As vast as it is spectacularly varied, Asia is home to an incredible diversity of life.
Covering about 30 per cent of the world’s land surface, Asia is by far the largest of the continents. From east to west, it stretches across 11 time zones, and from north to south it encapsulates wildlife habitats as diverse as the Arctic tundra, the forested taiga, vast areas of steppe, high mountain chains, tropical forests, mangroves and coral reefs. It is a continent of wide-open spaces and extremes of weather and climate.
Asia’s most northerly point is Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island in the
Arctic Ocean. It is only 911km from the North Pole. At this latitude the air temperature regularly drops below –50°C and, on the mainland to the east, the town of Oymyakon once experienced –67.7°C, the coldest official temperature in the Northern Hemisphere, although a monument in the town square claims a temperature of –71.2°C in 1924.
By contrast, unusually high temperatures of 54°C have been recorded in Kuwait and Pakistan in 2016 and 2017, the highest air temperatures on continental Asia, with satellite observations recording even hotter ground temperatures in the deserts of southwest Asia. The record holder currently is the Lut Desert of Iran, where a ground temperature of 70.7°C has been reported.
From desert to icebox
The wettest place on Earth is also in Asia. Mawsynram in tropical India has an average annual rainfall of 11,871mm (compared to 4,635mm in the wettest place in the UK), and the deepest
Gentle 10m-long whale sharks are handfed by grateful fishermen in New Guinea’s Cenderawasih Bay.
1 Golden snubnosed monkeys can withstand freezing temperatures in China’s forests.
A mother and infant orangutan in one of the species’ few remaining habitats, the ancient rainforests of Borneo.
One of the driest places on Earth, western Iran’s deserts house a master of disguise, the spider-tailed horned viper.