Europe: Physical Geography
Europe merits recognition as a world realm despite its small size relative to the rest of the Eurasian landmass [euworsm.gif]. Despite its size [eupetsm], Europes influence extends well beyond its geographic boundaries.
European influences, innovations, empires, and revolutions, have transformed the world despite internal wars, loss of colonial empires, and the impact of external competition. Europe has proved to contain the human and natural resources necessary to overcome internal and external obstacles.
Globally, Europes relative location, at the heart of the land hemisphere [euldhemi], is one for maximum efficiency for contact with the rest of the world. Almost nowhere in Europe is far from the sea [euriver] and Europe interfaces with the land as it does no where else on Earth. Southern and Western Europe consists almost entirely of peninsulas and islands from Greece, Italy and the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) to the British Isles, Denmark and the Scandinavian peninsula (Norway and Sweden). Southern Europe faces the Mediterranean and Western Europe virtually surrounds the North Sea as it look out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Europe has long been a place of contact between peoples and cultures resulting in the circulation of goods and ideas. The hundreds of miles of navigable waterways [eucanal]; the easily traversed bays, straits and channels between numerous islands and peninsulas and the Mainland; and the highly accessible [euwater] Mediterranean, North and Baltic Seas, all provided the routeways for these exchanges. Later, even the oceans become avenues of long distance spatial interaction.
This historic advantage of moderate distances applies on the mainland as well. Europes Alps may form a transcontinental divider [eumtns], but what they separate still lies in close contact, and mountain passes have been used for centuries. No place in Europe is very far from anyplace else on the continent, although nearby places are often sharply different from each other. Short distances and large differences make for much interaction which is typical of European geography over the past 1000 years.
Europe is a world geographic realm of modest portions on the peninsular margin of Western Eurasian landmass [wweurasm]. Europes relative location at the heart of the land hemisphere [euldhemi] is one of maximum efficiency for contact with the rest of the world. Much of Europe is in close contact with the sea with hundreds of miles of navigable waterways [eucanal]. No place in Europe is very far from anyplace else on the continent. Short distances and large differences make for much interaction.
Of all of Europes advantages, none stand out as much as Europes mild and temperate climate [euclimat]. At first glance it would appear to be a harsh and cold climate, due to its northerly position on the globe [wwoutsm] (most of the continental land mass lies north of New York City). But winters in Madrid and Paris are less severe than those in New York and Boston. The reasons for Europes mild climate are due to two factors; prevailing westerly winds and the North Atlantic Drift ocean current [euocncur].
Europes northerly location places it in the prevailing westerly wind belt. This brings mild maritime air from the Atlantic modifying the winters and summers (Africas dry land mass lies just across the Mediterranean). These prevailing winds also prevent bitterly cold arctic air from penetrating into the continent instead they sweep into Russia, which does experience bitterly cold winters. Only occasionally, due to changes in jet stream currents, does arctic air penetrate all the way to the Mediterranean. Instead of continental polar air masses, Europe is dominated by cool maritime air from the Atlantic.
Adding to the moderate climate, ocean temperatures are warmer than what would be expected at this location. This is due to the North Atlantic Drift [euocncur]. This is a warm water ocean current, an extension of the Gulf Stream, that originates in the tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. As the current moves past Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, it moves northeastward towards the British Isles, Scandinavia, and even into the Arctic Ocean where the port of Murmansk [rufb] (This Russia port remains open in the winter, albeit with ice breaker help, despite being located above the Arctic Circle.)
The warm water (relatively speaking) of the North Atlantic Drift warms the air masses that invade Europe from the west and provides enough moisture and instability that gives much of Europe beneficial precipitation [eupreces].
These climatic controls help to explain Europes climate of not too many temperature extremes and adequate precipitation. Most European climate [euclimat] falls under two classifications; Marine West Coast (Cfb) and Mediterranean (Csa).
Marine West Coast climate is typically found along the west coasts of continents (typically between 40o and 60o latitude). This climate covers much of Northwestern Europe including the British Isles, but excluding Scandinavia, Eastern Germany, Poland and Switzerland.
The other dominant climate in Europe is the Mediterranean (Csa, Csb). This climate [euclimat] covers much of Southern Europe including most of the Iberian Peninsula [iberia], Southern France, Southern Italy and Greece. It is characterized by hot, nearly rainless summers, and mild rainy winters. It is a pleasant climate and is conductive to the bountiful agriculture produce produced in this region. Much of the worlds most renowned wines are produced in this region and in other regions of the world [wwclimc] (i.e., California) where this climate occurs.
European topography is dominated by the following physiographic regions [euprg]:
An easy way to remember these is as four broad arcs extending from the southwest to the northeast. Compare: [euphydia]
The Central Uplands [euprg] contain the majority of Europe's coalfields and was the European center of the Industrial Revolution. This region also served as a stimulus for the Agrarian Revolution.
(We will be studying the "revolutions" later http://www.harper.cc.il.us/~mhealy/g101ilec/europe/euh/euhrln/euhrlnfr.htm )
The Western Uplands [euprg] are geologically related to the Appalachian Mountains of North America separated by divergence of the North American and Eurasian Plates [fit] [plates].
The North European Lowland [euprg] extends from Southern Britain to Western Russia. It is the most densely populated [eupopden] physical region of Europe and a route of contact between Europeans and its neighbors to the east. The North European Lowland has been an invasion route over the years for many armies. It has been subject to ancient glaciation, has good agricultural lands, and are home to many navigable rivers [euriver]: Weser, Germany; Elbe, Germany; Oder, Germany; Vistula, Poland.
Alpine System [euprg] [eumtns]
Western Uplands [euprg]
Northern European Lowland [euprg]
[Much of the text of the above was written by Scott Girhard, San Antonio College from his online course GEOG 1301 World Geography. Used with permission.]