Steppe Climatic Regions

The term steppe refers to a region which is a semi-desert with a grassland or shrub vegetation. Steppes are intermediate regions, not receiving enough rainfall to support a forest but are also not as dry as a desert.

Steppe Climate - Temperate Grassland Regions

Steppe Climatic region is also known as Temperate Grasslands. These grasslands are some of the most developed agricultural fields and are termed as grain baskets. Livestock ranching is another major activity carried out in these areas due to the availability of natural grasses.

Distribution

  • Steppes are found in the continental interiors.
  • They are usually found in the temperate latitudes and hence come under the influence of Westerly winds.
  • Steppes are characterized by vast grasslands which are, by and large, devoid of trees.
  • Steppes typically refer to the vast temperate grasslands of Eurasia, which stretch between the Black Sea coast on the east to the Altai mountains in the west, covering a length of over 2000 miles.
  • Steppes are known by their regional names in different parts of the world. They include,
  • Prairies - North America
  • Pustaz - Hungary
  • Pampas - Argentina and Uruguay
  • Velds (High Veld) - South Africa
  • Downs - Australia
  • Canterbury - New Zealand

Precipitation

  • The average annual rainfall over the steppes varies from 25 to 75 cm, depending upon the region.
  • The highest rainfall occurs in the spring season, or just prior to the onset of summers. In the northern hemisphere, it occurs in the months of June and July.
  • During the winters, Westerlies bring in occasional depressions which often cause snowfall over these regions. However, the overall precipitation in the winters is low, at an average of 25 cm.
  • In the southern hemisphere, due to a larger influence of maritime weather, higher rainfall occurs over these regions as compared to their counterparts in the northern hemisphere.

Temperature

  • These regions are under the effect of continentality and hence experience extremities in temperature.
  • Summers are warm with the average temperature in the range of 18-20 degrees centigrade.
  • Winters are usually cold with occasional snowfall.
  • The steppes in the northern hemisphere have a very high annual range of temperatures.
  • To its contrast, the steppes in the southern hemisphere, due to maritime influence, have a moderate climate throughout the year.

Winds

  • The prevailing winds of these regions are the Westerlies, which are responsible for precipitation during the winters.
  • Apart from these, there are many local winds which blow over these regions and have a significant impact on the local weather.
  • They are known by various names such as Mistral (France), which is cold dry wind; Loo (Gangetic plains), Sirocco (Sahara), Foehn (Alps) etc. are warm, dry winds.
  • Chinook is a hot, dry local wind blowing over the North American Prairies. It is a Katabatic wind, descending from the Rocky mountains, and blowing from the south-west direction.
  • Since it's a hot wind, it raises the temperature in the region by over 5 degrees centigrade within a short time of 20 minutes.
  • It is useful for the local agriculture because it melts the snow over the pastures, making it possible for the animals to graze on them.

Vegetation

  • In contrast with the tropical grasslands of savanna, which are interspersed with trees, temperate grasslands are practically treeless. Also, the grass in these grasslands is much shorter as compared to that in savanna
  • However, the grass is fresh and nutritious, unlike the coarse grass found in the savannas. This is mostly true for the prairies of North America, and also the Chernozem grasses of Ukraine. The prairie soils are also nutritious black earth soils.
  • The grass is lean, thin and scattered.
  • This makes them ideal for large-scale livestock rearing, also known as ranching.
  • The grass growing season is throughout the year, uninterrupted by seasonal variations in temperature and precipitation
  • Towards the poleward extension of prairies, there is a transitional zone of forests in which conifers can be found.
  • Within the farmlands of steppes, trees are planted around the croplands to shield them from strong winds.

Economy

  • Unlike the savannas which are home to some of the largest terrestrial animals, steppes do not have much animal diversity.
  • In the Eurasian steppes, Horses can found riding in the open.
  • Crop cultivation is extensively practised in these grasslands, especially in the prairies. This is because of the development of irrigation canals in the last century.
  • Mechanized cultivation over large tracts of land is practised, making them one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Prairies are also known as the granaries of the world.
  • Wheat and maize are the prominent crops of the prairies.
  • Apart from the prairies, the Pampas of Argentina and the Downs of Australia are also known for extensive wheat cultivation.
  • Steppes are mostly level grasslands which make ploughing and harvesting a relatively easy job, aided by machines
  • Animal rearing or livestock ranching is carried out over thousands of hectares. The less nutritious tufted grass was replaced by, the more nutritious Lucerne or alfalfa grass. This aids in the rearing of cattle and sheep on a large-scale.
  • Hence, they have emerged as the leading regions for animal ranching in the world.
  • These grasslands are the largest producers of dairy and other animal products in the world. Milk, butter, cheese, beef, animal skins etc. are exported to far off regions aided by easy access to containerized cargo, and refrigerated ships
  • Nomadic herding is practised in the vast steppes of Eurasia by the natives such as Kazakhs and Kirghiz who are wandering tribes. Long periods of drought because of unreliable rains in the continental interiors have made crop cultivation and settled animal rearing almost impossible in this region.
  • In some regions where water is available, large-scale collective farming was introduced by Russia.
  • Various grassland regions are famous for different kinds of economic activities. They include,
  • Prairies - Wheat cultivation, livestock ranching.
  • Velds - sheep and cattle rearing, maize cultivation
  • Pustaz - wheat and beet sugar cultivation.
  • Pampas - wheat cultivation, export of dairy, beef products.
  • Downs and Canterbury - Wool production from Merino sheep, dairy products

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