Geography of Korea

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Topographic maps
North Korea
South Korea
Daedongyeojido, a map of Korea

Korea is located on the Korean Peninsula in North-East Asia. To the northwest, the Amnok River (Yalu River) separates Korea from China and to the northeast, the Duman River (Tumen River) separates Korea from China and Russia. The Yellow Sea is to the west, the East China Sea and Korea Strait is to the south, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea) is to the east.[1] Notable islands include Jeju Island (Jejudo), Ulleung Island (Ulleungdo), and Liancourt Rocks.

The southern and western parts of the peninsula have well-developed plains, while the eastern and northern parts are mountainous. The highest mountain in Korea is Mount Paektu or Paektusan (2,744 m or 9,003 ft), through which runs the border with China. The southern extension of Mount Paektu is a highland called Gaema Heights. This highland was mainly raised during the Cenozoic orogeny and partly covered by volcanic matter. To the south of Gaema Gowon, successive high mountains are located along the eastern coast of the peninsula. This mountain range is named Baekdudaegan. Some significant mountains include Mount Sobaek or Sobaeksan (1,439 m or 4,721 ft), Mount Kumgang or Kumgangsan (1,638 m or 5,374 ft), Mount Seorak or Seoraksan (1,708 m or 5,604 ft), Mount Taebaek or Taebaeksan (1,567 m or 5,141 ft), and Mount Jiri or Jirisan (1,915 m or 6,283 ft). There are several lower, secondary mountain ranges whose direction is almost perpendicular to that of Baekdudaegan. They are developed along the tectonic line of Mesozoic orogeny and their directions are basically northwest.

Unlike most ancient mountains on the mainland, many important islands in Korea were formed by volcanic activity in the Cenozoic orogeny. Jeju Island, situated off the southern coast, is a large volcanic island whose main mountain Mount Halla or Hallasan (1,950 m or 6,398 ft) is the highest in South Korea. Ulleung Island is a volcanic island in the Sea of Japan, whose composition is more felsic than Jeju-do. The volcanic islands tend to be younger, the more westward.

Because the mountainous region is mostly on the eastern part of the peninsula, the main rivers tend to flow westwards. Two exceptions are the southward-flowing Nakdong River (Nakdonggang) and Seomjin River (Seomjingang). Important rivers running westward include the Amnok River, the Chongchon River (Chongchongang), the Taedong River (Taedonggang), the Han River (Hangang), the Geum River (Geumgang), and the Yeongsan River (Yeongsangang). These rivers have vast flood plains and provide an ideal environment for wet-rice cultivation.

The southern and southwestern coastlines of Korea form a well-developed ria coastline, known as Dadohae-jin in Korean. Its convoluted coastline provides mild seas, and the resulting calm environment allows for safe navigation, fishing, and seaweed farming. In addition to the complex coastline, the western coast of the Korean Peninsula has an extremely high tidal amplitude (at Incheon, around the middle of the western coast. It can get as high as 9 m or 30 ft). Vast tidal flats have been developing on the south and west coastlines.

Physical geography[edit]

A view of Mount Seorak

Mountains cover 70 percent of Korea and arable plains are generally small and fall between the successive mountain ranges. The peninsula becomes more mountainous towards the north and the east, with the highest mountains (including Baekdu Mountain which stands at 2,744 m or 9,003 ft) found in the north.

The peninsula has 8,460 km (5,260 mi) of coastline, and the south and west coasts are particularly irregular. Most of the 3,579 islands off the peninsula are found along the south and the west coasts.


Heavy snow fell on eastern Korea in February 2011.

The climate of Korea differs dramatically from north to south. The southern regions experience a relatively warm and wet climate similar to that of Japan, affected by warm ocean waters including the East Korea Warm Current. The northern regions experience a colder and to some extent more inland climate, in common with Manchuria. For example, the annual precipitation of the Yalu River valley (600 mm or 24 in) is less than half of that on the south coast (1,500 mm or 59 in).[2] Likewise, there is a 20 °C (36 °F) difference in January temperature between the peninsula's southern and northern tips.

The entire peninsula, however, is affected by similar climactic patterns, including the East Asian monsoon in midsummer and frequent typhoons in autumn. The majority of rainfall takes place during the summer months, with nearly half during the monsoon alone. Winters are cold, with January temperatures typically below freezing outside of Jeju Island. Winter precipitation is minimal, with little snow accumulation outside of mountainous areas.


Surveys of Korean flora have identified more than 3,000 species on the peninsula, of which more than 500 are endemic. The peninsula's floristic provinces are commonly divided between warm-temperate, temperate, and cold-temperate zones. The warm-temperate zone prevails over the southern coast and islands, including Jeju-do. It is largely typified by broad-leaved evergreens.

The temperate zone covers the great majority of the peninsula, away from the southern coast and high mountains. It is dominated by the Korean pine and various broad-leaved deciduous trees. Cold-temperate vegetation is found along the peninsula's northern fringe and in the high mountains, including the upper reaches of Hallasan on Jeju. Evergreens in this area include larch and juniper. Much of this vegetation is shared with Manchuria.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, Korea consists of several ecoregions. The Southern Korea evergreen forests occupy the southernmost portion of the peninsula, as well as the island of Jeju. The Central Korea deciduous forests occupy the more temperate central portion of the peninsula. Manchurian mixed forests occupy the northern lowlands and low hills of the peninsula, and extend north into Manchuria as far as the Amur River on the Russia-China border. The Changbai Mountains mixed forests include the higher elevation mountain region along the North Korea-China border, where forests are dominated by conifers, with alpine meadows and rock slopes on the highest peaks.[3]


Jeju Island seashore

The terrain of Korea is rumpled, covered with low mountains. Most rocks are of Precambrian origin, although isolated pockets of Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic rock can also be found.

There are no active volcanoes on the peninsula. However, Baekdu Mountain in the north and Hallasan in the south have crater lakes, indicating that they were active not long ago. Furthermore, hot springs indicative of low-level volcanic activity are widespread throughout the peninsula. Roughly two earthquakes are recorded per year, but few have any major impact.


  1. ^ Korean Map Archived 2013-07-23 at the Wayback Machine, The People's Korea, 1998.
  2. ^ KOIS 2003, p. 17.
  3. ^ "Changbai mountains mixed forests". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 8 April 2011.

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