Europe, conventionally one of the seven continents of the world. Although referred to as a continent, Europe is actually just the western fifth of the Eurasian landmass, which is made up primarily of Asia. Modern geographers generally describe the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, part of the Caspian Sea, and the Caucasus Mountains as forming the main boundary between Europe and Asia. The name Europe is perhaps derived from that of Europa, the daughter of Phoenix in Greek mythology, or possibly from Ereb, a Phoenician word for "sunset." The second smallest continent (Australia is the smallest), Europe has an area of about 10,525,000 sq km (about 4,065,000 sq mi), but it has the second largest population of all the continents, about 728 million (1994 estimate). The northernmost point of the European mainland is Cape Nordkinn, in Norway; the southernmost, Punta de Tarifa, in southern Spain near Gibraltar. From west to east the mainland ranges from Cabo da Roca, in Portugal, to the northeastern slopes of the Urals, in Russia. Europe has long been a center of great cultural and economic achievement. The ancient Greeks and Romans produced major civilizations, famous for their contributions to philosophy, literature, fine art, and government. The Renaissance, which began in the 14th century, was a period of great accomplishment for European artists and architects, and the age of exploration, beginning in the 15th century, included voyages to the far corners of the world by European navigators. European nations, particularly Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain, built large colonial empires, with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. In the 18th century modern forms of industry began to be developed. In the 20th century much of Europe was ravaged by the two world wars. After World War II ended in 1945, the continent was divided into two major political and economic blocs—Communist nations in Eastern Europe and non-Communist countries in Western Europe. Between 1989 and 1991, however, the Eastern bloc broke up. Communist regimes surrendered power in most Eastern European countries. East and West Germany were unified. The Soviet Communist party collapsed, multilateral military and economic ties between Eastern Europe and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were severed, and the USSR itself ceased to exist.
Vegetation 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.
Animal Life At one time Europe was home to large numbers of a wide variety of animals, such as deer, elk, 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 have been greatly reduced in number. Today, deer, elk, 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.
Mineral Resources 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. 31742ebl21vnt2k
Agriculture Farming in Europe is generally of the mixed type, in which a variety of crops and animal products are produced in the same region. The European portion of the former USSR is one of the few large regions where one-product agriculture predominates. The Mediterranean nations maintain a distinctive type of agriculture, dominated by the production of wheat, olives, grapes, and citrus fruit. In most of these countries farming plays a more important role in the national economy than in the northern countries. Throughout much of western Europe dairying and meat production are major activities. To the east, crops become more important. In the nations of the Balkan Peninsula, crops account for some 60 percent of agricultural production, and in Ukraine wheat production overshadows all other agriculture. Europe as a whole is particularly noted for its great output of wheat, barley, oats, rye, corn, potatoes, beans, peas, and sugar beets. Besides dairy and beef cattle, large numbers of pigs, sheep, goats, and poultry are raised by Europeans.
In the late 20th century Europe was self-sufficient in most basic farm products. On most farmland advanced agricultural techniques, including the application of modern machinery and chemical fertilizers, were used, but in parts of southern and southeastern Europe, traditional, relatively inefficient techniques were still dominant. For much of the period when the Communists held power, agriculture in the countries of the Eastern bloc (with the exception of Poland and Yugoslavia) and the USSR was based on large, state-owned farms and state-dominated collectives.
Forestry and Fishing The northern forests, which extend from Norway through northern European Russia, are the main sources of forest products in Europe. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia all have relatively large forestry industries, producing pulpwood, wood for construction, and other products. In southern Europe, both Spain and Portugal produce a variety of cork products from the cork oak. Although all of the coastal European countries engage in some commercial fishing, the industry is especially important in the northern countries, particularly Norway and Denmark. Spain, Russia, Britain, and Poland also are major fishing nations.
Mining The present pattern of population distribution in much of Europe has been influenced by past mining activities, particularly coal mining. Coal mined in such areas as the British Midlands, the Ruhr district of Germany, and Ukraine attracted factories and helped establish the industrial patterns that continue today. Although employment in mining is declining in Europe, largely because of mechanization, several centers are still important. Northeastern England, the Ruhr region, the Silesian area of Poland, and Ukraine are major coal producers. Iron ore is produced in large quantities in northern Sweden, eastern France, and Ukraine. A wide range of other minerals, such as bauxite, copper, manganese, nickel, and potash, are mined in substantial amounts. One of the newest and most important extracting industries in Europe is the production of petroleum and natural gas from offshore fields in the North Sea. These products have been extracted in great quantity for longer periods in the southern part of European Russia, notably in the Volga River region. bn742e1321vnnt