The 6th largest continent, 10,360,000 sq km including adjacent islands (1992 est. pop. 512,000,000). It is actually a vast peninsula of the great Eurasian land mass. By convention, it is separated from Asia by the Urals and the Ural River in the east; by the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus in the southeast; and by the Black Sea, the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles in the south. The Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar separate it from Africa. Europe is washed in the north by the Arctic Ocean, and in the west by the Atlantic Ocean, with which the North Sea and the Baltic Sea are connected.
The huge Alpine mountain chain, of which the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Balkans, and the Caucasus are the principal links, traverses the continent from west to east. The highest points are Mt. Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m) in the Caucasus and Mont Blanc (15,771 ft/4,807 m) in the Alps. Europe's lowest point (92 ft/28 m below sea level) is the surface of the Caspian Sea. Between the mountainous Scandinavian peninsula in the north and the Alpine chain in the south lie the Central European Uplands surrounded by the great European plain, stretching from the Atlantic coast of France to the Urals.
A large part of this plain has fertile agricultural soil; in the east and north there are vast steppe, forest, lake, and tundra regions. South of the Alpine chain extend the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas, which are largely mountainous. The Po plain, between the Alps and the Apennines, and the Alföld plain, between the Carpathians and the Alps, are fertile and much-developed regions. Among the chief river systems of Europe are, from east to west, those of the Volga, the Don, the Dnieper, the Danube, the Vistula, the Oder, the Elbe, the Rhine, the Rhône, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Tagus.
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