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Karakorum-Pamir

Date of Submission: 29/01/2010
Criteria: (viii)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
Ref.: 5535
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The name of serial nomination

Geographical Coordinates

Karakorum-Pamir

Tashkurghan National Nature Reserve

N36 10 E76 30

Pamir Wetlands National Nature Reserve

N75 12 E75 12

 

 

The Pamirs are the most famous mountain convergence zone in the world. It is the largest mountain convergence zone that was formed by the convergence of the Tianshan Mountains, the Kalakunlun Mountains, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Jierter-Sulaiman Mountains. It lies in the hinterland of Eurasia and extends across China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan with an area of more than 100,000 km2. The Pamir Mountains were created by crustal tectonics. About 60 million to 20 million years ago, the Indian continental plate subducted under the Eurasian plate and, with the effects of extrusion and uplift of the Indian plate, several huge mountains were formed. They spread from the south to the north of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and converged on the Pamirs. These mountains now radiate from the Pamirs and most of them are more than 4,000 m in height. Because of this, the Pamir Mountains are known as 'The Roof of the World'. There are suture lines resulting from the collision between the Indian and Eurasian plates, which occurred at the closure of the Paleo-Tethys period. The area is also an important tectonic transition zone and several tectonic boundaries converge in this area. Of these, the Maza-Kangxiwar fault belt is the most important tectonic suture zone.

The nominated area includes the highest peaks of the Karakorum and Pamir Mountains. The Karakorums lie to the southeast of the Pamirs and to the northwest of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, along the international boundary of China and Pakistan, India and Kashmir. They are the highest mountains in the world except for the Himalayas. They have a length of more than 700 km and a width of more than 100 km. Topographically, the Karakorums are typical very high mountain, with a relative altitudinal difference of 3,000-5,000 m. The average height of the main ridge is 6,500 m, and the main peak of the Karakorums is K2, which is the second highest peak in the world with an altitude of 8,611 m. There are four mountain peaks of more than 8,000 m and 29 mountain peaks of more than 7,000 m in this area. The nominated 'Pamir Peaks' area lies on the eastern edge of the Pamirs. It is one of the main concentrations of the world's very high mountains. Of them, Kongur Tagh, the Jiubie Mountains and Mt. Muztag Ata are the highest peaks of the Pamirs, with altitudes of 7,719 m, 7,530 m and 7,546 m respectively. These mountains are famous throughout the world. Mt. Muztag Ata is known as 'the Father of Glaciers' and it is a famous mountaineering base.

The nominated area is an important area of especially high mountain glaciers in the world's arid regions. There are 2,991 glaciers in the Karakorum Mountains with an area of 6,295.19 km2 and 1,530 glaciers in the Pamirs with an area of 2,361.4 km2. This area is a concentrated area of modern glaciers of various types and on a huge scale. There are only 8 glaciers in the world that are more than 50 km in length and 6 of these are in the Karakorums. The nominated area contains the main peaks and is the glaciation centre of the Karakorums and the Pamirs. The areas nominated area contains 36% and 48% respectively of the area of glaciers of the Karakorums and the Pamirs. Yinsugaiti Glacier is the longest glacier in China, with a length of 42 km and an area of 379.97 km2. The glaciers in the nominated area are both typical and unique mountain glaciers, such as ice cap, ice field as well as extravasation glaciers. For example, Mt. Muztag Ata's glaciers radiate from the mountain while Kongur's glaciers are penniform. Furthermore, small glacial landforms are abundant with well developed ice ridges, seracs, glacial folds, crevasses and so on.

The biodiversity in the nominated site is obvious. Complex migrations and combinations of biota in this region comprise a unique plateau flora and fauna. The dominant landscapes are desert and steppe. Such high and cold desert and steppe are unique in the world's alpine regions. The nominated site is essential habitat for many endemic and endangered species representative of the plateau fauna of coterminous Himalayas, Karakorums and Pamirs. The nominated site includes Tashkuergan Nature Reserve which is essential habitat for many endemic and endangered species, including rare animals on the IUCN Red List like Uncia uncia, Equus kiang, Canis lupus as well as Ursus arctos. In this area, there are 32 animal species on the 'National Key Protection Wildlife List' of China, including 20 kinds of birds and 12 species of mammals. In this area, there are also 6 species of National Protection Animals Class I, including Uncia uncia, Equus kiang, Ovis ammon, Capra sibirica and Pseudois nayaur. Studies of the changing distribution of fauna and flora form an important part of the understanding of the ongoing ecological processes associated with changing climate.

There are two lakes formed by glacial erosion within the nominated site i.e. Kalakule and White Sandy lakes. They are at 3,652 m altitude with an area of about 10 km2. Mud volcanoes occur in the neighboring Muji valley. There are more than 30 mud volcanoes spread over about 2 km of the valley. These mud volcanoes project mud to heights from a meter or two to as much as 50 m. The heights of the cones are about 1~5 m with diameters from a few meters to 200 m. These mud volcanoes show that neo-tectonic processes still occur in the nominated site.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The nominated area is the most intensively uplifted area engendered by plate collision movement in the last 5 million years. The Pamirs are the area where a corner of the Indian continental plate is subducted beneath the Eurasian continental plate, causing a domino effect. The most drastic collision and prominent mountain uprising is seen between the Tarim plate and Kazakstan. The cluster of extra-high mountain peaks, mud volcanoes and the tectonic junction zone provide good evidences for this. It is one of the best areas for research of the lithosphere, plate movements and associated depositional environments. It is also a place that has attracted much neo-tectonics and geodynamics research.

The nominated area is the most typical area for research of the Tethys tectonic zone. The nominated area has gone through tectonic evolution with several phases. It experienced a sequence of open and closed periods as an ocean basin among lands on the southern edge of Eurasia in the Early Paleozoic. The rocks and strata record the spread, subduction and closure of the Paleo-Tethys period in the Late Paleozoic and have recorded the tectonic the history of subduction, collision and closure, and the squeezing and sliding of the new Tethys between the Indian and Eurasian continental plates. The analyses of the sediments and geotectonic evolution pattern demonstrate the matching of the Eurasian and Changtang data, which has global significance for the exploration of the characteristics of the accretion process and research of the Tethys tectonic zone. Thus, it is a key region for the study of the formation and evolution of the Eastern Tethys and the collision mechanism between geologic plates. The nominated area records important information on the constitution and evolution of Eurasia. Moreover, it is the outstanding example of the evolution of crusts and environmental change since the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. As such, it is a natural laboratory for the study of the continental dynamics global change.

The nominated area is the best area for studying very high mountain glaciers. The nominated "Karakorum - Pamir Peaks" include almost half of the world's very high mountain peaks. The areas lie in the hinterland of Eurasia, however, they are the main distribution zone of the world's most typical sub-continental glaciers. Thus, the nominated area has important implications for the understanding of global climate change, glacial landforms, and processes and activities in very high mountains. Furthermore, the nominated area is the best area for the research on Central Asian dust. Ice cores of Mt. Muztag Ata have revealed dust deposits of different periods. The dust size characteristics in the ice cores reflect their material sources and their means of transportation, which have important implications for the understanding of environmental change, atmospheric activity and dust movements in the Central Asian dust source area.

The nominated area is the key region for study of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. This area is the key location for illustrating important geological and biological aspects of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Since the Late Cenozoic, this region experienced intense upheaval and huge environmental changes. The climate in this area was cold and dry, and it was the centre of the formation of alpine glaciers. Research on this region has essential significance for the study of global change. It will also deepen understanding of several important issues, such as the formation and evolution of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, variations in the natural environment, the origins of biota, and regional differences in their environmental change.

The nominated area is the important habitat of plateau animals. The nominated site is located in the "Pamir-Tian-Shan Highlands" Biogeographical Provinces. It is the most representative zone of the Mountains of Central Asia within the system of 34 biodiversity hotspots recognized by CI, and an international example of Middle Asian Montane Steppe and Woodlands of WWF's "Global 200 Eco-regions for Saving Life on Earth". The nominated heritage site possesses unique biodiversity, as well as rare and endangered plants and animals. For example, there are plateau wild animals, such as Equus kiang, Ovis ammo, and Uncia uncia also unique endemic birds such as Vaurie's Nightjar Caprimulgus centralasicus and Sillem' Mountain Finch Leucosticte sillemi which are all included on the IUCN Red Lists and/or CITES Appendix I as endangered Animals. The nominated heritage contains particularly high mountain ecosystem and plays a significant role in biodiversity protection in the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The nominated site contains the highest peaks of the Pamirs, which embody Pamir tectonic processes well, and it presents the entire outstanding geological value of the Pamirs. If the Pamir World Natural Heritage does not include the Pamir peaks of China, then the core geological value of the Pamirs would be incomplete. The nominated site covers a large area with big enough core and buffer zones to encapsulate key features and processes. They includes a substantial cluster of very high peaks with outstanding universal value in the Pamirs, examples of typical geological tectonics, dry and extra-high mountain glaciers and mud volcanoes, a plateau natural landscape belt, ecological systems and habitats for endangered plants and animals and other necessary elements. There are broad areas which have not been affected by human activities. In the nominated area, there is a regional nature reserve, named the Pamir Wetland, which is currently applying for National Geo-park status and will be protected by appropriate administrative arrangements, management regulations and laws. The Tashkurgan sections of the site are well protected within a large national nature reserve which extends up to the national boundary adjacent to the Pakistan Karakorum Nature Reserve.

Comparison with other similar properties

The nominated Karakorum-Pamir is an area of very high peaks and very high mountain glaciers in an arid environment, which are highly characteristic of the Pamirs and adjacent regions. These are the outstanding features of the nominated Karakorum-Pamir Peaks, which also include alpine lakes, mud volcanoes and other geological processes and landforms. Globally, there are totally 14 peaks with an elevation of over 8,000 m and 4 of them are located in Kalakorum-Pamir, the others being located in the Himalayas. Compared with Tajikstan Pamir Park, Karakorum-Pamir is the region where the highest Pamir mountains are located. The highest peak is 7,719 m. In comparison, there is only one peak of over 7,000 m in the Tajikstan Park i.e. Communism Peak with an altitude of 7,495 m. Among the five mountain ranges of the Pamirs, three are represented in the nominated area in China. The nominated site includes the most important tectonic suture lines of the Pamirs, which are unique to the Pamirs. Therefore, the outstanding universal value of the geological features that are contained in the nominated area are confined to the Pamirs and cannot be found elsewhere the world.

The Tashkurgan sections of the nominated site include the peak of K2 at 8611m the second highest peak in the world. The northern slopes of the Karakoram/Tashkurgan mountains are drier and quite different from the southern slopes that would be included in the proposed WH Site in Pakistan.