Europe is the second smallest continent on Earth and extends from Iceland (west) to Russia (east), and from Norway (north) to islands of Greece (south). The most distinctive feature of Europe is the diverse landscape.
While geological changes that occurred over millions of years have enriched the geological and biodiverse system of the continent, the human interaction with nature over the centuries from emigration to vegetation, industrialization, and urbanization has continued to form a contrasting pattern of physiographic regions in Europe. While there are vast areas with no human presence, much of the diversity of the continent is attributed to the socio-economic and cultural affiliations that are distinctive and localized to geographical areas. There are four distinct physiographic regions in Europe: Northwestern Uplands, Alpine System, Central Plateaus, and Northwestern Lowlands.
The Western Uplands or the Northern Highlands stretch from the Scandinavian peninsula to western France. This physiographic region defines the landscape of the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), as well as the northern European countries (Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, England, Finland, France, Spain, and Portugal). The Western Uplands feature some of the most ancient rock formations on Earth occurred through the glaciation as far as 400 million years ago.
The glaciation has formed distinctive features such as high plateaus, rugged mountains, deep valleys, bedrocks, rocky soil, fjords, cirques, lines of moraines, bogs, marshlands, and interminable lakes. In the far northern border, the aurora (midnight sun) is visible for 57 days of the year. The winter that varies every year sets snow from December to April. The rugged landscape along with extreme climate make farming difficult. The agricultural operations are limited to the valleys and meadows. Oats, rye, potatoes, flax, and cattle dominate the agriculture. In the Scottish mountains, wool farming is prominent.
In the English mountains, hydropower plants and coal mining are notable, especially in the highlands of Wales. Created by glaciation and folding, the Alpine System stretches over a massive area of southern Europe about 600 miles, spreading across some of the major countries of Europe: Monaco, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, and Austria. Alpine Region consists of four major areas, namely: Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees, Scandes, and the Carpathians. Geographical features such as slopes, snow pockets, wind-blasted crags, and uneven rock screens are noticeable due to the mountain-formation that occurred about 50 million years ago.
Because of the steep gradient, the rugged mountain range creates different micro-climate zones and rapidly altered life zones. High altitudes of the Alpine System increase the temperature drop, making it relatively colder. The forest composition declines with the elevation and gradually give way to grasslands and scrub-lands. At the rocky summit, the vegetation is limited to only a few number of plant species that are able to tolerate harsh weather conditions. These geographical and climate changes explain why the Alpine system has a rich and a diverse ecosystem. The Alpine claims two-thirds of the plant species exist in Europe and supplies the continent with much of its freshwater resources. In the spring and summer, the major Alpine rivers Rhine and Po play a vital role in supplying freshwater for agricultural development and human consumption. The highest peak – Mont Blanc stands15,781 ft.
in height on the border of France and Italy. The Brenner Pass, the Simpson Pass, the Saint Gotthard Pass, and the Great Saint Bernard Pass have made transportation possible across the rugged mountain range. The glacial deposit belts in the broad valleys of Alps provides rich soil for farming. The highly maintained diversified cultural landscape of the alley is attributed to the agricultural operations. Also, the warm summers and cool, wet winters support the cultivation of seasonal crops such as olives, citrus fruit, figs, apricots, and grapes. Unfortunately, the urbanization, hydroelectricity and agricultural intensification have had a negative impact on the natural environment in the Alpine region giving side effects such as soil erosion, sedimentation, and lower groundwater levels over the last decades. The Central Plateau lies between the Alpine System and the Western Uplands and extends from east to west over western France, Belgium, southern Germany, the Czech Republic, northern Switzerland and Austria.
The Plateau is formed with the rocks that eroded down the hill from the uplands over the past 250 to 300 million years. Compared to the Alpine region, the Central Plateau is lower in altitude and less rugged in texture. The region consists of Spain’s central plateau, the Massif Central and the Vosges in France, the Ardennes of Belgium, Black Forest and the Taunus in Germany, and the Ore and Sudeten in the Czech Republic. The Central Plateau is a heavily wooded mixed forest region populated with beech, oak, maple, elm, pine, and fir trees. Much of the coalfields in Europe sleeps beneath the forest of the Central Plateau.
Therefore, the region is a rich source for raw materials such as wood and coal. The mineral-rich soil and the natural water resources in the Central Plateau attract the farmers and cattle to the area. The agriculture and livestock are prominent in the region. Grains, fruit, vegetables, and livestock are popular farming choices along the Danube River. Located in the heart of the economic powerhouse of Europe, the Central Plateau is home to some of the largest manufacturing sites in Europe. For example, Lyon – the second largest city in France and a major industrial center and Munich of Germany, which is a high-tech industrial city. Brussels of Belgium is world famous for its business centers and Switzerland is known for its finance centers. Vienna of Austria is world famous for its performing and fine arts.
North European Lowlands or North European Plain rise approximately 500 -600 ft. in altitude and extends over Belgium, the Netherlands, southeastern England into northern Germany, Denmark, the southern tip of Sweden, Poland, and the Czech Republic. It was formed during the ice age and sustains ice up to this day in tundra points. The landscape is typically prairies and rolling hills. The flat terrain, moderate climate, average amount of rainfall, abundant fresh water sources, along with one of the most fertile soils in Europe, provide an excellent site for farming. The most popular cultivation is the seasonal mixed crops such as maize, wheat, and rye.
For this reason, the region is called the “wheat belt region”. While there is a plenty of large-scale commercial farming, there are also a lot of small farms and farming villages spread across the Plain. Even though the agricultural operations are dominant in the area, there are also lakes and marshlands and heath due to poor drainage. The navigable rivers such as Rhine, Ems, Weser, Elbe, Oder, and Vistula connect the region encouraging the transportation, communication, trade and cultural affairs among the countries within the region.
In Holland, along the Rhine River, there is a well-structured transportation system. North European Plain is the most densely populated region of Europe. The region also houses the world’s third-largest economy and the “modern great power” – Germany. While most of the countries in the North European Plain have agricultural economies, it is significant that the same region was home to the industrial revolution.
In addition to agriculture and industrialization, the region is also home to thriving finance, education, and other private businesses.