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Facts About Ural Mountains

Updated on April 7, 2014

Ural Mountains are a mountain system in the Russian Federation that forms the northern portion of the traditional frontier between Europe and Asia. The range stretches for about 1,600 miles (2,570 km) from the Kara Sea in the Arctic to the hot steppes of Kazakhstan. The mountains generally reach no higher than 3,000 feet (900 meters), and the range has an average height of about 1,600 feet (500 meters). The variety and extent of the range's mineral resources have led to immense industrial growth in the area, particularly during the Soviet period.

In the section known as the Northern (or Arctic) Urals, lying north of latitude 61° N, the range forms a comparatively narrow ridge, destitute of trees. Several peaks in this section exceed 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), and the highest, Mt. Narodnaya, reaches an elevation of 6,214 feet (1,894 meters). Average elevations are lower in the Central and Southern Urals, where numerous passes and river valleys facilitate east-west travel. The range spreads to a width of more than 200 miles (320 km) in the richly forested Central Urals and becomes even wider in the Southern Urals, which usually are identified as that part of the chain lying south of the Yekaterinburg gap. From the boundary that separates the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, a southern outrunner known as the Mugodzhar Hills extends to the vicinity of the Aral Sea and the steppes adjacent to the Caspian depression.


The principal rivers fed by the Ural chain are the Pechora, which flows into the Arctic Ocean to the northwest of the chain; the Kama and its tributary the Belaya (Ukrainian, Bila), which flow westward into the Volga; the Ural and the Zhem, in the southwestern part of the chain, which, like the Volga, empty into the Caspian Sea; and, to the east of the chain, the various streams that feed into the Tobol and other tributaries of the northward-flowing Irtysh-Ob system, which empties into the Kara Sea, a gulf of the Arctic Ocean.


The range is rich in iron ore and in many of the metals employed in the manufacture of steel, including manganese, nickel, and tungsten. Coal is mined on both the western and eastern slopes; but the supply is insufficient for the area's steel industry, so coking coal is brought from Qaraghandy and the Kuzbas. The metallic minerals and the heavy industry dependent on them are concentrated on the eastern side of the Urals; it is on these slopes that the great steel cities such as Magnitogorsk, Nizhni Tagil, and Chelyabinsk are found. Among the Ural range's major nonferrous metals are copper, chrome, bauxite, lead, zinc, asbestos, chromium, potash, phosphates, and sulfur. Precious metals include platinum, gold, and silver; and emeralds, topaz, amethyst, and other gemstones are mined. Oil and natural gas are tapped near Perm and in the Orenburg region in the south.

By the beginning of the 18th century, an iron foundry had been put into operation in the Urals. Yekaterinburg, which today is the industrial center of the Urals economic region, was founded as a center for the copper and iron industries. Although the Urals grew in importance as a mining and industrial area under the czars, its rapid development dates only from the Soviet era, particularly during the World War II years when the Soviet Union expanded its industries there to compensate for the loss of plants that were overrun by the Germans on the west. Today the Urals form a vast economic complex based on extractive, metallurgical, and heavy machinery; and electrical engineering, chemical, and petrochemical industries.


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