Geography of North Korea

Location: Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay (Yellow Sea) and the East Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan), between the People's Republic of China and South Korea.

Geographic coordinates: Template:Coor dm



total:120,540 sq km
land:120,410 sq km
water:130 sq km

Land boundaries and coastline

Land boundaries: total 1,673 km.

Border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 19 km.

The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward from the northeast Asian continental landmass. The 8,460 kilometer coastline of Korea is highly irregular, with North Korea's half of the peninsula having 2,495 kilometers of coastline. Some 3,579 islands lie adjacent to the Korean Peninsula, mostly along the south and west coasts.

Coastline: 2,495 km.

Maritime claims

The government of North Korea claims territorial waters extending twelve nautical miles (22.224 km) from shore. It also claims an exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from shore. In addition, a maritime military boundary that lies fifty nautical miles (92.6 km) offshore in the East Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan) and 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) offshore in the Yellow Sea demarcates the waters and airspace into which foreign ships and planes are prohibited from entering without permission.

Topography and Drainage

The terrain consists mostly of hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east.

Elevation extremes

  • Lowest point: East Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan) 0 m
  • Highest point: Paektusan 2,744 m

Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled a sea in a heavy gale because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. Some 80 percent of North Korea's land area is composed of mountains and uplands, with all of the peninsula's mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters or more located in North Korea. The great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands.

The land around Paektusan near the China border is volcanic in origin and includes a basalt lava plateau with elevations of between 1,400 and 2,000 meters above sea level. The Hamgyŏng Range, located in the extreme northeastern part of the peninsula, has many high peaks including Kwanmosan at approximately 1,756 meters. Other major ranges include the Nangnim Range, which is located in the north-central part of North Korea and runs in a north-south direction, making communication between the eastern and western parts of the country rather difficult; and the Kangnam Range, which runs along the North Korea-China border. Kŭmgangsan, or Diamond Mountain, (approximately 1,638 meters) in the T'aebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.

For the most part, the plains are small. The most extensive are the P'yŏngyang and Chaeryŏng plains, each covering about 500 square kilometers. Because the mountains on the east coast drop abruptly to the sea, the plains are even smaller there than on the west coast.

The mountain ranges in the northern and eastern parts of North Korea form the watershed for most of its rivers, which run in a westerly direction and empty into the Yellow Sea (Korea Bay). The longest is the Yalu River, which is navigable for 678 of its 790 kilometers. The Tumen River, one of the few major rivers to flow into the East Sea of Korea (Sea of Japan), is the second longest at 521 kilometers but is navigable for only 85 kilometers because of the mountainous topography. The third longest river, the Taedong River, flows through P'yongyang and is navigable for 245 of its 397 kilometers. Lakes tend to be small because of the lack of glacial activity and the stability of the earth's crust in the region. Unlike neighboring Japan or northern China, North Korea experiences few severe earthquakes. The country is well-endowed with spas and hot springs, which number 124 according to one North Korean source.


The climate is temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer.

Natural hazards include late spring droughts which often are followed by severe flooding. There are occasional typhoons during the early fall.

Located between 38 and 43 north latitude, North Korea has a continental climate with four distinct seasons. Long winters bring bitterly cold and clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in January are -3 C and -13 C. Average snowfall is thirty-seven days during the winter. The weather is likely to be particularly harsh in the northern, mountainous regions. Summer tends to be short, hot, humid, and rainy because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that bring moist air from the Pacific Ocean. The daily average high and low temperatures for P'yongyang in August are 29 C and 20 C. On average, approximately 60 percent of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Typhoons affect the peninsula on an average of at least once every summer. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons marked by mild temperatures and variable winds and bring the most pleasant weather.

Environmental Protection

Environment - current issues: localized air pollution attributable to inadequate industrial controls; water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water.

Environment - international agreements: party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Environmental Modification, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution; signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Law of the Sea.

Lack of information makes it difficult to assess the extent to which industrialization and urbanization have damaged North Korea's natural environment. Using generally obsolete technology transferred from the former Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the country embarked on a program of ambitious industrialization after the Korean War.

Air pollution is moderated by the extensive reliance on electricity rather than on fossil fuels, both for industry and the heating of urban residences. Air pollution is further limited by the absence of private automobiles and restrictions on using gasoline-powered vehicles because of the critical shortage of oil.

Resources and land use

Natural resources include coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar and hydropower.

Land use

arable land:14%
permanent crops:2%
permanent pastures:0%
forests and woodland:61%

Data: (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 14,600 sq km (1993 est.)


  • Strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia
  • Mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

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