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Estonia: The land

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Updated: 20.12.2003

Relief and drainage

The Estonian landscape is largely the product of glacial activity; the south is covered with moraine hills, and the central part abounds in elongated hills with flat tops. The northern part of Estonia is characterised by long narrow swells consisting of deposits left by glacial rivers that formed during the melting of ice. Extensive sandy areas mark what was once the glacier's edge. The Estonian relief is thus generally undulating, with small hills and numerous lakes, rivers, and forests lending a mild and picturesque aspect to the scene, particularly in the south.

A street in the picturesque old town of Tallinn

The mean elevation is 164 feet (50 metres) above sea level; only one-tenth of the territory lies at altitudes exceeding 300 feet. In the southeast is the Haanja Upland containing Suur Munamagi, which at 1,043 feet (318 metres) is the highest point in Estonia.

Estonia abounds in rivers, which flow to the Gulfs of Finland and Riga and into Lake Peipus. The longest river is the Parnu (89 miles, or 144 kilometres); other important rivers are the Pedja, Narva, and Kasari. Lakes occupy about 5 percent of the country's territory. The largest lake is Peipus, with a surface area of 1,370 sq mi.

Climate

The temperate and humid climate of Estonia differs sharply from the climates of regions to the east (in Russia) situated at the same latitude. The country lies in the path of air masses brought in by cyclonic winds born in the North Atlantic Ocean that carry warm air in winter and cool air in summer. The northern and western coastal areas tend to be milder, but the eastern and south-eastern regions tend to be continental.

The mean temperature is 17° to 23° F (-7° to -5° C) in January and 61° to 63° F (16° to 17° C) in July. Annual precipitation is 24 to 28 inches (610 to 710 millimetres), which, coupled with negligible evaporation and low relief, leads to water logging. The Estonian climate is generally favourable to agriculture.

Plant and animal life

Mixed forests, with about 90 species of trees and shrubs, cover about two-fifths of Estonia's territory. Most widespread are pine, fir, birch, and aspen; less common are oak, maple, elm, and ash. Meadows occupy a large area, as do marshes and swamps.

About 60 species of mammals live in Estonia. The elk is the largest; roe deer, red deer, and wild pigs also are found. In the deep forests of the northeast, bears and lynx are encountered. Foxes, badgers, otters, rabbits, hare, and - along the riverbanks - mink and nutria (coypu) are fairly common. Among the sea animals, seals and fishes (cod, herring, salmon, eel, plaice, and others) are of commercial importance. Birds are numerous; 295 species have been identified, of which 60 are year-round residents.

Settlement patterns

As in the other Baltic states, Estonia's population is predominantly urban (about 70 percent). Ethnic Estonians make up more than 85 percent of the rural population, while the urban population has a preponderance of non-Estonians. Tallinn and Tartu are the two largest cities.

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