Although much of Europe lies in the northern latitudes, the relatively warm seas that border the continent give most of central and western Europe a moderate climate, with cool winters and mild summers. The prevailing westerly winds, warmed in part by passing over the North Atlantic Drift ocean current, bring precipitation throughout most of the year. In the Mediterranean climate area—Spain, Italy, and Greece—the summer months are usually hot and dry, with almost all rainfall occurring in winter. From approximately central Poland eastward, the moderating effects of the seas are reduced, and consequently cooler, drier conditions prevail. The northern parts of the continent also have this type of climate. Most of Europe receives 500 to 1,500 mm (20 to 60 in) of precipitation per year.
Although much of Europe, particularly the west, was originally covered by forest, the vegetation has been transformed by human habitation and the clearing of land. Only in the most northerly mountains and in parts of north central European Russia has the forest cover been relatively unaffected by human activity. On the other hand, a considerable amount of Europe is covered by woodland that has been planted or has reoccupied cleared lands. The largest vegetation zone in Europe, cutting across the middle portion of the continent from the Atlantic to the Urals, is a belt of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees—oak, maple, and elm intermingled with pine and fir. The Arctic coastal regions of northern Europe and the upper slopes of its highest mountains are characterized by tundra vegetation, which consists mostly of lichens, mosses, shrubs, and wild flowers.
The milder, but nevertheless cool temperatures of inland northern Europe create an environment favorable to a continuous cover of coniferous trees, especially spruce and pine, although birch and aspen also occur. Much of the Great European Plain is covered with prairies, areas of relatively tall grasses, and Ukraine is characterized by steppe, a flat and comparatively dry region with short grasses. Lands bordering the Mediterranean are noted for their fruit, especially olives, citrus fruit, figs, apricots, and grapes.
At one time Europe was home to large numbers of a wide variety of animals, such as deer, moose, bison, boar, wolf, and bear. Because humans have occupied or developed so much of Europe, however, many species of animals have either become extinct or been greatly reduced in number. Today, deer, moose, wolf, and bear can be found in the wild state in significant numbers only in northern Scandinavia and Russia and in the Balkan Peninsula. Elsewhere they exist mainly in protected preserves. Reindeer (domesticated caribou) are herded by the Saami of the far north. Chamois and ibex are found in the higher elevations of the Pyrenees and Alps. Europe still has many smaller animals, such as weasel, ferret, hare, rabbit, hedgehog, lemming, fox, and squirrel. The large number of birds indigenous to Europe include eagle, falcon, finch, nightingale, owl, pigeon, sparrow, and thrush. Storks are thought to bring good luck to the houses on which they nest, particularly in the Low Countries, and swans ornament many European rivers and lakes. Scottish, Irish, and Rhine salmon are prized fish here, and in the coastal marine waters are found a large variety of fish, including the commercially important cod, mackerel, herring, and tuna. The Black and Caspian seas contain sturgeon, the source of caviar.
Europe has a wide variety of mineral resources. Coal is found in great quantity in several places in Britain, and the Ruhr district of Germany and Ukraine also have extensive coal beds. In addition, important coal deposits are found in Poland, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, and Spain. Major sources of European iron ore today are the mines at Kiruna in northern Sweden, the Lorraine region of France, and Ukraine. Europe has a number of small petroleum and natural-gas producing areas, but the two major regions are the North Sea (with the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Norway owning most of the rights) and the former Soviet republics, especially Russia. Among the many other mineral deposits of Europe are copper, lead, tin, bauxite, manganese, nickel, gold, silver, potash, clay, gypsum, dolomite, and salt. © "Europe" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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