EUROPE: GEOGRAPHICAL AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

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Introduction

Europe is the second smallest continent. It is a peninsula as it is surrounded by oceans and seas on three sides the Arctic Ocean in the North, the Atlantic Ocean in the West and the Mediterranean and Black Sea in the South. A closer look further reveals that there are several smaller peninsulas along its highly irregular coastline like the Scandinavian Peninsula, the Iberian Peninsula and the Italian and Greek Peninsulas. Europe is, thus, called a “peninsula of peninsulas”. Due to its long coastline, most of the countries in Europe have access to seas or oceans but there are a few land-locked countries in Europe.

PIC: GEOGRAPHICAL MAP OF EUROPE

LOCATION

 Europe lies entirely in the Northern hemisphere. The Europe continent covers an area of 10,498,000 sq km (3,997,900 sq mile). Its longitudinal extension is 20°W to 65°E and latitudinal extension is 39°N to 71°N. The continent of Europe is separated by Ural Mountains and Caspian Sea from Asia in the East. Its average East-West extension is about 6,400 km and North-South extension is about 4,800 km.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

Europe can be divided into three main physical division based on its landforms

1. The North-Western Highlands: The North-Western Highlands lies in the North and North-West extending from from Norway and Sweden in the East to Scotland in the West. These highlands are also called Scandinavian Highlands. They are made up of very hard ancient crystalline rocks, and once were very high and rugged. But due to erosion by glaciers, it has reduced to low hills and gentle slopes with some areas almost reaching sea level.

Pic: Sandinavian Highlands

2.The Central European Plain:   The Central European Plain lies to the South of North-Western Highlands. It extends across Central Europe from Atlantic Coast in the West to the Ural Mountains in the East. It is a vast triangular undulating plain It is also called Russian plate. This region covers the vast area of Russia, Poland, Germany, Northern France, Belgium, etc. These plains are formed by the deposits brought by glaciers and big rivers like Don, Dnieper, Volga and Ural. River Danube is the largest river of Europe that drenches the Central Plain. Most of the rivers that flow into this region are large and flow across many European large countries and are suitable for internal navigation. These plains are very fertile and good for agriculture. Some of the most densely populated places of Europe lie in these plains.

Pic: River Danube

3.The Southern Mountains: The Southern Mountains lie to the South of the Central European Plain. It consists of chains of young fold mountain called the Alpine Mountain System formed during the Alpine Period, almost the same period the Himalayas were formed. The Alps is the most important mountain system running between France and Switzerland. Mount Blanc (4. 807 m) is the highest peak of the Alps. The Pyrenees Mountains forms a natural border between Spain and France. The Carpathian Mountains run eastwards from the Alps. The Caucasus Mountains lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and has the highest peak of Europe, Mt. Elbrus (5,642 m) The Balkan Mountains lie to the South of River Danube.

Pic: Alps Mountain

CLIMATE

Due to its location in the temperate zone and a very long coastline, most parts of Europe has temperate climate with influence from seas and oceans. Thus, in general, the climate of Europe is pleasant and mild with moderate rainfall with exception in few interior places. The regions beyond the Arctic Circle (66%° N) in the Northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia experiences Tundra climate. Summers are very short and winters are very long and very cold. The North West of the continent bordering Atlantic Ocean has British Type of climate. These regions are near to the sea so have warm summers and cool winters with rainfall throughout the year. The Central plain which lies more to the interior part of the continent experiences Central European Climate. As this region is further away from the sea, summers are warmer with rainfall and winters are cooler with little or no rainfall. The interior and the easternmost parts of Europe in countries from Caspian.

Pic: Ural Mountains

Ural Mountains experience the Desert Climate. Summers are extremely hot and winters are cold. This climatic region of Europe gets the least amount of rainfall and is, therefore, a temperate desert. The Southern part of Europe along the coasts of Mediterranean Sea experiences Mediterranean climate. This climate is characterized by warm-dry summers and cool-wet winters. The winter rain is brought by the westerlies. This type of climate is found in Spain, France, Italy and Greece.

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NATURAL VEGETATION

 The natural vegetation of Europe is largely the result of the great variation in climate across the continent. The treeless tundra in the extreme North of the continent only supports the growth of mosses, lichens and scattered and short trees. To the South of this vegetation is a belt of thick coniferous forests, called the Taiga. The trees found in this belt of thick forests are evergreen softwood trees such as pine, fir, spruce and larch.

Pic: Mediterranean Vegetation

The temperate grassland is found in a vast stretch of land between Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Short grasses grow well here with a few scattered trees. This grassland is called the Steppes. The Southern parts of Europe in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have Mediterranean Type of vegetation. This type of vegetation consists mainly of trees with long roots and thick barks or shrubs or bushes with small, waxy leaves and thorns. The common trees are olive, oak, lavender, laurel, etc. Fruit trees such as oranges, figs and grapes also grow well in this region.

Pic: Tundra Vegetation

The location, landform, climate, natural vegetation, rivers and access to sea and oceans of Europe are very favourable for human civilization. Its location is near to the sea and oceans and irregular coastlines have provided great marine facilities for trade and business all over the world. Its moderate climate favours the way of life of the people to be healthy, active and energetic. It is the centre of many inventions and discoveries and the ancient civilization of the world. It is a very fast developing continent with a very high density of population

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