Official name: Republic of Korea
Area: 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Chiri-san (1,915 meters/6,283 feet)
Highest point in territory: Halla-san (1,950 meters/6,398 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 9 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 642 kilometers (399 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest; 436 kilometers (271 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest
Land boundaries: North Korea 238 kilometers (148 miles)
Coastline: 2,413 kilometers (1,508 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
South Korea is located in eastern Asia on the southern half of the Korean h2ninsula, bordering the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. The country shares a border with North Korea. With an area of about 98,480 square kilometers (38,023 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Indiana. South Korea is divided into nine provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
South Korea has no outside territories or dependencies.
South Korea has a continental climate, with hot, rainy summers and cold winters. Temperatures range from 22°C to 29°C (71°F to 83°F) in the summers and from -7°C to 1°C (19°F to 33°F) in the winter months, with warmer winter temperatures along the southern coast and cooler temperatures in the interior.
Annual rainfall averages between 100 and 150 centimeters (40 and 50 inches), but many areas experience less rainfall. Rainfall is greatest in the south and in inland mountainous regions. The coastal areas receive the least rainfall.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
South Korea (the Republic of Korea) occupies the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. Elongated and irregular in shape, the peninsula separates the Sea of Japan from the Yellow Sea. These seas are known in Korea as the Eastern Sea and the Western Sea, respectively. South Korea is situated on the Eurasian Tec-tonic Plate.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The Yellow Sea lies to the west of South Korea. It is relatively shallow and has an extremely large tidal range. At low tide, large mud flats are exposed. The East China Sea lies to the southwest. The Sea of Japan forms the open body of water to the northeast of South Korea. The waters of the Sea of Japan are deep and the tidal range is small. All of these seas are extensions of the Pacific Ocean.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Korea Strait separates South Korea from Japan and connects the East China Sea with the Sea of Japan. Around the western coast near Seoul, the tiny Asan Bay reaches into the mainland. This part of the coastline is part of the larger Kyonggi Bay shared with North Korea.
Islands and Archipelagos
Cheju-do, an island, is located off the southwest coast of Korea, in the western end of the Korea Strait. It was formed from a volcanic eruption and features unusual lava formations on the coast near the city of Cheju. Directly east of South Korea in the Sea of Japan is Ul-lung-do (Ullung Island).
The southeast coastline may be divided in two sections at the Naktong River mouth near Pusan. To the north of this point, the coast is relatively smooth, consisting of alternating bays and headlands (points of land that are usually high with a sheer drop). There are only a few offshore islands and bays in this area; the major inlet is Yongil Bay, enclosed within Cape Changgi.
To the west of the Naktong River mouth, the coast becomes much more complex. The central and western regions of the southern coastline, where the various arms of the Sobaek Mountains reach the sea, feature a number of basins that create an intricate coastline of extensive, highly irregular peninsulas, including the Kohung and Haenam Peninsulas. These are flanked by abruptly rising islands. At times, the peninsulas almost enclose equally irregular bays that deeply penetrate the mainland.
6 INLAND LAKES
Near Ch'unch'on in the north are three artificial lakes: Uiam, Ch'unch'on, and Soyang. The lakes are connected by rivers and give the city its nickname: "City of Lakes."
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
South Korea has four major rivers: the Han River and the Kum River, which flow west to the Yellow Sea; and the Naktong River and the Somjin River, which flow south to the Korea Strait. In addition, the Yongsan and Tongjin Rivers water South Korea's main rice-growing areas.
Because of their very low gradients, the rivers to the west of the T'aebaek Mountains watershed historically have been used for transportation. These west-flowing rivers have built up extensive plains at their outlets to the sea. River navigation has declined in importance in modern times, however, with the introduction of new means of transportation, the diversion of water for irrigation, and the construction of dams.
River flow is highly seasonal, with the heaviest flows occurring in the summer months. Floods are common in the basins associated with the major river systems, particularly in estuary areas along the western coast. During much of the year, however, the rivers are shallow, exposing very wide, gravelly river-beds. The Naktong River Basin in the southeast is a complex of structural basins and river floodplains separated from one another by low hills. The Naktong River is the longest river in South Korea, extending about 521 kilometers (324 miles). It forms a wide delta where it reaches the sea, a few miles west of Pusan, South Korea's major port.
There are no desert regions in South Korea.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
In the southern coastal regions inland from the coast, the plains, although small in some areas, are fertile and agriculturally productive. The center of bamboo cultivation is in the west-central region, near Chinan.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
While the Korean peninsula is very rugged and mountainous, the land elevations in South Korea are generally lower than those found in North Korea. The T'aebaek Mountain Range in South Korea runs northeast to southwest along the Sea of Japan. Dividing the country into east and west is the Sobaek Mountain Range, running generally from northeast to southwest. Throughout history, these mountains have prevented easy travel and interaction between the regions. The highest peak on the South Korean mainland is Chiri-san—at 1,915 meters (6,283 feet)—located in the south-central part of the country at the southern end of the Sobaek Mountains range. The country's highest peak, Halla-san, is a volcanic mountain which rises to 1,950 meters (6,398 feet), and lies on Cheju-do (Cheju Island), off the southern tip of the country, with a small crater lake at its summit.
West of Ch'ongju lies Maisan (Horse Ears Mountain), a two-peaked mountain that resembles the ears of a horse. Hills separate the Sobaek mountain range from the coastal plains in the south.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
In the central and south mountain regions, limestone caves with dramatic stalagmites and stalactites may be found. One of the most famous is Kosudonggul, known as the "Underground Palace."
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
There are no major plateau regions in South Korea.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Uiam Dam, built just below the junction of the Bukhan and Soyang Rivers near Ch'unch'on, created the artificial reservoir known as Lake Uiam. The largest sand gravel dam in Asia created another large reservoir, Lake Soyang. Lake Ch'unch'on was created by the Ch'unch'on Dam, also located on the Bukhan River.
14 FURTHER READING
Breen, Michael. The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies . New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
Savada, Andrea Matles, and William Shaw, eds. South Korea: A Country Study . Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1992.
Shepheard, Patricia. South Korea. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Williams, Jean K. South Korea. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1999.
Neufeld, Ann Nichole. "Korean Demilitarized Zone as a Bioreserve." ICE Case Studies. American University: Inventory of Conflict and Environment Program. http://www.american.edu/TED/ice/dmz.htm (accessed April 24, 2003).