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Latvia, Land and Resources

Lielupe, black storks, Baltic republics, Gauja, Gulf of Riga

Latvia covers an area of about 63,700 sq km (about 24,600 sq mi), of which 2,550 sq km (980 sq mi) is inland water. It is bounded on the north by Estonia and the Gulf of Riga, an inlet of the Baltic Sea; on the east by Russia; on the south by Belarus and Lithuania; and on the west by the Baltic Sea. Like the other Baltic republics, Latvia consists mostly of a low-lying plain. An upland area in the eastern part of the country constitutes the largest expanse of land in the Baltics with an elevation of more than 200 m (660 ft). The landscape of Latvia bears traces of glaciation and includes numerous lakes, streams, marshes, and peat bogs. The relatively unindented coastline extends 530 km (330 mi), with many sandy beaches. The northern half of the coastline faces the Gulf of Riga, a deep inlet of the Baltic Sea that is shielded from the open sea. The gulf juts into the northern portion of Latvia, forming the wide Kurzeme (Courland) Peninsula in the northwest. The largest river is the Daugava (Western Daugava), which is one of the principal rivers of the Baltic drainage area. Originating in Russia, it flows into Belarus and then northwest through Latvia to drain into the Gulf of Riga. The republic’s major hydroelectric power stations are situated on the Daugava. Other major rivers are the Gauja, the Venta, and the Lielupe.

Some 47 percent of Latvia is forested, mainly with pine, spruce, birch, and aspen. Forest cover is most dense in the north. The country’s mixed forests, meadows, and marshes support a number of animal species. Common mammals include elk, deer, wild boar, wolves, and lynx. Seals can be found along the coast. Latvia’s wide variety of birds includes black storks, herons, nightingales, woodpeckers, owls, and partridges.

Natural resources are limited in Latvia. Peat (a compact, high-carbon material used for fuel and mulch) is the most plentiful mineral deposit; peat bogs cover about 10 percent of the total land area, mainly in the eastern portion of the country. There are also deposits of gypsum, a mineral used in construction materials. Amber, a fossil tree resin, is found along the coast.

Latvia’s climate is dominated by air masses from the Atlantic Ocean. In the western part of the country, winters are mild and summers are relatively cool. The east experiences slightly colder winters and warmer summers. Latvia has high levels of humidity and frequently cloudy skies. Annual precipitation averages between 560 and 790 mm (22 and 31 in), with the upland areas receiving the most. Snow covers the ground for two to four months of the year, sometimes longer. Rainfall is heaviest in July and August.

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Article key phrases:

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