Europe is the sixth largest continent in size and the third largest in population. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south, Asia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the West. Europe is a wealthy continent and is the center of the West and Western Democracy.
Population: 738,199,000 (Source: 2010 United Nations)
Area: 3,930,000 square miles
Bordering Bodies of Water: Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, Bay of Biscay, North Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea.
Highest Point: 1. El’brus in Russia, (5 642 m/18 510 ft); 2. Mont Blanc, France-Italy: 4 807m (15 771 ft).
Largest Lake: Lake Balaton Hungary, largest lake of Central Europe, 592 km2.
Longest Rivers: 1. Volga (3,690 km (2,293 miles), 2. Danube 2850 km (1770 miles).
Languages of Europe: English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Nordic Languages, East European languages.
• Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark);
• The British Isles (the United Kingdom and Ireland);
• Western Europe (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Monaco);
• Southern Europe (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Italy, Malta, San Marino, and Vatican City);
• Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary);
• South-Eastern Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and the European part of Turkey);
• Eastern Europe (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, the European portion of Russia, and by convention the Transcaucasian countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan).
• Alps: Located in south-central Europe, they extend for almost 700 miles from the coastline of southern France (near Monaco) into Switzerland, northern Italy and Austria, then southeast through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the (Dinaric Alps). Ending in Albania on the rugged coastline of the Adriatic Sea.
The highest point is Mont Blanc at 15,771 ft. (4,807 m)
• Apennines: The source of almost all rivers in Italy including the Arno, Tiber, and Volturno, the Apennines Mountains (Ital. Appennino) 830 miles (1,350 km) in length, form the backbone of the country, and run the entire length of the Italian Peninsula, ending on the island of Sicily.
The highest point is Mt. Corno at 9,560 ft. (2,914 m).
• Atlantic Highlands: Formed million of years ago during the Caledonian mountain-building periods as western lands were (forced) or pushed against the Scandinavian Shield. Significant mountain ranges here include the Kjolen in Norway and Sweden, and the Pennines that stretch through the central United Kingdom.
• Balkan Mountains: These mountain extend from Yugoslavia across Bulgaria. Additional ranges run through Albania, Greece and Macedonia. Its most famous mountain is Mt. Olympus, the highest and most awe-inspiring peak in all of Greece. In ancient times it was the mythical home of Zeus, and was declared the first national park in Greece in 1939. It stands at 9,568 ft. (2,918 m).
• Carpathian Mountains: This mountain system located in eastern Europe is the source of the Dniester, Tisza and Vistula Rivers. They form the natural border between Slovakia and southern Poland, and then extend southward through Ukraine and into Romania. There are major subdivisions, and the highest point is Mt. Gerlachovkain in northern Slovakia, standing at 8,711 ft. (2,655 m).
• Caucasus Mountains: Stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, these volcanic mountains have many peaks above 15,000 ft. (4,572 m). The highest point (and the highest point in Europe) is located here; Mt. Elbrus at 18,506 ft. (5,642 m).
• Great Hungarian Plain: Located in southeastern Europe, and surrounded by mountains, the land features several small forests and large patches of grassland. It averages only 100 meters above sea level and often suffers from dry conditions, thus relying on winter snow run-off from the Alps and Carpathian Mountains.
• Kjolen Mountains: This jagged mountain system runs along the border of eastern Norway and western Sweden. The highest point is Mt. Kebnekaise, standing at 6,965 ft. (2,123 m).
• Massif Central: This mountainous plateau of southeastern France is the source of the Allier, Creuse and Loire. It’s about 32,189 sq. miles (85, 001 sq. km) in size, and the highest point is Puy de Sancy at 6,186 ft. (1,885 m).
• Mesata: The central plateau, or Mesata, covers nearly half of the entire country of Spain. This high plateau averages about 2,300 ft. (700 m) in the north, and 2,000 ft. (600 m) in the south. It’s surrounded by a series of mountain ranges including the Cantabrian, Sierra De Gata and Sierra Guadarrama in the north and central, and the Sierra Morena and Sierra Nevada in the south. These mountains separate the Meseta from the Costa Verde, the Ebro valley, the Mediterranean and the valleys of Andalucia.
• North European Plain: The fertile North European Plain slopes to the north-northeast from the Alps, extending to the Baltic Sea, and on into Denmark and southern Finland, Norway and Sweden. It continues east for almost 2,500 miles (4000 km), on into the Russian Federation. The land is largely flat with smaller areas of hills, including the Central Russian Uplands. Farming is prevalent and agricultural communities dot the landscape.
• Pyrenees: These mountains form the natural border between France and Spain and extend for about 270 miles from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. The highest point is Pico de Aneto at 11,168 ft. (3,404 m)
• Scandinavian Shield: An ancient area of rocky earth peppered with granite rock that was literally ground down by receding glacial ice sheets. It’s a rolling area of land covered with thousands of lakes (mostly small), linked by rivers.
• Ural Mountains: The Urals are 1,640 miles (2,640 km) in length and extend from the northern-edge of the Russian Federation down through Kazakhstan. They form a natural border between Asia and Europe. The highest point is Mt. Narodnaya at 6,214 ft. (1,894 m).
• The English Channel (between England and France) is 34km wide and the world’s busiest international seaway.
• The North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland is 36km wide.
• The Strait of Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean (between Spain and Morocco) is 14.3km wide and 300-900m deep.
• The Bosporus (Istanbul, between Asia and Europe) is 704m wide at its narrowest point.
• The Dardanelles in northwestern Turkey are 61km long but 1.2 to 6km wide and 55-82m deep.
• The Strait of Messina is 3.1km wide between mainland Italy and the island of Sicily.
• The Strait of Bonifacio between the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia (Italy) and Corsica (France) is 11km wide.
• The Euripus Strait between mainland Greece and the island of Euboea (150km in length) is only 38 metres wide at its narrowest point!
The climate of Europe varies from subtropical to polar. The Mediterranean climate of the south is dry and warm. The western and northwestern parts have a mild, generally humid climate, influenced by the North Atlantic Drift. In central and eastern Europe the climate is of the humid continental-type with cool summers. In the northeast subarctic and tundra climates are found. All of Europe is subject to the moderating influence of prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean and, consequently, its climates are found at higher latitudes than similar climates on other continents.
Of all of Europe’s advantages, none stand out as much as Europe’s mild and temperate climate. At first glance it would appear to be a harsh and cold climate, due to its northerly position on the globe. The reasons for Europe’s mild climate are due to two factors:
1. Prevailing westerly winds and
2. The North Atlantic Drift ocean current.
Europe’s northerly location places it in the prevailing westerly wind belt. This brings mild maritime air from the Atlantic modifying the winters and summers (Africa’s 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. 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 (This Russia port remains open in the winter, albeit with ice breaker help, despite being located above the Arctic Circle.).