Ironically, water is connected to the source of the dust. As seasonal lakes dry out, they leave a layer of fine mineral soil. The dust in this image originates from a few such dry lakebeds on the northeast side of the basin. Once airborne, the dust spreads and becomes more diffuse towards the west. The continual evaporation and refilling of lakes has led to a buildup of mineral salts in the Taklimakan Basin. The square turquoise feature near the source of the dust storm is probably an evaporation pond used to dissolve and then extract mineral salts from the desert.
The pond is the the only obvious sign of a human presence in the desert, but a few people do live in the region. Patches of green and dark brown along the rivers are irrigated croplands. Snowmelt is the only source of water for agriculture. The tall mountain range in the north – the Tien Shan – blocks Arctic storms and prevents rain or snowfall during the winter. Mountain ranges to the south, in the Kunlun and Altun Shan, block potential rainstorms from the Asian monsoon. And, of course, the basin is deep inland and far from moist ocean air. As a result of this geography, the Taklimakan is exceptionally dry, receiving less than 0.4 inches (10 millimeters) of rain in the center of the basin, though more falls at the base of the mountains.