Geography of Laos

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Geography of Laos
Satellite image of LaosSatellite view of Laos
ContinentAsia
RegionSoutheast Asia
Coordinates18°00′N 105°00′E / 18.000°N 105.000°E / 18.000; 105.000
AreaRanked 82nd
 • Total236,800 km2 (91,400 sq mi)
 • Land97.47%
 • Water2.53%
BordersTotal:
5,274 km (3,277 mi)
Vietnam:
2,161 km (1,343 mi)
Thailand:
1,845 km (1,146 mi)
Cambodia:
555 km (345 mi)
China:
475 km (295 mi)
Myanmar:
238 km (148 mi)
Highest pointPhou Bia
2,817 m (9,242 ft)
Lowest pointMekong
70 m (230 ft)
Longest riverMekong River
1,835 km (1,140 mi)
Largest lakeNam Ngum Lake
370 km2 (140 sq mi)
ClimateMostly tropical
TerrainHigh mountains, and an upland plateau
Natural hazardsDroughts, soil erosion

Laos is a country in and the only landlocked nation in mainland Southeast Asia, northeast of Thailand and west of Vietnam. It covers approximately 236,800 square kilometers in the center of the Southeast Asian peninsula and it is surrounded by Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, Thailand, and Vietnam.

About seventy percent of its geographic area is made up of mountain ranges, highlands, plateaux, and rivers cut through. Historically, its location has often made it a buffer state between more powerful neighboring states, particularly for the ancestral rulers of the modern-day Burmese, Vietnamese and Thais, as well as a crossroads for trade and communication.

Topography

Most of the western border of Laos is demarcated by the Mekong river, which is an important artery for transportation. The Dong Falls at the southern end of the country prevent access to the sea, but cargo boats travel along the entire length of the Mekong in Laos during most of the year. Smaller power boats and pirogues provide an important means of transportation on many of the tributaries of the Mekong.

The Mekong has thus not been an obstacle but a facilitator for communication, and the similarities between Laos and northeast Thai society—same people, almost same language—reflect the close contact that has existed across the river for centuries. Also, many Laotians living in the Mekong Valley have relatives and friends in Thailand.

Prior to the twentieth century, Laotian kingdoms and principalities encompassed areas on both sides of the Mekong, and Thai control in the late nineteenth century extended to the left bank. Although the Mekong was established as a border by French colonial forces, travel from one side to the other has been significantly limited only since the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR, or Laos) in 1975.

The eastern border with Vietnam extends for 2,130 kilometres, mostly along the crest of the Annamite Chain, and serves as a physical barrier between the Chinese-influenced culture of Vietnam and the Indianized states of Laos and Thailand. These mountains are sparsely populated by tribal minorities who traditionally have not acknowledged the border with Vietnam any more than lowland Lao have been constrained by the 1,754-kilometre Mekong River border with Thailand. Thus, ethnic minority populations are found on both the Laotian and Vietnamese sides of the frontier. Because of their relative isolation, contact between these groups and lowland Lao has been mostly confined to trading.

Laos shares its short—only 541 kilometres—southern border with Cambodia, and ancient Khmer ruins at Wat Pho and other southern locations attest to the long history of contact between the Lao and the Khmer. In the north, the country is bounded by a mountainous 423-kilometre border with China and shares the 235-kilometre-long Mekong River border with Myanmar.

The topography of Laos is largely mountainous, with the Annamite Range in the northeast and east and the Luang Prabang Range in the northwest, among other ranges typically characterized by steep terrain. Elevations are typically above 500 metres with narrow river valleys and low agricultural potential. This mountainous landscape extends across most of the north of the country, except for the plain of Vientiane and the Plain of Jars in the Xiangkhoang Plateau.

The southern "panhandle" of the country contains large level areas in Savannakhét and Champasak provinces that are well suited for extensive paddy rice cultivation and livestock raising. Much of Khammouan Province and the eastern part of all the southern provinces are mountainous. Together, the alluvial plains and terraces of the Mekong and its tributaries cover only about 20% of the land area.

Only about 4% of the total land area is classified as arable. The forested land area has declined significantly since the 1970s as a result of commercial logging and expanded swidden, or slash-and-burn, farming.

Climate

Laos Köppen climate classification Climate data for Vientiane

Laos has a tropical climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April. Generally, monsoons occur at the same time across the country, although that time may vary significantly from one year to the next.

Rainfall varies regionally, with the highest amounts—3,700 millimeters (150 inches) annually—recorded on the Bolovens Plateau in Champasak Province. City rainfall stations have recorded that Savannakhét averages 1,440 millimeters (57 inches) of rain annually; Vientiane receives about 1,700 millimeters (67 inches), and Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) receives about 1,360 millimeters (54 inches).

Rainfall is not always adequate for rice cultivation and the relatively high average precipitation conceals years where rainfall may be only half or less of the norm, causing significant declines in rice yields. Such droughts often are regional, leaving production in other parts of the country unaffected.

The average temperatures in January, coolest month, are, Luang Prabang 20.5 °C (minimum 0.8 °C), Vientiane 20.3 °C (minimum 3.3 °C), and Pakse 23.9 °C (minimum 7.8 °C); the average temperatures for April, usually the hottest month, are, Luang Prabang 28.1 °C (maximum 44.8 °C), Vientiane 42.5 °C. Temperature does vary according to the altitude, there is an average drop of 1.7 °C for every 1000 feet (or 300 meters). Temperatures in the upland plateux and in the mountains are considered lower than on the plains around Vientiane.

Laos is highly vulnerable to the effects of global climate change; nearly all provinces in Laos are at high risks from climate change.

Climate data for Vientiane (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 36.0
(96.8)
38.0
(100.4)
40.0
(104.0)
41.4
(106.5)
42.5
(108.5)
39.5
(103.1)
39.0
(102.2)
37.2
(99.0)
37.5
(99.5)
36.8
(98.2)
36.0
(96.8)
36.0
(96.8)
42.5
(108.5)
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 28.7
(83.7)
30.8
(87.4)
33.1
(91.6)
34.6
(94.3)
33.1
(91.6)
32.2
(90.0)
31.6
(88.9)
31.2
(88.2)
31.3
(88.3)
31.2
(88.2)
30.1
(86.2)
28.3
(82.9)
31.1
(88.0)
Daily mean °C (°F) 22.4
(72.3)
24.7
(76.5)
27.1
(80.8)
29.0
(84.2)
28.4
(83.1)
28.1
(82.6)
27.7
(81.9)
27.5
(81.5)
27.3
(81.1)
26.8
(80.2)
24.8
(76.6)
22.2
(72.0)
26.3
(79.3)
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 17.4
(63.3)
19.6
(67.3)
22.1
(71.8)
24.5
(76.1)
24.9
(76.8)
25.2
(77.4)
25.0
(77.0)
24.8
(76.6)
24.3
(75.7)
23.4
(74.1)
20.5
(68.9)
17.3
(63.1)
22.4
(72.3)
Record low °C (°F) 3.3
(37.9)
7.6
(45.7)
10.0
(50.0)
16.8
(62.2)
19.0
(66.2)
20.0
(68.0)
19.5
(67.1)
20.6
(69.1)
18.8
(65.8)
12.9
(55.2)
8.9
(48.0)
5.0
(41.0)
3.3
(37.9)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 7.8
(0.31)
15.3
(0.60)
39.2
(1.54)
92.8
(3.65)
233.5
(9.19)
264.6
(10.42)
307.2
(12.09)
332.9
(13.11)
270.2
(10.64)
96.6
(3.80)
13.5
(0.53)
3.7
(0.15)
1,677.2
(66.03)
Average rainy days 1.0 2.0 5.0 8.0 16.0 19.0 20.0 22.0 17.0 9.0 2.0 1.0 122.0
Average relative humidity (%) 70 68 66 69 78 82 82 84 83 78 72 70 75
Mean monthly sunshine hours 239.8 216.9 218.5 227.6 195.3 140.8 129.9 133.0 165.9 210.5 228.5 246.6 2,353.5
Source 1: World Meteorological Organization, Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes 1907–1990), Pogoda.ru.net, tutiempo.net
Source 2: NOAA (humidity 1961–1990)
Climate data for Pakse (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 36.7
(98.1)
37.8
(100.0)
38.9
(102.0)
40.8
(105.4)
41.3
(106.3)
38.3
(100.9)
38.2
(100.8)
35.0
(95.0)
36.0
(96.8)
36.7
(98.1)
36.7
(98.1)
36.6
(97.9)
41.3
(106.3)
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 32.0
(89.6)
33.5
(92.3)
35.1
(95.2)
35.5
(95.9)
33.5
(92.3)
31.6
(88.9)
31.0
(87.8)
30.5
(86.9)
31.0
(87.8)
31.3
(88.3)
31.2
(88.2)
30.8
(87.4)
32.3
(90.1)
Daily mean °C (°F) 25.6
(78.1)
27.7
(81.9)
29.6
(85.3)
30.4
(86.7)
29.1
(84.4)
28.1
(82.6)
27.6
(81.7)
27.2
(81.0)
27.3
(81.1)
27.1
(80.8)
26.2
(79.2)
24.9
(76.8)
27.6
(81.7)
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 18.7
(65.7)
21.4
(70.5)
24.1
(75.4)
25.8
(78.4)
25.3
(77.5)
24.9
(76.8)
24.5
(76.1)
24.3
(75.7)
24.1
(75.4)
23.1
(73.6)
21.1
(70.0)
18.9
(66.0)
23.0
(73.4)
Record low °C (°F) 7.8
(46.0)
10.8
(51.4)
12.8
(55.0)
19.8
(67.6)
21.7
(71.1)
21.5
(70.7)
21.4
(70.5)
21.5
(70.7)
20.0
(68.0)
16.7
(62.1)
13.9
(57.0)
8.9
(48.0)
7.8
(46.0)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 1.5
(0.06)
10.4
(0.41)
26.5
(1.04)
67.3
(2.65)
229.6
(9.04)
351.3
(13.83)
414.6
(16.32)
504.6
(19.87)
308.2
(12.13)
128.9
(5.07)
25.3
(1.00)
2.2
(0.09)
2,070.6
(81.52)
Average rainy days 0 1 3 8 17 21 24 25 20 12 5 1 138
Average relative humidity (%) 62 60 59 65 75 82 83 85 84 79 72 67 72.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 274.5 243.9 244.5 227.1 202.0 145.0 142.2 126.6 141.2 188.3 225.7 249.3 2,410.4
Source 1: World Meteorological Organization, tutiempo.net
Source 2: NOAA (humidity 1961–1990), Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes), The Yearbook of Indochina (1932-1933)

Agriculture

Agriculture in Laos is the most important sector of the economy. Five million out of 23,680,000 hectares of Laos's total land area is suitable for cultivation, and seventeen percent of the land area, between 850,000 and 900,000 hectares, was cultivated as of the early 1990s. Rice is the main crop grown during the rainy season.

Agricultural cultivation is possible during with varying weather on a small portion of land area apart from the Vientiane plain and the lowlands along the Mekong Valley. These cultivated areas are situated in the valley cuts by the rivers or the plateau regions of Xieng Khouang in the North and in the Bolovens in the south. Typically there are only two ways to cultivate: either the wet-field paddy system practiced among the Lao Loum or lowland in Lao, or the swidden cultivation system practiced in the hills.

Human geography

The overall population density was only eighteen persons per square kilometer, and in many districts the density was fewer than ten persons per square kilometer. Population density per cultivated hectare was considerably high ranging from 3.3 to 7.8 persons per hectare.

Natural resources and environmental issues

Hundreds of active fires burning across the hills and valleys of Myanmar Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam (labelled with red dots)

The natural resources of Laos include timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, and gemstones. Laos is increasingly suffering from environmental problems, with deforestation a particularly significant issue, as expanding commercial exploitation of the forests, plans for additional hydroelectric facilities, foreign demand for wild animals and nonwood forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing population all create increasing pressure.

The United Nations Development Programme warns: "Protecting the environment and sustainable use of natural resources in Lao PDR is vital for poverty reduction and economic growth."

Area and boundaries

The Mekong river at Luang Prabang, Laos Area Area comparison Land boundaries Elevation extremes

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Savada 1995, p. 81.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Savada 1995, p. 82.
  3. ^ Savada 1995, p. 83.
  4. ^ "Laos climate: average weather, temperature, precipitation, when to go". www.climatestotravel.com. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  5. ^ Overland, Indra et al. (2017) Impact of Climate Change on ASEAN International Affairs: Risk and Opportunity Multiplier, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and Myanmar Institute of International and Strategic Studies (MISIS).
  6. ^ "World Meteorological Organization Climate Normals for 1981–2010". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 16 July 2021. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Klimatafel von Vientiane (Viangchan) / Laos" (PDF). Baseline climate means (1961–1990) from stations all over the world (in German). Deutscher Wetterdienst. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  8. ^ КЛИМАТ УЛАН-БАТОРА (in Russian). Pogoda.ru.net. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  9. ^ S.L, Tutiempo Network. "Climate Vientiane - Climate data (489400)". www.tutiempo.net. Retrieved 2023-03-26.
  10. ^ "Vientiane Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  11. ^ "World Meteorological Organization Climate Normals for 1981–2010". World Meteorological Organization. Archived from the original on 17 July 2021. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  12. ^ S.L, Tutiempo Network. "Climate Pakse - Climate data (489550)". www.tutiempo.net. Retrieved 2023-03-26.
  13. ^ "Pakse Climate Normals 1961-1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved January 11, 2013.
  14. ^ "Klimatafel von Pakse (Pakxé) / Laos" (PDF). Baseline climate means (1961-1990) from stations all over the world (in German). Deutscher Wetterdienst. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
  15. ^ The Yearbook of Indochina (1932-1933)
  16. ^ Savada 1995, p. 162.
  17. ^ Savada 1995, p. 153.
  18. ^ Savada 1995, p. 156.
  19. ^ "Laos - Crops". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 2022-06-24.
  20. ^ a b Savada 1995, pp. 86–87.
  21. ^ a b c d Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from "Laos". The World Factbook (2024 ed.). CIA. Retrieved 2021-10-26. (Archived 2021 edition.)
  22. ^ "Laos Environmental problems & Policy". United Nations Encyclopedia of the Nations. Retrieved 20 April 2011.
  23. ^ Savada 1995, p. 163.
  24. ^ "Energy & Environment for Sustainable Development". United Nations Development Programme. Archived from the original on 11 March 2008. Retrieved 20 April 2011.

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