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In physical geography, a steppe (from Russian: степь, tr. step', IPA: [sʲtʲepʲ] ( ), from Latin stipa) is an ecoregion, in the montane grasslands and shrublands and temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biomes, characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. The prairie (especially the shortgrass and mixed prairie) is an example of a steppe, though it is not usually called such. It may be semi-desert, or covered with grass or shrubs or both, depending on the season and latitude. The term is also used to denote the climate encountered in regions too dry to support a forest, but not dry enough to be a desert. The soil is typically of chernozem type.
Steppes are usually characterized by a semi-arid and continental climate. Extremes can be recorded in the summer of up to 40 °C (104 °F) and in winter, –40 °C (–40 °F). Besides this huge difference between summer and winter, the differences between day and night are also very great. In the highlands of Mongolia, 30 °C (86 °F) can be reached during the day with sub-zero °C (sub 32 °F) readings at night.
The mid-latitude steppes can be summarised by hot summers and cold winters, averaging 250–500 mm (10-20 inches) of precipitation per year. Precipitation level alone is not what defines a steppe climate, potential evapotranspiration must also be taken into account.
Two types of steppe can be recorded:
The world's largest steppe region, often referred to as "the Great Steppe", is found in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and neighbouring countries stretching from Ukraine in the west through Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the Altai, Koppet Dag and Tian Shan ranges.
The inner parts of Anatolia in Turkey, Central Anatolia and East Anatolia in particular and also some parts of Southeast Anatolia, as well as much of Armenia and Iran are largely dominated by cold steppe.
Another large steppe area (prairie) is located in the central United States and western Canada. The shortgrass prairie steppe is the westernmost part of the Great Plains region. The Channeled Scablands in Southern British Columbia and Washington State is an example of a steppe region in North America outside of the Great Plains.
In Europe, some Mediterranean areas have a steppe-like vegetation, such as central Sicily, southern Portugal, parts of Greece in the southern Athens area, and central-eastern Spain, especially the southeastern coast (around Murcia), and places cut off from adequate moisture due to rain shadow effects such as Zaragoza.
In North America this environment is typical of transition areas between zones with a Mediterranean climate and true deserts, such as Reno, Nevada, the inner part of California, and much of West Texas and adjacent areas in Mexico.
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