Location: Eastern Asia, southern half of the Korean Peninsula
bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea
Geographic coordinates: 37 00 N, 127 30 E
Map references: Asia
total: 98,480 sq km
land: 98,190 sq km
water: 290 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly larger than Indiana
total: 238 km
border countries: North Korea 238 km
Coastline: 2,413 km
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: not specified
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the Korea
Climate: temperate, with rainfall heavier in summer than
Terrain: mostly hills and mountains; wide coastal plains
in west and south
lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Halla-san 1,950 m
Natural resources: coal, tungsten, graphite, molybdenum,
lead, hydropower potential
arable land: 19%
permanent crops: 2%
permanent pastures: 1%
forests and woodland: 65%
other: 13% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 13,350 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: occasional typhoons bring high winds and
floods; low-level seismic activity common in southwest
Environment - current issues: air pollution in large cities;
water pollution from the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents;
drift net fishing
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty,
Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species,
Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine
Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution,
Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
The Republic of Korea shares the Korean Peninsula with North Korea
(the People's Republic of Korea) to the North. South Korea occupies
99,237 square kilometers, about 45 percent of the whole of Korea
and is slightly larger than Hungary, but a little smaller than Iceland
in comparison. Its neighbors are China to the West, Japan to the
East and Russia to the North.
The peninsula extends southward from eastern Manchuria and Siberia
and well into Kyushu, Japan's major southern island. The northern
border of the peninsula extends along the boundary of China (Manchuria)
and touches Russia to the east, just 75 miles away from Vladivostok,
Russia's major eastern port city. The northern border is mainly
formed by two large rivers - the Amnokkang that flows westward into
the Yellow Sea; the Tumangang that flows into the East Sea.
About 70% of Korea is mountainous, mainly to the north and east,
causing a great variation in rainfall and temperature between winter
and summer. Only 22% of the land can be farmed because of its mountainous
being. Korea has four obvious distinct seasons: a wet monsoon/summer
in the middle of the year; a very cold winter towards the end of
the year (November to March). The warmest and wettest place in the
country is Cheju-do, off the south coast.
Korea was exploitatively logged and mined during the Japanese reign.
However, Korea has now reforested a large area of its country. The
northern Korea is now covered with alpine, where you can find beech,
fir and pine trees in abundance and it is the only part of the country
where you are able to see black bears and deer. Trailing down the
south coast, everything gets more tropical and vegetation is of
prime activity. This is where ginseng supplies (for Korea and outside
world) come from. Korea is also surrounded with 20 national parks,
namely Soraksan (the most popular one to date), Hallasan and Chirisan
The peninsula is located mid-latitude in the nothern hemisphere
and lies in the transitional zone between continental and subtropical
maritime climates. It has four distinct seasons.
The north to south geography of the peninsula produces climatic
differences aling its length. In the south, spring and summer are
normally longer, while the north, autumn and winter are longer.
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 the north. 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.
Thereafter, South Korea achieved amazing economic growth, with per
capita output rising to 13 times the level in the North. Since late
1997, however, the nation has suffered widespread financial and
organizational difficulties. Continuing tensions between North and
South have raised concerns of provocative military actions by the
Following World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half
of the Korean Peninsula while a communist government was installed
in the north.
Between 1950 and 1953, US and other UN forces intervened to defend
South Korea from North Korean attacks supported by the Chinese;
an armistice was signed in 1953.
Thereafter, South Korea achieved amazing economic growth, with per
capita income rising to 13 times the level of North Korea. In 1997,
the nation suffered a severe financial crisis from which it continues
to make a solid recovery.
South Korea has also maintained its commitment to democratize its
Location and Size: Strategic location in waters
of the Sea of Japan, Korea Strait, and Yellow Sea. Total land area
of Korean Peninsula, including islands, 220,847 square kilometers;
approximately 98,477 square kilometers (44.6 percent) constitutes
territory of South Korea.
Land Boundary: 238 kilometers with North Korea.
Disputes: Demarcation Line with North Korea; Liancourt
Rocks claimed by Japan.
Topography and Drainage: Approximately 70 percent
of land area mountains and uplands. Principal ranges--T'aebaek and
Sobaek range and Chiri Massif. Tallest mountain--Mount Halla at
1,950 meters, a volcanic cone located on Cheju Island. Longest rivers--Naktong
River, 521 kilometers; Han River, which flows through Seoul, 514
kilometers; and Kom River, 401 kilometers.
Climate: Long, cold, dry winters; short, hot,
humid summers with late monsoon rains, flooding. Seoul's January
mean temperature -5° C to -2.5° C; July, 22.5° C to
25° C. Cheju Island warmer, milder weather than other parts
of South Korea. Annual rainfall varies from year to year but usually
averages more than 100 centimeters; two-thirds of precipitation
falls between June and September. Droughts, particularly in southwest;
approximately one every eight years.
Data as of June 1990
Land Area and Borders
The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward
from the northeast part of the Asian continental landmass. The Japanese
islands of Honshu and Kyushu are located some 200 kilometers to
the southeast across the Korea Strait; the Shandong Peninsula of
China lies 190 kilometers to the west. The west coast of the peninsula
is bordered by the Korea Bay to the north and the Yellow Sea to
the south; the east coast is bordered by the Sea of Japan (known
in Korea as the East Sea). The 8,640- kilometer coastline is highly
indented. Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the peninsula. Most
of them are found along the south and west coasts.
The northern land border of the Korean Peninsula is formed by the
Yalu and Tumen rivers, which separate Korea from the provinces of
Jilin and Liaoning in China. The original border between the two
Korean states was the thirty-eighth parallel of atitude. After the
Korean War, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ--
) formed the boundary between the two. The DMZ is a heavily guarded,
4,000-meter-wide strip of land that runs along the line of cease-fire,
Line , from the east to the west coasts for a distance of 241
kilometers (238 kilometers of that line form the land boundary with
The total land area of the peninsula, including the islands, is
220,847 square kilometers. Some 44.6 percent (98,477 square kilometers)
of this total, excluding the area within the DMZ, constitutes the
territory of the Republic of Korea. The combined territories of
North Korea and South Korea are about the same size as the state
of Minnesota. South Korea alone is about the size of Portugal or
Hungary, and is slightly larger than the state of Indiana.
The largest island, Cheju, lies off the southwest corner of the
peninsula and has a land area of 1,825 square kilometers. Other
important islands include Ullung in the Sea of Japan and Kanghwa
Island at the mouth of the Han River. Although the eastern coastline
of South Korea is generally unindented, the southern and western
coasts are jagged and irregular. The difference is caused by the
fact that the eastern coast is gradually rising, while the southern
and western coasts are subsiding.
Lacking formidable land or sea barriers along its borders and occupying
a central position among East Asian nations, the Korean Peninsula
has served as a cultural bridge between the mainland and the Japanese
archipelago. Korea contributed greatly to the development of Japan
by transmitting both Indian Buddhist and Chinese Confucian culture,
art, and religion. At the same time, Korea's exposed geographical
position left it vulnerable to invasion by its stronger neighbors.
When, in the late nineteenth century, British statesman Lord George
Curzon described Korea as a "sort of political Tom Tiddler's ground
between China, Russia, and Japan," he was describing a situation
that had prevailed for several millennia, as would be tragically
apparent during the twentieth century.
Data as of June 1990
Topography and Drainage
Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the land resembled
"a sea in a heavy gale" because of the large number of successive
mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. The tallest mountains
are in North Korea. The tallest mountain in South Korea is Mount
Halla (1,950 meters), which is the cone of a volcanic formation
constituting Cheju Island. There are three major mountain ranges
within South Korea: the T'aebaek, and Sobaek ranges, and the Chiri
Unlike Japan or the northern provinces of China, the Korean Peninsula
is geologically stable. There are no active volcanoes and there
have been no strong earthquakes. Historical records, however, describe
volcanic activity on Mount Halla during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392
Over the centuries, Korea's inhabitants have cut down most of the
ancient Korean forests, with the exception of a few remote, mountainous
areas. The disappearance of the forests has been a major cause of
soil erosion and flooding. Because of successful reforestation programs
and the declining use of firewood as a source of energy since the
1960s, most of South Korea's hills in the 1980s were amply covered
with foliage. South Korea has no extensive plains; its lowlands
are the product of mountain erosion. Approximately 30 percent of
the area of South Korea consists of lowlands, with the rest consisting
of uplands and mountains. The great majority of the lowland area
lies along the coasts, particularly the west coast, and along the
major rivers. The most important lowlands are the Han River plain
around Seoul, the Pyongt'aek coastal plain southwest of Seoul, the
Kum River basin, the Naktong River basin, and the Yongsan and the
Honam plains in the southwest. A narrow littoral plain extends along
the east coast.
The Naktong is South Korea's longest river (521 kilometers). The
Han River, which flows through Seoul, is 514 kilometers long, and
the Kum River is 401 kilometers long. Other major rivers include
the Imjin, which flows through both North Korea and South Korea
and forms an estuary with the Han River; the Pukhan, a tributary
of the Han that also flows out of North Korea; and the Somjin. The
major rivers flow north to south or east to west and empty into
the Yellow Sea or the Korea Strait. They tend to be broad and shallow
and to have wide seasonal variations in water flow.
News that North Korea was constructing a huge multipurpose dam
at the base of Mount Kumgang (1,638 meters) north of the DMZ caused
considerable consternation in South Korea during the mid1980s .
South Korean authorities feared that once completed, a sudden release
of the dam's waters into the Pukhan River during north-south hostilities
could flood Seoul and paralyze the capital region. During 1987 the
Kumgang-san Dam was a major issue that Seoul sought to raise in
talks with P'yongyang. Though Seoul completed a "Peace Dam" on the
Pukhan River to counteract the potential threat of P'yongyang's
dam project before the 1988 Olympics, the North Korean project apparently
still was in its initial stages of construction in 1990.
Data as of June 1990
Part of the East Asian monsoonal region, South Korea has a temperate
climate with four distinct seasons. The movement of air masses from
the Asian continent exerts greater influence on South Korea's weather
than does air movement from the Pacific Ocean. Winters are usually
long, cold, and dry, whereas summers are short, hot, and humid.
Spring and autumn are pleasant but short in duration. Seoul's mean
temperature in January is -5° C to - 2.5° C; in July the
mean temperature is about 22.5° C to 25° C. Because of its
southern and seagirt location, Cheju Island has warmer and milder
weather than other parts of South Korea. Mean temperatures on Cheju
range from 2.5° C in January to 25° C in July.
The country generally has sufficient rainfall to sustain its agriculture.
Rarely does less than 75 centimeters of rain fall in any given year;
for the most part, rainfall is over 100 centimeters. Amounts of
precipitation, however, can vary from year to year. Serious droughts
occur about once every eight years, especially in the rice-producing
southwestern part of the country. About two-thirds of the annual
precipitation occurs between June and September.
South Korea is less vulnerable to typhoons than Japan, Taiwan,
the east coast of China, or the Philippines. From one to three typhoons
can be expected per year. Typhoons usually pass over South Korea
in late summer, especially in August, and bring torrential rains
. Flooding occasionally causes considerable damage. In September
1984, record floods caused the deaths of 190 people and left 200,000
homeless. This disaster prompted the North Korean government to
make an unprecedented offer of humanitarian aid in the form of rice,
medicine, clothes, and building materials. South Korea accepted
these items and distributed them to flood victims.
Data as of June 1990