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December 2, 2011
The “Top of the World” was washed with arid tans and edged by green and white on November 23, 2011. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite captured this true-color image as it passed over Tibet on that same day.

Tibet gets its nickname due to the high elevation of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau on which it sits. The average elevation of the plateau is over 4,750 m (15,000 feet). The "roof of the world" is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges: the Kunlun Mountains of Central Asia in the north, the Karakoram Range in the west and the Himalayas in the south. The snow-capped Himalayas are home to some of the tallest mountains on Earth, including Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 8,848 feet.

Rainfall is scarce on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, with only 450 mm (18 inches) of precipitation each year, and most of that comes in the rainy season from June until September. Wind is common, and intense winds often travel unabated over wide areas. The combination of low rainfall, intense sunlight, strong wind and widely varying daily temperatures (desert temperatures may rise to over 29 °C in the daytime, then plunge to 4°C at night) make growing conditions difficult. Much of the landscape is sparsely vegetated.

In 1964, Tibet became an Autonomous Region of China. It is surrounded in the north and east by other provinces of China, in the south and west by Burma, India, Bhutan, and Nepal. Lhasa, the capital city, fills a flat river valley nestled in the ranges of the Himalaya Mountains. It lies in the southeastern section of this image, but it is difficult to pick out from the surrounding landscape.

Credits: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

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