Rivers and Lakes of Western and Southern Europe
Rivers and Lakes of Western Europe. The majority of West European rivers rise in the mountains. In their upper reaches they rush swiftly downwards amidst the rocks in the narrow valleys, forming numerous rapids and waterfalls. Much silt is carried by the swiftly moving water, and the smaller stones are rolled onward from place to place.
Fig. 31. The 'Iron Gates' on the Danube. It is planned to build a hydroelectric power-dam here.
Such rivers are rich in water-power and are especially suitable sites for hydroelectric power-stations. Upon leaving the mountains the currents slow down, depositing silt and sand on (he riverbeds. Owing to the mildness of the West European climate the rivers freeze for only a short period of time in winter; many of them do not freeze at all. During the spring thaw the water-level rises. In summer they swell with the water received from rain and melting glaciers and are never so shallow as the rivers of Eastern Europe. The constancy of the water-level in most of the West European rivers creates favourable conditions for navigation.
Western Europe's longest river is the Danube (2,500 kms.). It rises in a range of low hills in the centre of Western Europe. In its upper reaches it is joined by several rapid tributaries from the Alps, after which it crosses the Central Danubian Plain, where it takes in its largest tributaries. It now cuts through deep canyons between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, rushing past towering cliffs (Fig. 31).
Fig. 32. The middle course of the Rhine. The steep banks are dotted with villages and towns
From its lower reaches the Danube flows calmly across the Lower Danubian Plain, where it takes in a few tributaries from the Carpathians. It broadens and slows down. There appear numerous sandbanks and sand-islets. In winter the Danube in these places is frozen for bout a month and a half. In spring it overflows its banks and floods large areas. In summer it turns shallow, like
many of the rivers of Eastern Europe. It forms a marshy delta at its estuary containing islands that are covered with water during flood-time and, divided into three branches, empties its waters into the Black Sea.
Most of the other large rivers of Western Europe flow northward into the Baltic and North Seas. The Vistula and Oder (Odra) fall into the Baltic Sea, the E1be (Labe) into the North Sea. These rivers freeze for from two to three months in winter and overflow in spring.
Fig. 33. Lake of Geneva at the western foot of the Alps.
The Vistula forms a delta. The Oder and Elbe have mouths broad enough for seagoing vessels to enter.
The Rhine, Western Europe's second longest river, also flows into the North Sea. It rises in the Alps and in its upper course is fed by the melting snow and glaciers of the mountains. Floods occur only in summer, therefore. Its way lies through a beautiful valley amidst low mountains, whose lower stapes are covered with vineyards and orchards (Fig. 32). Here it receives a considerable amount of rainwater and is joined by a number of tributaries on either side. After leaving the mountains it continues across a lowland and, upon falling into the North Sea, divides into several branches forming a delta. The Rhine is high-watered all the year round. It freezes in winter where the current is slower, but not longer than for a month.
The Seine pours its waters into the English Channel. This is a deep though not very long river. It is free of ice in winter, and its level of water is quite constant throughout the year, owing to abundant and regular rains.
Many of the rivers of Western Europe are connected by canals.
There are a number of large lakes at the foot of the Alps, and through them mountain rivers flow. The blue glassy surfaces of the lakes and the surrounding mountains with their rich vegetation are very beautiful and attract many tourists.
Fig. 34. Rivers of Europe
There are numerous resorts along the shores. The largest among these lakes is Lake Geneva
Rivers of Southern Europe. The short rivers of Southern (Mediterranean) Europe are distinguished by the peculiarity of their features. They overflow violently in winter during the rainy season and flood large areas, causing great devastation. Rushing down the mountains, they carry with them great quantities of clay, sand and stones, which they deposit in the lower reaches. During the hot summer these rivers grow shallow, many of them drying up to such an extent that their beds are left waterless. Owing to these variations in their depths, most Mediterranean rivers are unsuitable for navigation and hydroelectric power-stations.
There are many large lakes on the Scandinavian Peninsula. The rivers contain many rapids and are, therefore, rich in water-power.
Five rivers and their tributaries are shown on the diagram. The shaded spots represent the seas these rivers fall into.
Questions and Assignments.
- Compare the Danube and Rhine and point out their differences.
- Which rivers, tributaries included, are depicted on the sketch
- Trace on the outline map of Europe:
a) the basin of the Baltic Sea (the entire area drained by the
rivers on their way to that sea);
b) the basin of the North Sea.
Which of these basins is larger?
4. Mark and name on the outline map the rivers and lakes of
Europe that you have studied (number the lakes and make marginal
notes of their names).