Location: The Republic of Korea occupies the southern half of the
Korean Peninsula on the northeastern corner of the Asian continent.
North Korea lies to the north, and Japan is located to the southeast,
across the Korea Strait.
Size: South Korea occupies nearly 45 percent of the land area of the
Korean Peninsula, or 98,190 square kilometers of land area and 290
square kilometers of water area.
Land Boundaries: The border with North Korea is marked by a
4-kilometer-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), at the center of which
is the Military Demarcation Line. The DMZ extends 238 kilometers
over land and three kilometers over the sea.
Disputed Territory: A long-standing dispute with Japan continues concerning which nation exercises sovereignty over a group of tiny islands located off the east coast of South Korea. The South Korean government refers to these islands as Tokto (or Dokdo), but other sources refer to them variously as the Liancourt Rocks, the Hornet Rocks, or Takeshima (the name the Japanese colonial government used).
Length of Coastline: The total coastline measures 2,413 kilometers. The west coast is on Korea Bay and the Yellow Sea (sometimes referred to as the West Sea). The east coast is on what Koreans call the East Sea but which is recognized by the United Nations and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names as the Sea of Japan.
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Maritime Claims: South Korea claims an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles and a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea. As an extension of the concept of the land-bound Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South and North Korea, the Northern Limit Line serves as a maritime boundary established by the United Nations Command in 1954 to ensure access to islands controlled by South Korea north of the thirty-eighth parallel and to maintain a separation between naval forces.
Topography: Approximately 70 percent of the land area of South Korea is composed of mountains and hills. Low hills in the south and west lead to increasingly higher mountains in the north and east. The T’aebaek (“Spine of Korea”) range runs north-to-south along the east coast, while the other major range, the Sobaek in the southwest of the country, runs northeast-to-southwest. The highest mountain is Mount Hallasan, a volcanic cone located on Cheju Island off the southeastern coast of the peninsula, at 1,950 meters above sea level.
Principal Rivers: South Korea’s longest river is the Naktonggang (the suffix –gang means river in Korean), which is 525 kilometers long. The Han’gang, which runs through Seoul, is 514 kilometers long, and the Kumgang is 401 kilometers long. These rivers are navigable, and they played a major role in the development of port cities like Seoul. Roughly 70 percent of all rice fields in South Korea depend on rivers for irrigation.
Climate: The weather in South Korea is characterized by long, cold, dry winters and short, hot, humid summers that can bring late monsoon rains and flooding. Seoul’s January mean temperature is –3.5° C. July in Seoul averages 25° C. Cheju Island has warmer and milder weather than other parts of South Korea. Annual rainfall varies from year to year but usually averages more than 1,000 millimeters; two-thirds of precipitation falls between June and September. Droughts, particularly in the southwest, occur approximately once every eight years.
Natural Resources: South Korea possesses few mineral resources. There are small deposits of anthracite coal, uranium, tungsten, iron ore, limestone, kaolinite, and graphite. South Korea also has hydropower potential.
Land Use: In 2001 about 17 percent of South Korea’s land was classified as arable, and some 2 percent was planted to permanent crops. The remainder was classified as “other.”
Environmental Factors: With 8.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, air pollution is a serious concern, particularly in major cities, because more than 80 percent of all South Koreans live in urban areas. Although far behind first-place China, South Korea’s much smaller population is the second largest consumer of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. City sewer systems are overtaxed. Other issues include water pollution from sewer discharge and industrial effluents, acid rain, drift net fishing, and wasteful packaging of consumer goods. Transboundary pollution concerns spurred the creation of a joint commission among South Korea, Japan, and China to address environmental problems.
Time Zone: South Korea has one time zone. It is nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.