Senin, 12 November 2012

Physical Landscapes of Germany



Germany has an area of 137,847 square miles (357,021 square kilometers).  It  stretches  about  520 miles  (840  kilometers) north  to  south,  reaching  from 47  to 55 degrees north  latitude, and 385 miles (620 kilometers) east to west, between 6 and 15 degrees east longitude. The terrain can be divided into three regions that  increase  in  elevation  from  north  to  south.  Each  is  unique  in terms of natural resources and human activities.

Germany has 1,485 miles (2,389 kilometers) of coastline facing the North Sea to the west and Baltic Sea to the east. A break in the coast is created by  the Jutland Peninsula, which predominantly belongs  to Denmark (although the southern half of the peninsula is occupied by the German state of Schleswig-Holstein). The two seas are connected south of the peninsula by the Kiel Canal. Germany has a 12-mile territorial water  limit  and  a  200-mile  exclusive  economic  zone, which represent a mutually agreed upon international standard. Because of the shape of the coastline and the proximity to other countries, however, the actual area claimed is quite small.
The coastline  is generally  low  lying with sandy beaches and marshlands. In the summer, the beaches of both the North and Baltic seas are popular holiday destinations. Shrimp and mussels abound in the mudflats and tidal waters along parts of the coast.
In  some  areas,  marshes  have  been  reclaimed,  similar  to the polder  lands of  the Netherlands. These  areas provide  rich pastureland and a landscape of dairy farms and fields of vegetables. Other low coastal areas contain peat bogs. Peat is primarily made up of moss, which can be spread on lawns and gardens to improve growth, or dried and burned as a fuel. Where peat has been removed, a landscape of shallow ponds is created
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THE NORTH GERMAN PLAIN
South of the Baltic and North sea coastlines  is the  low, gently rolling North German Plain. This almost featureless landscape is part of the huge North European Plain, which extends westward  to  the  Pyrenees  Mountains,  through  the  Netherlands, Belgium,  and  France,  and  eastward  through  Poland, Belarus, and Russia to the Ural Mountains.
Five northward-flowing  rivers  cross  the  plain.  From west to  east,  they  are  the Rhine, Ems, Weser, Elbe,  and Oder. The Rhine is the largest of these rivers. Beginning in Switzerland, it flows through Germany and into the Netherlands, reaching the North Sea at Rotterdam, the world’s busiest seaport. The Ems, a shorter river, reaches the North Sea at Emden. Germany’s largest  fishing port, Bremerhaven,  is  located  at  the mouth of  the Weser. The  larger  city of Bremen  is  farther downstream. The city of Hamburg, with a population of 2 million, is a port near the mouth  of  the  Elbe River. The Oder  forms  the  boundary between Germany and Poland and empties into the Baltic Sea. The mouth of the river is in Poland.
Regions near the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea experience a maritime climate. Winds blowing from the west, having passed  over warm water,  have  a moderating  effect.  Summers average 61°F (16°C) and winter snow lasts for only short periods. Unpleasant weather can occur when winter storms move in  from  the  east,  often  causing  freezing  rain.  This  happens when  cold  air masses  from Siberia  expand  southward during wintertime  and  clash  with moist Atlantic  air  over Germany. Moving  away  from  the North  Sea  to  the  south  and  east,  the climate  becomes  less  maritime  and  more  continental,  with warmer summers and colder winters. The Rhine River usually remains largely ice-free, but the Elbe River often freezes in winter. Most of the lowland area receives between 20 and 30 inches (50 and 75 centimeters) of precipitation per year.
Continental  glaciation,  the  advance  of  huge  ice  masses during  the  ice  age,  has  left  deposits  of  clay,  gravel,  and  sand across  the plain, which  accounts  for  the  soil’s  limited  fertility. The natural vegetation across  the North German Plain would be deciduous  forest; however, most of this woodland has been removed to clear  land for farming during the past 1,000 years. Going  back  into  time,  large  areas  of  Europe were  covered  by dense  forest. One  could  enter  the  forest  in Portugal  and walk through dense  stands of  trees all  the way  to Germany and on into Russia without  ever  leaving  it, but  that  is no  longer possible. Nowadays, here, as throughout the remainder of Germany, most woodlands  are  in  areas  that  are protected or marked by rugged  terrain. The modern  landscape  is  one  of  pasturelands and  grain  crops.  Barley  is  grown  along  the  Baltic Coast,  oats near the North Sea, and rye farther inland. Potatoes are another traditional crop. However, due to modern agricultural methods, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, and improved hybrid strains  that  mature  during  a  shorter  growing  season,  many farmers have changed to corn, which is a more valuable crop.
Grains are grown to feed animals, and herds of sheep or cattle have traditionally grazed among the fields of this landscape. Livestock herding can only be done, however, where the quality of the soil provides sufficient grass and grains upon which the stock can feed. Today, most chickens, pigs, and cattle are raised in  large barns and provided with grain  to eat. They do not go outside to graze. This means that there is no longer a close link between agriculture and soil quality, and farm animals are  less often seen when traveling in the countryside.
When the glaciers retreated around 10,000 years ago, they left  gravel  ridges,  called moraines, which  spread  east  to west across  the  plain.  Examination  of  the main  rivers  on  a map reveals  that although  they generally run south  to north, most turn  sharply  to  either  the  east  or west  as  they  pass  through the valleys between the moraines. Today, these portions of the rivers are connected by  the Mittelland Canal, which runs east to west  across  the North German  Plain.  The  cities  of  Essen, Hanover,  and Berlin  are  on  the  canal. The  sedimentary  rock beneath  the North German Plain holds some natural gas and oil deposits. These are found north of the Mittelland Canal and contribute to Germany’s petrochemical industry.
Along the southern margin of the plain,  loess (windblown silt)  deposits  create  extremely  fertile  soils  that  support  sugar beets,  wheat,  and  corn.  About  a  third  of  Germany’s  land  is suitable  for  raising  crops  and  another  15  percent  is meadow or  pastureland.  The  cities  of  Cologne,  Düsseldorf,  Essen, Hanover,  Leipzig,  and Dresden  dot  the  southern  edge  of  the North German Plain. These  cities provide  access  to  both  the best agricultural  land of  the plain and  the  forest and mineral resources of  the uplands  to  the  south. All of  these cities have populations between 500,000 and one million people, making the  landscape  different  from  either  France  or  Poland, where only one city—Paris and Warsaw, respectively—dominates the urban structure. Fruits, vegetables, and flowers are grown close to these urban markets.
Beneath  the  southern edge of  the North German Plain, a broad east-west band of coal crosses the country. In the west, it is the black, high-quality bituminous variety that can be used to  produce  coke  for  the  production  of  steel.  The  industrial city of Essen, on  the Ruhr River, developed on  this  coalfield. In the east, the coal is the lower grade known as brown lignite. Lignite  is not suitable  for steel production but can be used to provide energy  for  factories and electricity generation. Potash is the other main mineral  found on the North German Plain, particularly near the city of Hanover.
The  largest  city on  the North German Plain has no  rela-tionship  to  the  physical  features  or  natural  resources  of  the area.  Berlin  is  the  seventh-largest  city  in  Europe.  It  is  an artificial  product  of  the  central  governments  of  Prussia  and Germany. The city was established as the capital because of its central location at a time when Germany extended farther east than it does today.


THE CENTRAL UPLANDS
South of  the North German Plain,  the  land becomes  increasingly  rugged  due  to  the  geological  process  of  faulting.  This creates  steep-sided,  flat-topped  hills  that  because  of  erosion have become rounded in appearance. The highest elevations in this zone are found in the Black Forest, in the southwest corner of Germany,  just east of the Upper Rhine, where the hills rise to  4,898  feet  (1,493 meters).  The  Bohemian  Forest  and Ore Mountains on the border with the Czech Republic reach 2,536 feet  (773 meters),  and  the Harz Mountains, which  form  the boundary with  the North German  Plain,  to  the  southeast  of Hanover, reach 3,747 feet (1,142 meters).
The Rhine, Weser, and Elbe rivers flow through the valleys between  these  hills,  sometimes  in  steep-sided  gorges.  South of Bonn,  the Rhine Gorge  is a popular  tourist attraction. The Rhine Valley in the southwest is the warmest part of Germany. The mean summer temperature is 66°F (19°C) and the average January temperature is just above freezing. The Black Forest to the east and the Vosges Mountains in France, to the west, create a  sheltered  environment.  The  valley  sides  are  used  for  vineyards. Early Christian monks from Italy introduced grapes into the Rhine Valley for the production of wine. Vineyards are also found  along  the Moselle,  Saar, Main,  and Neckar  rivers. The valley  floors have  rich alluvial  soils. Wheat, corn,  sugar beets, tobacco, hops, fruits, and specialty vegetables such as asparagus are grown here.
The Central Uplands are not high enough  to be a climate barrier;  however,  rainfall  increases  with  elevation—reaching up to 59 inches (150 centimeters)—and temperatures decline. There is abundant snowfall in the winter, continuing well into March. By 1800,  the  rivers provided waterpower  for  industry and  today  the Central Uplands provide water  for  the cities of the North German Plain.
Much  of  the  Central  Uplands  region  is  forested.  River valleys have alder, willow, and poplar where it is wet, and oak, ash, and elm  in drier  locations. Maple, chestnut, and walnut trees are also found in some areas. In the nineteenth century, the  forests were  cut  to  provide  charcoal  for  the  smelting  of local  iron ores  into metal  goods. The discovery of  coal  as  a power  source moved  this  industry  to  the  nearby  Ruhr Valley  (Essen)  in  the  west,  and  Chemnitz  and Dresden  in  the east. Many areas have now been reforested. The Black Forest and the Jura Mountains are popular tourist destinations, and there  are  numerous  national  and  state  parks,  where  Germans can enjoy their favorite pastime of hiking. The Central Uplands also have small deposits of zinc,  lead, silver, copper, and uranium. Most of the mines have closed because they are no longer profitable.
Farther  south,  the  land  is a  series of plateaus crossed by  the Main and Neckar rivers, both of which flow into the Rhine. The main city on the Neckar River is Stuttgart, while Frankfurt is on the Main River and Nuremberg (Nürnberg) is on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. The Danube River forms the southern boundary of this area. It flows eastward from the Black Forest across southern Germany and into Austria, eventually reaching the Black Sea. A canal has been built to connect the Danube to the Main.

THE ALPINE REGION
The  Bavarian,  or German, Alps  occupy  the  extreme  southern part of Germany. These mountains are a northern extension of the Alpine  system  that  extends  across  portions  of Austria  and Switzerland,  as well  as  into northern  Italy  and  eastern  France. The  Alps  are  high,  folded  mountains  similar  to  the  Rocky Mountains of the United States. Their spectacular terrain is the result of alpine, or mountain, glaciation that scoured a variety of  jagged features. The highest elevation in Germany is Zugspitze, at 9,721 feet (2,963 meters). The Alpine foreland, or foothills, slopes down  to  the  south  bank  of  the  Danube.  The  city  of Munich, (München) with a population of more than one million, is located at the northern end of a pass through the Alps. Precipitation in the Alps can reach 78 inches (198 centimeters) annually, and the rivers of the Alps provide sites for the generation of hydroelectricity.
About  31  percent  of Germany  is  forested. Approximately 45 percent of this forest consists of pine and about 40 percent is beech. Pine is found at higher elevations and on poorer soils. Beech  grows  in well-drained  areas with  a  temperate  climate. Areas  that  have  been  replanted  with  spruce  now  make  up 20 percent  of  the  productive  forest  of  Germany.  Spruce  will grow in colder temperatures and are found on the higher elevations of the Alpine region.
Germany  supports  an  abundance  of  wildlife.  Deer  are found  in  the  forests,  as  are martens  (large weasels), wildcats, and,  in remote areas, wolves. Beaver  live along  the Elbe River, and wild boars are  found  in  the north. Because of  its  central location, a wide variety of birds also are found, including those common to both western and eastern Europe. Laws to protect plants and animals have been passed.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS
Extensive  industrialization  has  contributed  to  significant  air and water pollution in Germany. The burning of brown lignite coal emits  sulfur and other chemicals  into  the air. These pol-lutants combine with water vapor in the air to form acid compounds, and when it rains, it is as if vinegar were being poured onto  the  land. Trees  are  killed  by  this  acid  rain,  and when  it accumulates  in  lakes,  fish and other animals die. The government has undertaken efforts to control and reduce emissions in western Germany and has closed heavily polluting factories in the former East Germany.
Germany’s rivers have been used for the disposal of industrial and municipal wastes and are also polluted by  the heavy volume of  shipping. Water of  the Rhine River  is  so  contaminated that swimming  is prohibited. Although the government has now  imposed  strict  regulations,  considerable damage has already been done to the aquatic life. The cleanup is very expensive, and  it  takes a  long  time  to eliminate contaminants  from the  environment.  Large  volumes  of water  are  extracted  from rivers to be used for cooling, particularly by steel mills, nuclear power plants, and other  industries. Water used as a coolant  is returned  to  the  rivers  at  a  higher  temperature,  endangering aquatic life by what is called heat pollution.
          The  Baltic  Sea  poses  a  special  environmental  problem, because it is almost landlocked. Being nearly enclosed by land, its water is not flushed clean on a regular basis. There are more than  a dozen  countries  that dump pollutants  into  rivers  that flow  into  the  Baltic  Sea.  Germany  has  tried  to  clean  up  the industrial  and municipal  waste  dumped  into  the  sea  by  the former  East Germany,  but  it  needs  the  cooperation  of  other countries  if the Baltic  is to be rejuvenated. Residue from agri-cultural chemicals that flow  into the Baltic are now the major source of pollution.
Open pit mining, particularly of  lignite coal, damages  the landscape  and  releases  toxic  chemicals  into  the  surface  and groundwater. After 1990, about one-third of the mines in East Germany were closed because of environmental concerns. This is a problem of considerable significance also found in the coal mining areas of  the United States. Nuclear power plants provide  some of Germany’s  electricity needs. Two plants  in East Germany were closed  in 1990 due  to  fears  that  they were not safe because of maintenance issues.
As was mentioned, one of the serious environmental issues confronting Germans is acid rain, which has devastated forests throughout much  of  central  and  northern  Europe.  Pollution and  its  causes  do  not  recognize  international  boundaries. Because winds in the region primarily blow from the west, air masses filled with damaging particles travel eastward from the huge  industrial  centers  of  western  Europe.  Once  they  reach central Europe, they release acid rain that destroys vegetation. Germany,  then,  is both a cause and a victim of acid  rain and its devastating effects. Faced with this and other critical issues, countries  of  the  European Union  are  increasingly  improving their  environmental  standards.  Thus, Germany  is  one  of  the leading supporters for the reduction of greenhouse gasses and industrial pollution, which is enormously significant considering the country is Europe’s industrial leader.
Germany  is  relatively  free  of  devastating  environmental hazards. A country’s geographic  location often contributes  to its  potential  harmony with  or  threats  from  the  natural  environment. The biggest problem in terms of financial damage is flooding. Rivers often spill over onto their surrounding flood plains  causing  considerable  damage.  Floods  in  Germany  are mostly  the combination of  two  factors:  seasonal  snowmelt  in the Alps and heavy  rains  that  sometimes occur  in  the  region. They  create  conditions  to  which  northern  Germany’s  low lands  are particularly  vulnerable. Cities  are  located  along  the riverbanks, and often spread out barely above  the water  level, thereby exposing  them  to rising water. The Rhine, which cuts through  a  hilly  area  of western Germany,  often  floods  cities that are located on a narrow floodplain between the river and hill slopes.

From: William R. Horne - Germany, Second Edition

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