The huge Alpine mountain chain, of which the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Balkans, and the Caucasus are the principal links, traverses the continent from west to east. The highest points are Mt. Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m) in the Caucasus and Mont Blanc (15,771 ft/4,807 m) in the Alps. Europe's lowest point (92 ft/28 m below sea level) is the surface of the Caspian Sea. Between the mountainous Scandinavian peninsula in the north and the Alpine chain in the south lie the Central European Uplands surrounded by the great European plain, stretching from the Atlantic coast of France to the Urals.
A large part of this plain (which is interrupted by minor mountain groups and hills) has fertile agricultural soil; in the east and north there are vast steppe, forest, lake, and tundra regions. South of the Alpine chain extend the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas, which are largely mountainous. The Po plain, between the Alps and the Apennines, and the Alföld plain, between the Carpathians and the Alps, are fertile and much-developed regions. Among the chief river systems of Europe are, from east to west, those of the Volga, the Don, the Dnieper, the Danube, the Vistula, the Oder, the Elbe, the Rhine, the Rhône, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Tagus.Climate
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.
Europe can be divided into seven geographic regions: Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark); the British Isles (the United Kingdom and Ireland); W Europe (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Monaco); S Europe (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Italy, Malta, San Marino, and Vatican City); Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary); SE Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and the European part of Turkey); and E Europe (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, the European portion of Russia, and by convention the Transcaucasian countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.