Lowest Landlocked Elevation

On December 9, 2015 · 3 Comments

All sorts of interesting facts emerged as I mashed-up Wikipedia’s List of Elevation Extremes by Country with Landlocked Country. I wondered about the lowest elevation of a landlocked nation as I sorted through results in various ways. It turned out that there were several such countries with elevations below sea-level. Anybody could focus on elevation highpoints. Twelve Mile Circle loved the lowpoints.


The lowest landlocked elevation occurred in Kazakhstan. Its Karagiye Depression (map) used to have more significance a few decades ago when it featured the lowest elevation in the entire Soviet Union before its dissolution. Now it had to settle for that distinction on a much smaller scale, for the Republic of Kazakhstan. On the other hand it qualified for first place on the lowpoint for landlocked nations list at -132 m. (-433 ft.), an honor that might have been noted only by 12MC. I didn’t know if anyone had ever noticed that before — or cared — although my thirty second search failed to produce any other site that recognized it in such a manner. The name translated roughly to black slope from Turkic, "which very accurately displays the character of this steep-sloped depression. Karagiye looks like a huge cup with uneven slopes."

Its formation occurred through an interaction of water and stone. The Caspian Sea and surrounding areas of its basin were already below sea level. Karagiye happened to fall within a 40 kilometre (25 mile) ribbon of karst, of soluble limestone. Water filtered through limestone to form caves that eventually collapsed, leaving Karagiye even lower than adjacent terrain already well below sea level.

Various Intertubes sites often noted Karagiye for its perceived abundance of Unidentified Flying Objects, for those who might have an interest in such things. Certainly the reliability of such hearsay evidence should be called into question although surrounding terrain certainly looked like something from another planet that a UFO would inhabit. Maybe alien visitors were homesick.


The next lowest landlocked spot occurred in Ethiopia in a place called the Danakil Depression (map) at -125 metres (-410 feet). Tectonic plates pulled apart on this corner of the African continent, marking it with deep rifts and depressions. Danakil was one of the deepest, a close competitor and a geological cousin to Africa’s lowest point of elevation nearby in Djibouti at Lac Assal. It didn’t sound like a particularly enjoyable place either. National Geographic dubbed it the Cruelest Place on Earth in a 2005 article,

…people can and will live anywhere—even in the Danakil, a place of dry sands and even drier gravel beds, rocky lava flows, active volcanoes, burning salt flats, temperatures that often top 120°F, winds that choke you with dust, and suffocating days of no wind at all. Even worse, this place where rain falls sparingly at the best of times was now in the grip of a bad drought, and the half-mummified carcasses of camels and goats lay strewn across the sands.

I don’t think I’ll add Danakil to the Twelve Mile Circle list of places I want to visit anytime soon.

Readers may have heard of Danakil in a different context without even realizing it. Anthropologists unearthed several groundbreaking hominid fossils within the rift valley. Most famously it included the Australopithecus specimen dubbed Lucy. This key ancestral figure walked the grounds of the depression more than three million years ago.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan

Sarygamysh Koli

I lumped Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan together because of the proximity of their lowpoints found a little to the east of the Caspian Sea. Actually they weren’t all that far away from Karagiye in Kazakhstan. That whole area of the Caspian Sea was a hotspot for lowpoints, also including those for Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, and Europe overall.

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan lowpoints centered on Sarygamysh Koli, a salt lake that straddled their border. The lake and its surrounding salt pans had a habit of rising and falling in patterns of infill and evaporation so measurements varied. The Uzbekistan lowpoint at Sarygamysh Koli was generally around -12 m. (-39 ft.). Turkmenistan, a few kilometres to the southeast at Vpadina Akchanaya (map) was a little lower, -81 m. (-266 ft.). Both of them were in the vicinity of Kaplankyr reserve, a protected habitat for "Central Asian gazelle, the Ustyurt mountain sheep, ratel [honey badger] as well as substantial populations of saiga antelopes." The land may have appeared desolate although it was far from empty.

On December 9, 2015 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Lowest Landlocked Elevation”

  1. January First-of-May says:

    As far as I can tell, the one missing landlocked country with an under-sea-level lowpoint is Azerbaijan, whose “lowpoint” is just its Caspian coast. Presumably this is simply too uninteresting to be mentioned.

    A few years back, I wondered whether Ethiopia was the only country with land below sea level but no sea coast; then I realized that, as long as the Caspian doesn’t count as “sea coast”, anything otherwise landlocked that touches it (which includes most of the nations that touch it) would qualify.
    Apparently, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan are the only countries with land below sea level that have neither a regular coast nor a Caspian coast (whatever still remains of the Aral Sea doesn’t really deserve the name).

    Incidentally, Moldova’s lowpoint is higher than I expected – I thought it was about the same height as Pennsylvania’s (i.e. close enough to zero to be rounded off).

    • Peter says:

      It’s hard to say whether a Caspian Sea coastline counts as a seacoast. The Volga-Don Canal allows full ocean access (via the Black and Mediterranean seas) for ships up to about 450 feet in length, smaller than most oceangoing ships but more than just barges as with the Rhine and Danube rivers.
      Moldova is an odd case. It just touches a section of the lower Danube that appears to be navigable by ships, Google Satellite View shows a couple of tankers docked nearby in Ukrainian territory, but once again going by the satellite view the only port facility in Moldova seems to be a small liquid-cargo pier.
      Bosnia and Paraguay are two other countries that don’t neatly fit in the landlocked/not landlocked categories. Bosnia has a narrow strip of land that touches the Adriatic Sea, at the town of Neum, but mainly due to poor land transportation Neum has no port facilities for anything except small pleasure boats. Bosnia therefore is landlocked in a functional sense even though it’s not geographically landlocked.
      Paraguay is the opposite. It is geographically landlocked, but has full ocean access via the Paraguay and Parana rivers.

  2. hipsterdoofus says:

    I would be curious also about lowest average elevation for a landlocked country.

Comments are closed.

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