Location: Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula
bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and
Geographic coordinates: 40 00 N, 127 00 E
Map references: Asia
total: 120,540 sq km
land: 120,410 sq km
water: 130 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Mississippi
total: 1,673 km
border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia
Coastline: 2,495 km
territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
note: military boundary line 50 nm in the Sea of Japan and
the exclusive economic zone limit in the Yellow Sea where all foreign
vessels and aircraft without permission are banned
Climate: temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer
Terrain: mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow
valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east
lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m
Natural resources: coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite,
magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
arable land: 14%
permanent crops: 2%
permanent pastures: 0%
forests and woodland: 61%
other: 23% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 14,600 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: late spring droughts often followed by
severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall
Environment - current issues: localized air pollution attributable
to inadequate industrial controls; water pollution; inadequate supplies
of potable water
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change,
Environmental Modification, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol,
Law of the Sea
Geography - note: strategic location bordering China, South
Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea shares borders in the
north with China, in the east with the Sea of Japan, in the west
with the Yellow Sea and in the south with the demilitarised zone
(separating it from the Republic of Korea).
Most of the land consists of hills and low mountains and only a
small area is cultivable. Intensive water and soil conservation
programmes, including land reclamation from the sea, are given high
The eastern coast is rocky and steep with mountains rising from
the water and this area contains most of the river waterways.
Korea has a temperate climate with distinct seasonal changes. Early
Spring is sunny but chilly so bring warm coats and under clothes.
In late Spring, light clothing in the day and warm clothing at night
Summer (June to August) is warm in the day but at night, a light
raincoat will do. Autumn has marked variations between day and night
so be prepared. Winter (December to February) has clear skies, not
much snow but is biting cold.
Background: At the end of World War II, the US and the Soviet
Union agreed that US troops would accept the surrender of Japanese
forces south of the 38th parallel and the Soviet Union would do
so in the north.
In 1948, the UN proposed nationwide elections; after P'yongyang's
refusal to allow UN inspectors in the north, elections were held
in the south and the Republic of Korea was established. The Democratic
People's Republic of Korea was established the following month in
Communist North Korean forces invaded South Korea in 1950. US and
other UN forces intervened to defend the South and Chinese forces
intervened on behalf of the North. After a bitter three-year war,
an armistice was signed in 1953, establishing a military demarcation
line near the 38th parallel.
The North's heavy investment in military forces has produced an
army of 1 million troops equipped with thousands of tanks and artillery
pieces. Despite growing economic hardships, North Korea continues
to devote a significant portion of its scarce resources to the military.
Korea is a land in eastern Asia that consists of two states. One
is the Republic of Korea--usually called South Korea. Seoul is its
capital and largest city.
The other is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea--commonly
called North Korea.
Pyongyang is its capital and largest city. North Korea has a Communist
government. South Korea has a government that is strongly anti-Communist.
Following World War II, Korea was split into a northern, communist
half and a southern, Western-oriented half. KIM Chong-il has ruled
North Korea since his father and the country's founder, president
KIM Il-sung, died in 1994.
After decades of mismanagement, the North relies heavily on international
food aid to feed its population, while continuing to expend resources
to maintain an army of over 1 million, the fifth largest in the
North Korea's long-range missile development and research into nuclear
and chemical weapons are of major concern to the international community.
Size: North Korea occupies about 55 percent of
total land area of the Korean Peninsula, or approximately 120,410
square kilometers of land area; it is about the size of the state
of New York or Louisiana.
Topography: Approximately 80 percent of land area
mountain ranges and uplands. All mountains on peninsula over 2,000
meters high are in North Korea.
Climate: Long, cold, dry winters; short, hot,
humid summers. Approximately 60 percent of rainfall falls in June
Data as of June 1993
THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward
from the northeast Asian continental landmass. The main Japanese
islands of Honsh and Ky sh are located some 200 kilometers to the
southeast across the Tsushima Strait, the southeast part of the
Korea Strait; China's Shandong Peninsula lies 190 kilometers to
the west . Japan's Tsushima Island lies between the peninsula's
southeast coast and Ky sh . The Korean Peninsula's west coast is
bordered by the Yellow Sea (or Korea Bay as it is called in North
Korea). The east coast is bordered by the Sea of Japan (known in
Korea as the East Sea; North Korean sources sometimes refer to the
Yellow and Japan seas as the West and East seas of Korea, respectively).
The 8,460 kilometer coastline of Korea is highly irregular, with
North Korea's half of the peninsula having 2,495 kilometers of coastline.
Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, mostly
along the south and west coasts.
Korea's northern land border is formed by the Yalu (or Amnok) and
Tumen rivers, which have their sources in the region around Paektu-san
(Mount Paektu or White Head Mountain), an extinct volcano and Korea's
highest mountain (2,744 meters). The Yalu River flows into the Yellow
Sea, and the Tumen River flows east into the Sea of Japan. The northern
border extends for 1,433 kilometers; 1,416 kilometers are shared
with the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Liaoning, and the remaining
17 kilometers with Russia. Part of the border with China near Paektu-san
has yet to be clearly demarcated.
At the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided along
the thirty-eighth parallel into Soviet and United States occupation
zones. With the signing of an armistice marking the end of the Korean
War in 1953, the border between North Korea and South Korea became
Line , which runs through the middle of the Demilitarized Zone
). This heavily guarded, 4,000-meter-wide strip of land runs east
and west along the line of cease-fire for a distance of 241 kilometers
(238 kilometers of that line form the land boundary with South Korea).
The North Korean government claims territorial waters extending
twelve nautical miles from shore. It also claims an exclusive economic
zone 200 nautical miles from shore. In addition, a maritime military
boundary that lies fifty nautical miles offshore in the Sea of Japan
and 200 nautical miles offshore in the Yellow Sea demarcates the
waters and airspace into which foreign ships and planes are prohibited
from entering without permission.
The total land area of the Korean Peninsula, including islands,
is 220,847 square kilometers, of which 55 percent, or 120,410 square
kilometers, constitutes the territory of North Korea. The combined
territories of North and South Korea are about the same size as
the United Kingdom or the state of Minnesota. North Korea alone
is about the size of the state of New York or Louisiana.
Data as of June 1993
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.
Data as of June 1993
Located between 38 and 43 north latitude, North Korea has a continental
climate with four distinct seasons. Long winters bring bitterly
cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result
of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. The daily
average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in January are
-3° C and -13° C. Average snowfall is thirty-seven days
during the winter. The weather is likely to be particularly harsh
in the northern, mountainous regions. Summer tends to be short,
hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon
winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The daily average
high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in August are 29° C
and 20° C. On average, approximately 60 percent of all precipitation
occurs from June to September. Typhoons affect the peninsula on
an average of at least once every summer. Spring and autumn are
transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds
and bring the most pleasant weather.
Data as of June 1993
Lack of information makes it difficult to assess the extent to
which industrialization and urbanization have damaged North Korea's
natural environment. Using generally obsolete technology transferred
from the former Soviet Union and China, the country embarked on
a program of ambitious industrialization after the Korean War. Poland,
Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which had similar industrial policies,
had some of the world's worst air, water, and soil pollution in
the early 1990s.
The April 1986 passage of an environmental protection law by the
Supreme People's Assembly, the country's national legislature, suggested
that North Korea might also have serious pollution problems. Speaking
about the bill, Vice President Yi Chong-ok claimed that "big successes"
had been accomplished in this field in the past, and that "visitors
to the DPRK can easily confirm that pollution has not reached there
the levels experienced in other countries." Although Yi described
the law as a preventive rather than a curative measure, a German
publication noted that the attendance of representatives from the
cities of Namp'o, Hamhng, and Ch'ngjin at preliminary discussions
of the bill suggested that these localities might have more serious
pollution problems than other North Korean cities.
Air pollution is moderated by the extensive reliance on electricity
rather than on fossil fuels, both for industry and the heating of
urban residences. Air pollution is further limited by the absence
of private automobiles and restrictions on using gasoline-powered
vehicles because of the critical shortage of oil. The extent of
water pollution is unknown, but it did not seem to be a serious
problem in the P'yongyang area as of early 1993.
Data as of June 1993