Geography of the Korean Peninsula

Topography, Geology, Climate, and Biodiversity

Pushpin marking on Pyongyang, North Korea map
Tuangtong / Getty Images

The Korean Peninsula is an area located in Eastern Asia. It extends south from the main part of the Asian continent for about 683 miles (1,100 km). As a peninsula, it is surrounded by water on three sides and there are five bodies of water that touch it. These waters include the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea, the Korea Strait, the Cheju Strait and Korea Bay. The Korean Peninsula also covers a total land area of 84,610 miles (219,140 km).

The Korean Peninsula has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times and several ancient dynasties and empires controlled the area. During its early history the Korean Peninsula was occupied by a single country, Korea, but after World War II, it was split into North Korea and South Korea. The largest city on the Korean Peninsula is Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, is another large city on the peninsula.

Most recently the Korean Peninsula has been in the news due to growing conflicts and tensions between North and South Korea. There have been years of hostilities between the two nations but on November 23, 2010, North Korea launched an artillery attack on South Korea. This was the first confirmed direct attack on South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953 (there are also claims that North Korea sunk the South Korean warship the Cheonan in March 2010 but North Korea denies responsibility). As a result of the attack, South Korea responded by deploying fighter jets and firing lasted for a short time over the Yellow Sea. Since then, tensions have remained and South Korea has practiced military drills with the United States.

Topography and Geology of the Korean Peninsula

About 70% of the Korean Peninsula is covered by mountains, although there are some arable lands on the plains between the mountain ranges. These areas are small however so any agriculture is confined to certain areas around the peninsula. The most mountainous regions of the Korean Peninsula are the north and east and the highest mountains are in the northern part. The highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula is Baekdu Mountain at 9,002 feet (2,744 m). This mountain is a volcano and it is located on the border between North Korea and China.

The Korean Peninsula has a total of 5,255 miles (8,458 km) of coastline. The south and west coasts are also very irregular and the peninsula thus also consists of thousands of islands. In total there are about 3,579 islands off the coast of the peninsula.

In terms of its geology, the Korean Peninsula is slightly geologically active with its highest mountain, Baekdu Mountain, having last erupted in 1903. In addition, there are also crater lakes in other mountains, indicating volcanism. There are also hot springs spread throughout the peninsula and small earthquakes are not uncommon.

Climate of the Korean Peninsula

The climate of the Korean Peninsula varies highly based upon location. In the south, it is relatively warm and wet because it is affected by the East Korean Warm Current, whereas the northern parts are usually much colder because more of its weather comes from northern locations like Siberia. The entire peninsula is also affected by the East Asian Monsoon and rain is very common in midsummer, and typhoons are not uncommon in the fall.

The Korean Peninsula's largest cities, Pyongyang and Seoul vary also and Pyongyang is much colder (it is in the north) with an average January low temperature of 13˚F (-11˚C) and the average August high 84˚F (29˚C). The average January low temperature for Seoul is 21˚F (-6˚C) and the average August high temperature is 85˚F (29.5˚C).

Biodiversity of the Korean Peninsula

The Korean Peninsula is considered a biodiverse place with over 3,000 species of plants. Over 500 of these are native only to the peninsula. The distribution of species over the peninsula also varies with location, which is mainly due to the topography and climate throughout it. Thus the different plant regions are divided into zones which are called the warm-temperate, temperate and cold temperate. Most of the peninsula consists of the temperate zone.