, transparent and seems blue due to which the lake got its name – Geygel – that means blue (in Azeri) in translation. Totally there are eight lakes on the reserve area surrounded by mountains and the landscapes of each lake are quite diverse.
The animal kingdom of the reserve is represented by such species of animals and birds as Caucasian notably deer, roe deer, badger, eastern Caucasian tur, brown bear, stone and forest marten, Lammergeyer, Black Vulture, Caspian ular and others. More than 50 species of birds nestle in the reserve. Flora consists of 420 sorts of plants. Around 20 sorts of flora – Caucasian endemics of dogrouse Nizam, cuff astragalus, carnation, geranium Ryprskh etc.
The main protected objects are the largest massifs of tugai forests. It is specific the animal kingdom of the reserve. Khramuli, kari, wild carp, bream, pike-perch, murtsa, sheat-fish, pike, trout and others are to be found in the river Araz. In the reserve there are distinguished 6 species of amphibians, 10 species of reptiles, birds – more than 70 species. There can be met wild boar, notably deer, wolf, jackal, cane and forest cat, fox, weasel, stone marten, badger. Out of birds interesting are White-tail Sea Eagle, Black Stork and Pheasant.
Kizilagach state nature reserve is situated on the south-west coast of Caspian Sea. The whole area of the reserve is an important holiday and wintering place for migratory birds in Caspian region. 248 species of birds are to be found in the reserve including Turach, Sultanka, Little bustard, kara-vayka, kolnina, Egyptian and Yellow Herons, Swans, Flamingo, Grey and White-head Geese, Kazarka, Falcon, Rock Eagle, Ducks, Pelicans, Coot, and etc. Out of mammals jackal, cane cat, badger, otter, fox and others inhabit in the reserve. 54 species if fish live in reservoirs there: chub, wild carp, kutum, grey mullet, salmon, sturgeon, etc.
There are many mud volcanoes including active ones on its territory. The biggest is Turagay, height of which reaches 407m. Gobustan land is rich in archeological monuments. At present about 20 halting places and settlements of ancient human beings are explored. But a wide fame has been brought to Gobustan by petroglyphs hewed by our distant ancestors. Totally there are more than 6000 rock paintings in the reserve with images of primitive people, ritual dances, towns with armed and unarmed oarsmen, and images of the sun in the fore part, warriors with spears, etc. Age of the most ancient image is more than 10000 years. A comparatively big book draws attention amongst stone “books”. It is enough to touch it with a stone and it gives melodious sounds of various height-rhythms. This is the “Gaval dash” (tambourine stone) letting out sounds “tam tam”.
Natural monuments on the territory of Azerbaijani Republic are specific and well-preserved small areas of most typical landscapes, scenic corners of special aesthetic value, definite areas with endemic, relic and disappearing fauna, aged trees, examples of horticultural art, waterfalls, caves, lakes with unique genesis and morphology, original geological rock formations, the sites with paleontological finding, other sites having great historical, cultural-educational significance and other picturesque places. There are 2083 trees with age over 100 years, 37 geological and paleontological sites and over 15
thousand hectares of standard original, endemic and rare types and valuable forest areas. All these sites are under protection and the State Committee of Ecology issued passports for each natural monument, and local powers are providing their protection. Special care is given to forest areas and natural environments.
There are 30 such protected sites including:
Pisttachio grove in Barda district – unique botanic object of mesophilic forest formation with trees 370- 450 years old. Boxwood grove in Astara district is a representative of oldest Girkanian flora, relict grove of tertiary period. Very precious are 200-300 years old evergreen boxwood, Girkanian yew, other trees Eldar pine grove on the border with Georgia (Ellaroglu Ridge, branch of Geigol Reserve) Plane tree grove in Basutchai Reserve – the largest plane-tree formation in Basutchai River meadow Araz oak in Zangilan district is disappearing type and can be found only in forests at the shores of ArazRiver.
There are 37 geological (paleonthological) natural monuments under state protection including:
9 caves, including Azykh cave with Neolithic settlement of prehistoric man and rock paintings Unique geological formations like Mount of Baku storey with classical cuts of lower anthropogenic deposits 70 meters thick – 400-600m. deep and consisting of marble originated by limestone metamorphoses 4 mud volcanoes: Lokbatan with maximal number of registered irruption (20) is situated at the altitude of 130m above the sea and differs from other volcanoes by absence of griphon stage. It is one of most interesting bastion-shaped volcanoes of Gobustan is situated at the southwest projection of Alyat Ridge border of Kur lowlands, as well as peculiar mud Kyanizadaq and Dashqil volcanoes of Gobustan Afurjin waterfall at Velvelichai River where water falls vertically from the height of 60 meters Paleonthologic objects like Binagadin Asphalt Lake is a site of quartentiary flora and fauna thanks to their diversity and good preservation belongs to richest deposits of the world. There are 243 types of fossil flora and fauna – huge collection of remains of sea animals, whales, sea turtles, fish, insects and plants belonging to Maikop deposits and presented by clay soil, shale, etc.