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radial drainage pattern, Lake Ladoga, Lorraine region of France, Caucasus Mountains, Vistula

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Europe is a highly fragmented landmass consisting of a number of large peninsulas, such as the Scandinavian, Iberian, and Italian, as well as smaller ones, such as the Kola, Jutland, and Brittany. It also includes a large number of offshore islands, notably Iceland, the British Isles, Sardinia, Sicily, and Crete (Kríti). Europe has coastlines on arms of the Arctic Ocean and on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, in the north; on the Caspian Sea, in the southeast; on the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, in the south; and on the Atlantic Ocean, in the west. The highest point of the continent is El’brus (5,642 m/18,510 ft), in the Caucasus Mountains in southwestern Russia. The lowest point of Europe is located along the northern shore of the Caspian Sea, 28 m (92 ft) below sea level.


The peninsular nature of the European continent has resulted in a generally radial pattern of drainage, with most streams flowing outward from the core of the continent, often from headwaters that are close together. The longest river of Europe, the Volga, flows primarily in a southerly direction into the Caspian Sea, and the second longest, the Danube, flows west to east before entering the Black Sea. Rivers of central and western Europe include the Rhône and Po, which flow into the Mediterranean Sea, and the Loire, Seine, Rhine, and Elbe, which enter the Atlantic Ocean or the North Sea. The Odra (Oder) and Wisla (Vistula) flow north to the Baltic Sea. The radial drainage pattern lends itself to the interconnection of rivers by canals.

Lakes occur both in mountainous areas, such as in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, and in plains regions, such as in Sweden, Poland, and Finland. Europe’s biggest freshwater lake is Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia.


Although much of Europe lies in the northern latitudes, the relatively warm seas that border the continent give most of central and western Europe a moderate climate, with cool winters and mild summers. The prevailing westerly winds, warmed in part by passing over the North Atlantic Drift ocean current, bring precipitation throughout most of the year. In the Mediterranean climate area—Spain, Italy, and Greece—the summer months are usually hot and dry, with almost all rainfall occurring in winter. From approximately central Poland eastward, the moderating effects of the seas are reduced, and consequently cooler, drier conditions prevail. The northern parts of the continent also have this type of climate. Most of Europe receives 500 to 1,500 mm (20 to 60 in) of precipitation per year.

Mineral Resources

Europe has a wide variety of mineral resources. Coal is found in great quantity in several places in Britain, and the Ruhr district of Germany and Ukraine also have extensive coal beds. In addition, important coal deposits are found in Poland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Spain. Major sources of European iron ore today are the mines at Kiruna in northern Sweden, the Lorraine region of France, and Ukraine. Europe has a number of small petroleum and natural-gas producing areas, but the two major regions are the North Sea (with the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Norway owning most of the rights) and the former Soviet republics, especially Russia. Among the many other mineral deposits of Europe are copper, lead, tin, bauxite, manganese, nickel, gold, silver, potash, clay, gypsum, dolomite, and salt.

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