Topography and Drainage

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.

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