Geography of Estonia

Between 57.3 and 59.5 latitude and 21.5 and 28.1 longitude, Estonia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising east European platform. It borders the Gulf of Finland, between Latvia and Russia. Average elevation reaches only 50m (160 ft.). The climate resembles that of New England, maritime, wet, with moderate winters and cool summers. Oil shale and limestone deposits, along with forests which cover 47% of the land, play key economic roles in this generally resource-poor country. Estonia boasts over 1,500 lakes, numerous bogs, and 3,794 kilometers of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. Tallinn's Muuga port offers one of Europe's finest warm-water harbor facilities.

Estonia's strategic location has precipitated many wars that were fought on its territory between other rival powers at its expense. In 1944, under Soviet occupation, the Jaanilinn and Petseri regions were annexed to Russian SFSR territory. The legal status of these territories, the border question, remains unsettled between Republic of Estonia and Russian Federation, successor of Soviet Union.

Geographic coordinates: coord|59|00|N|26|00|E|type:country)

Geographic features

Estonia is a flat country covering 45,226 square kilometers. It is about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Estonia has a long, shallow coastline (1,393 kilometers) along the Baltic Sea, with 1,520 islands dotting the shore. The two largest islands are Saaremaa (literally, island land), at 2,673 square kilometers, and Hiiumaa, at 989 square kilometers. The two islands are favorite Estonian vacation spots. The country's highest point, Suur Munamägi (Egg Mountain), is in the hilly southeast and reaches 318 meters above sea level. Estonia is covered by about 18000 km² of forest. Arable land amounts to about 9260 km². Meadows cover about 2520 km², and pastureland covers about 1810 km². There are more than 1,400 natural and artificial lakes in Estonia. The largest of them, Lake Peipus (3,555 km²), forms much of the border between Estonia and Russia. Located in central Estonia, Võrtsjärv is the second-largest lake (270 km²). The Narva and Emajõgi are among the most important of the country's many rivers.

A small, recent cluster of meterorite craters, the largest of which is called Kaali are found near Saaremaa, Estonia. It is thought that the impact was witnessed by the Iron Age inhabitants of the area.

Estonia has a temperate climate, with four seasons of near-equal length. Average temperatures range from 16.3 °C on the Baltic islands to 17.1 °C inland in July, the warmest month, and from -3.5 °C on the Baltic islands to -7.6 °C inland in February, the coldest month. Precipitation averages 568 millimeters per year and is heaviest in late summer.

Estonia's land border with Latvia runs 267 kilometers; the Russian border runs 290 kilometers. From 1920 to 1945, Estonia's border with Russia, set by the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, extended beyond the Narva River in the northeast and beyond the town of Pechory (Petseri) in the southeast. This territory, amounting to some 2,300 square kilometers, was incorporated into Russia by Stalin at the end of World War II. Estonia is now disputing that territorial loss.

Environmental issues

One of the most burdensome legacies of the Soviet era is widespread environmental pollution. The worst offender in this regard was the Soviet army. Across military installations covering more than 800 km² of Estonian territory, the army dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of jet fuel into the ground, improperly disposed of toxic chemicals, and discarded outdated explosives and weapons in coastal and inland waters. In the 1990s, during the army's withdrawal from Estonia, extensive damage was done to discarded buildings and equipment. In October 1993, the Estonian Ministry of Environment issued a preliminary report summing up part of the degradation it had surveyed thus far. The report described the worst damage as having been done to Estonia's topsoil and underground water supply by the systematic dumping of jet fuel at six Soviet army air bases. At the air base near Tapa, site of the worst damage, officials estimated that six square kilometers of land were covered by a layer of fuel; 11 square kilometers of underground water were said to be contaminated. The water in the surrounding area was undrinkable. With Danish help, Estonian crews began cleaning up the site, although they estimated the likely cost to be as much as EKR4 million. The Ministry of Environment assigned a monetary cost of more than EKR10 billion to the damage to the country's topsoil and water supply. However, the ministry was able to allocate only EKR5 million in 1993 for cleanup operations.

In a 1992 government report to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, Estonia detailed other major environmental concerns. For instance, for several consecutive years Estonia had led the world in the production of sulfur dioxide per capita. Nearly 75 % of Estonia's air pollution was reported to come from two oil shale-based thermal power stations operating near Narva. The mining of oil shale in northeastern Estonia also left gigantic mounds of limestone dotting the region. Near the town of Sillamäe, site of a former uranium enrichment plant, about 1,200 tons of uranium and about 750 tons of thorium had been dumped into the Gulf of Finland. This was said to have caused severe health problems among area residents. In the coastal town of Paldiski, the removal of waste left by Soviet army nuclear reactors was also a major concern. The combined cost of environmental cleanup at both towns was put at more than EKR3.5 billion.

Natural hazards: flooding occurs frequently in the spring

Environment - current issues: air heavily polluted with sulfur dioxide from oil-shale burning power plants in northeast; contamination of soil and groundwater with petroleum products, chemicals at former Soviet military bases; Estonia has more than 1,400 natural and artificial lakes, the smaller of which in agricultural areas are heavily affected by organic waste; coastal sea water is polluted in many locations. The HBV hydrology transport model has been used to analyze water pollution issues in Estonia's rivers and in the Baltic Sea

Environment - international agreements:
"party to:" Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ship Pollution, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
"signed, but not ratified:" Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Area and boundaries

Area:
"total:" 45,226 km²
"land:" 43,211 km²
"water:" 2,015 km²
"note:" includes 1,520 islands in the Baltic Sea

Land boundaries:
"total:" 633 km
"border countries:" Latvia 339 km, Russia 294 km

Coastline: 3,794 km

Maritime claims:
"exclusive economic zone:" limits fixed in coordination with neighboring states
"territorial sea:" 12 nm

Elevation extremes:
"lowest point:" Baltic Sea 0 m
"highest point:" Suur Munamagi 318 m

Resources and land use

Natural resources: oil shale (kukersite), peat, phosphorite, amber, cambrian blue clay, limestone, dolomite, arable land

Land use:
"arable land:" 25%
"permanent crops:" 0%
"permanent pastures:" 11%
"forests and woodland:" 44%
"other:" 20% (1996 est.)

Irrigated land: 110 km² (1996 est.)

Gallery

References

*loc
*factbook


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