Geographical and Topographical Features
The Korean Peninsula (lat. 33˚ - 43˚; long. 124˚ - 132˚) lies in the middle of Northeast Asia, flanked by China to its west and Japan to its east. The peninsula is 950km long longitudinally and 540km wide latitudinally. The total area of South Korea is 100,364 km2. Excluding the northern end, which is joined to the Asian continent, the peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides, with flat land and mountains accounting for 30% and 70% of the entire territory, respectively. Mountains over 1,000m above sea level make up only 15% of the mountainous areas, while mountains lower than 500m account for 65%.
The Taebaeksan Mountain Range forms the backbone of the peninsula, with the eastern part of the range rising higher than the western part. Rivers, both small and large, originate from the high mountainous areas in the east and flow toward the West and South Seas, forming plains suitable for grain cultivation.
The climate created by the mountainous areas in the east has an impact on people’s lives. The easterly wind’s passage across the mountainous areas is subject to the Foehn effect, creating a warm and dry wind in the western downwind side of the mountain range. People living in the areas to the east of the high mountains experience considerable inconveniences with regard to transportation, as these areas have undergone very little development compared to the area to the west of the high mountains. However, the slow pace of development has brought at least one advantage to local residents: the natural sceneries have remained unspoilt and many people now choose these areas as travel destinations.
The East Sea has a relatively straight, featureless coastline, and the difference between high and low tide is only 30cm. However, the sea along the coast is generally deeper than 1,000m. According to the result of a sonar measurement carried out by the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration, the deepest part of the East Sea lies in the area north of Ulleungdo Island (2,985m deep). In contrast, the sea along the Yellow Sea is shallow, which has led to the formation of wide tidal flats.
During the summer holiday season, Haeundae Beach in Busan attracts around 1 million visitors per day. Gyeongpodae Beach in Gangneung and Daecheon Beach on the Yellow Sea are also popular holiday destinations during the summer.
In winter, people enjoy skating and skiing across the country. There are many ski slopes in Gangwon-do Province. Winter snowfall in the mountainous areas of Gangwon-do sometimes reaches 50 - 60cm in a day or two. The average daytime temperature in spring and fall is maintained at 15 - 18˚C. In these seasons, the sky is clear and the weather is pleasant and agreeable, encouraging many people to engage in outdoor activities or go on a trip.
Recently, the Korean Peninsula has shown signs of transition to a subtropical climate amid the phenomenon of global warming. In summer, the temperature rises above 35˚C. In spring, azaleas and forsythias bloom earlier than in the past. Over the past 4 -5 years, many new and extraordinary climate-related records have been reported. In December 2010, a cold wave hit the peninsula for 39 days, lasting well into January of the following year. Heavy snowfall hit Donghae and Pohang, breaking a 79-year-old record. In July 2011, the heavy rain concentrated on Seoul and its vicinity was recorded as the heaviest daily rainfall in the meteorological history of the country.
Summer heat waves have become more common, and precipitation patterns are also changing. During the monsoon seasons in the past, rain used to fall nationwide due to the influence of a wet front. Today, torrential downpours, which bring rain to a concentrated area, are often observed. In winter, heavy snow also tends to fall in concentrated regions. Only 10 years ago, it was usual for cold and warm weather to succeed each other on the peninsula every three or four days, but that pattern has almost completely disappeared as well.
The country has adopted a Presidential system in which the President is elected by the direct vote of the people for a five-year term. President Moon Jae-in was sworn in as the 19th president of South Korea on May 10, 2017.
The government is composed of three independent branches: the Executive branch; the Legislative branch composed of 300 four-year term members of the National Assembly; and the Judiciary branch, which includes fourteen six-year term Supreme Court justices. There are seventeen regional local governments and 226 basic local governments. The heads of the local governments and the members of local councils are each elected for a four-year term.
In 1948, the two Koreas established their respective governments. Defined as two different countries under international law, they joined the United Nations simultaneously in September 1991. The Constitution of Republic of Korea, however, regards North Korea as part of the Republic of Korea.