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North Korea - GEOGRAPHY
The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward from the northeast Asian continental landmass. The main Japanese islands of Honsh and Ky sh are located some 200 kilometers to the southeast across the Tsushima Strait, the southeast part of the Korea Strait; China's Shandong Peninsula lies 190 kilometers to the west. Japan's Tsushima Island lies between the peninsula's southeast coast and Ky sh . The Korean Peninsula's west coast is bordered by the Yellow Sea (or Korea Bay as it is called in North Korea). The east coast is bordered by the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the East Sea; North Korean sources sometimes refer to the Yellow and Japan seas as the West and East seas of Korea, respectively). The 8,460 kilometer coastline of Korea is highly irregular, with North Korea's half of the peninsula having 2,495 kilometers of coastline. Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, mostly along the south and west coasts.
Korea's northern land border is formed by the Yalu (or Amnok) and Tumen rivers, which have their sources in the region around Paektu-san (Mount Paektu or White Head Mountain), an extinct volcano and Korea's highest mountain (2,744 meters). The Yalu River flows into the Yellow Sea, and the Tumen River flows east into the Sea of Japan. The northern border extends for 1,433 kilometers; 1,416 kilometers are shared with the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Liaoning, and the remaining 17 kilometers with Russia. Part of the border with China near Paektu-san has yet to be clearly demarcated.
At the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided along the thirty-eighth parallel into Soviet and United States occupation zones. With the signing of an armistice marking the end of the Korean War in 1953, the border between North Korea and South Korea became the Demaraction Line, which runs through the middle of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This heavily guarded, 4,000-meter-wide strip of land runs east and west along the line of cease-fire for a distance of 241 kilometers (238 kilometers of that line form the land boundary with South Korea). The North Korean government claims territorial waters extending twelve nautical miles from shore. It also claims an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from shore. In addition, a maritime military boundary that lies fifty nautical miles offshore in the Sea of Japan and 200 nautical miles offshore in the Yellow Sea demarcates the waters and airspace into which foreign ships and planes are prohibited from entering without permission.
The total land area of the Korean Peninsula, including islands, is 220,847 square kilometers, of which 55 percent, or 120,410 square kilometers, constitutes the territory of North Korea. The combined territories of North and South Korea are about the same size as the United Kingdom or the state of Minnesota. North Korea alone is about the size of the state of New York or Louisiana.
Topography and Drainage
Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled "a sea in a heavy gale" because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. Some 80 percent of North Korea's land area is composed of mountains and uplands, with all of the peninsula's mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters or more located in North Korea. The great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands.
The land around Paektu-san near the China border is volcanic in origin and includes a basalt lava plateau with elevations of between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The Hamgyng Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Kwanmo-san at approximately 1,756 meters. Other major ranges include the Nangnim Range, which is located in the north-central part of North Korea and runs in a north-south direction, making communication between the eastern and western parts of the country rather difficult; and the Kangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea-China border. K mgang-san, or Diamond Mountain, (approximately 1,638 meters) in the T'aebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.
For the most part, the plains are small. The most extensive are the P'yongyang and Chaeryng plains, each covering about 500 square kilometers. Because the mountains on the east coast drop abruptly to the sea, the plains are even smaller there than on the west coast.
The mountain ranges in the northern and eastern parts of North Korea form the watershed for most of its rivers, which run in a westerly direction and empty into the Yellow Sea (Korea Bay). The longest is the Yalu River, which is navigable for 678 of its 790 kilometers. The Tumen River, one of the few major rivers to flow into the Sea of Japan, is the second longest at 521 kilometers but is navigable for only 85 kilometers because of the mountainous topography. The third longest river, the Taedong River, flows through P'yongyang and is navigable for 245 of its 397 kilometers. Lakes tend to be small because of the lack of glacial activity and the stability of the earth's crust in the region. Unlike neighboring Japan or northern China, North Korea experiences few severe earthquakes. The country is well-endowed with spas and hot springs, which number 124 according to one North Korean source.
Located between 38 and 43 north latitude, North Korea has a continental climate with four distinct seasons. Long winters bring bitterly cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in January are -3° C and -13° C. Average snowfall is thirty-seven days during the winter. The weather is likely to be particularly harsh in the northern, mountainous regions. Summer tends to be short, hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in August are 29° C and 20° C. On average, approximately 60 percent of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Typhoons affect the peninsula on an average of at least once every summer. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds and bring the most pleasant weather.
Lack of information makes it difficult to assess the extent to which industrialization and urbanization have damaged North Korea's natural environment. Using generally obsolete technology transferred from the former Soviet Union and China, the country embarked on a program of ambitious industrialization after the Korean War. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which had similar industrial policies, had some of the world's worst air, water, and soil pollution in the early 1990s.
The April 1986 passage of an environment protection law by the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's national legislature, suggested that North Korea might also have serious pollution problems. Speaking about the bill, Vice President Yi Chong-ok claimed that "big successes" had been accomplished in this field in the past, and that "visitors to the DPRK can easily confirm that pollution has not reached there the levels experienced in other countries." Although Yi described the law as a preventive rather than a curative measure, a German publication noted that the attendance of representatives from the cities of Namp'o, Hamhng, and Ch'ngjin at preliminary discussions of the bill suggested that these localities might have more serious pollution problems than other North Korean cities.
Air pollution is moderated by the extensive reliance on electricity rather than on fossil fuels, both for industry and the heating of urban residences. Air pollution is further limited by the absence of private automobiles and restrictions on using gasoline-powered vehicles because of the critical shortage of oil. The extent of water pollution is unknown, but it did not seem to be a serious problem in the P'yongyang area as of early 1993.
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