REPORTS - SPECIAL REPORTS

The Regional Impacts of Climate Change


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5.1. Background Characterization/Current Baseline Conditions

5.1.1. Geography

Although referred to as a continent, Europe constitues only the western fifth of the Eurasian landmass, which is made up primarily of Asia (see Figure 5-1 and Box 5-1). The Ural Mountains, the Ural River, and part of the Caspian Sea generally are recognized as forming the main boundary between Europe and Asia. The second smallest of the seven continents, Europe has an area of 10,525,000 km2, but it has the second largest population of all the continents (about 685 million). The European mainland stretches from the North Cape in Norway (71N) to Gibraltar (36N). The western and eastern extremes are defined by the west coast of Iceland (24W) and the Ural River in Russia (50E).


Figure 5-1: The Europe region [compiled by the World Bank Environment Department Geographic Information System (GIS) Unit; see Annex E for a color rendition].

 

Box 5-1. The Europe Region
Albania
Andorra
Armenia
Austria
Azerbaijan
Belarus
Belgium
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Croatia
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Liechtenstein
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Macedonia, Former
Yugoslav Republic of
Moldova, Republic of
Monaco
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Russian Federation
San Marino
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
The Netherlands
Ukraine
United Kingdom
Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of


Europe is a highly fragmented landmass consisting of a number of large peninsulas (e.g., Fennoscandia, Iberia, the Balkans, and Italy), as well as smaller ones such as Jutland (Denmark) and Brittany (France). It also includes a large number of islands-notably Iceland, Great Britain, and Ireland. Europe has coastlines on the Arctic Ocean and the North and Baltic Seas in the north; on the Caspian Sea to the southeast; on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea in the south; and on the Atlantic Ocean to the west. A number of mountainous regions are located in Europe. The Alpine arc stretches from the Mediterranean coast of France to central Europe; the Alps include the highest summits of western Europe, with about 90 peaks exceeding an altitude of 4,000 m. The Pyrenees form the border of Spain and France; the Apennines are in Italy. Other mountain ranges include the Scandinavian range in Norway and Sweden, the Tatras in Slovakia, the coastal ranges of Slovenia and Croatia, and the Carpathians in Romania. Further east, the Caucasus range stretches northward from the Black Sea and forms a natural boundary between Europe and Asia. The highest point on the continent is located in this mountain range (Mt. Elbrus, 5,642 m).

One major geological region of Europe consists of a belt of sedimentary materials that sweeps in an arc from southeast England and southWest France into Belgium and the Netherlands and on into Germany, Poland, and western Russia. These sedimentary rocks, covered in places by a layer of till, form the Great European Plain. Some of the best soils of Europe are found here-particularly along the southern margin, which is rich in loess.

South of the Great European Plain are the central European Uplands-including the Jura, the Vosges and the Black Forest mountains, the Massif Central, and the Meseta; here, mountains alternate with plateaus and valleys.

Most European streams flow outward from the core of the continent. The Alps are the location of the headwaters of major rivers such as the Rhone, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Po. The longest river in Europe, the Volga, flows southward into the Caspian Sea, whereas the Danube (Europe's second longest) flows eastward to the Black Sea. The radial drainage pattern lends itself to the interconnection of rivers by canals. Lakes occur in mountainous areas-such as in Switzerland (the Lakes of Geneva and Constance are western Europe's largest bodies of fresh water), Italy, and Austria-and in lowland regions such as in Finland, Poland, and Hungary (Lake Balaton being central Europe's largest lake). Europe's largest freshwater lake is Lake Ladoga in northWest Russia.


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