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North Korea, country in East Asia. It occupies the northern portion of the Korean peninsula, which juts out from the Asian mainland between the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Yellow Sea; North Korea covers about 55 percent of the peninsula’s land area. The country is bordered by China and Russia to the north and by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to the south. The national capital, P’yengyang, is a major industrial and transport centre near the west coast.
North Korea faces South Korea across a demilitarized zone (DMZ) 2.5 miles (4 km) wide that was established by the terms of the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War (1950–53). The DMZ, which runs for about 150 miles (240 km), constitutes the 1953 military cease-fire line and roughly follows latitude 38° N (the 38th parallel) from the mouth of the Han River on the west coast of the Korean peninsula to a little south of the North Korean town of Koseng on the east coast.
Mountains and valleys characterize most of North Korea. The Kaema Highlands in the northeast have an average elevation of 3,300 feet (1,000 metres) above sea level and form the topographic roof of the entire Korean peninsula. Mount Paektu (9,022 feet [2,750 metres]), the highest mountain in North Korea and on the peninsula, rises at the northern edge of this plateau in the Changbaek (Changbai) Mountains along the Sino-Korean border; it is an extinct volcano topped by a large crater lake. The Nangnim Mountains run from north to south through the middle of the country, forming a divide between the eastern and western slopes of the peninsula. The Kangnam and Myohyang ranges and Mounts enjin and Myerak, all structural extensions of the Nangnim Mountains, extend parallel to each other toward the southwest. Large river-valley plains have developed between the western mountains; they merge along the narrow, irregular coastal plain on the west coast. The Hamgyeng Mountains, extending from the Nangnim Mountains to the northeast, form a steep slope between the Kaema Highlands and the East Sea. The T’aebaek Mountains extend from southeastern North Korea into South Korea along the eastern coast; one peak, Mount Kemgang (5,374 feet [1,638 metres]), is renowned for its scenic beauty.
The longest river of North Korea is the Yalu, in Korean called the Amnok. It rises on the southern slope of Mount Paektu and flows southwestward for some 500 miles (800 km) to its mouth on Korea Bay. The Tumen (Tuman) River also begins at Mount Paektu but runs northeastward for about 325 miles (520 km) to the East Sea. There are no large streams along the east coast except for the Tumen River, and all the significant rivers, such as the Yalu, Ch’engch’in, Taedong, Chaeryeng, and Yeseng, drain to the Yellow Sea. The relatively large valley plains of the western rivers are major agricultural regions.
North Korea has a generally cool continental climate. The winter season, from December to March, is long and cold; mean temperatures in January range between about 20 °F (+7 °C) in the south and +10 °F (+23 °C) in the northern interior. The summer, from June to September, is warm, with mean July temperatures above the upper 60s F (about 20 °C) in most places. Accordingly, the annual range of temperatures is large—about 54 °F (30 °C) at P’yengyang and about 77 °F (43 °C) at Chunggang (Chunggangjin), where the lowest temperature in the Korean peninsula, +46.5 °F (+43.6 °C), has been recorded. Because of ocean currents and the mountain ranges bordering the narrow coastal lowlands, winter temperatures on the east coast are some 5 to 7 °F (3 to 4 °C) higher than those of the west coast.
Most of the country receives about 40 inches (1,000 mm) of precipitation annually. The northern inland plateau, however, receives only about 24 inches (610 mm) and the lower reaches of the Taedong River valley 32 inches (810 mm), while the upper Ch’engch’en River area averages between about 48 and 52 inches (1,220 and 1,320 mm) yearly. Some three-fifths of the annual precipitation falls in the four months from June to September; this heavy concentration of rainfall is related to the humid summer monsoon from the Pacific Ocean, which also produces occasional typhoons (tropical cyclones). Only a small portion of the total precipitation occurs in winter, generally as snow; snowfall can be locally heavy, as in the T’aebaek Mountains. There are about 200 frost-free days along the coast but fewer than 120 in the northern Kaema Highlands.
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