Terrain shapes and bedrock
The majority of Austria is occupied by mountain ranges that form part of the Eastern Alps (see Alps). They occupy the entire narrow western part of the country and continue as lower mountains in the wider eastern part. Three east – west mountain ranges, separated by longitudinal valleys, can be distinguished. The Northern Alps extend along the border with Germany and include the Allgäu Alps beginning at Lake Constance, a small part of which belongs to Austria. To the east is further marked the Lechtaler Alps with Parseier Spitze, 3,038 m above sea level, Wettersteinbergen and Karwendelbergen just north of Innsbruck. In a southerly stretch extends the central zone of the Alps, which consists mostly of gneiss, but in a northern belt of gray shrubs.. In the central zone, rounded masses rise as the Ötztal Alps with the top Wildspitze, 3 774 m above sea level, the Zillertal Alps and Hohe Tauern with Grossglockner, 3 798 m above sea level, the highest in the country. The Southern Kalkalps are a narrow zone along the southern border. The Karnian Alps and the Karawanks. Among the larger mountain ranges in eastern Austria are the Lower Tauern, the Hochschwab and, as the foothills of the Eastern Alps, the Wienerwald.
The river network in Austria is dense; to the north and east flow among other things. Lech, Isar and Inn with the Salzach tributary and Enns. They are joined by the Danube that crosses the northern part of Austria and also has tributaries that drain off the southern side of the Alps, for example. Mur and Drau (Drava). Lower areas outside the Alps are to the north and east. A backland of 400–600 meters above sea level. made up of sedimentary rocks, e.g. flysch, is located south of the Danube, north of which is an outlet of the Bohemian massif, where a large number of rock ridges have been separated by faults. A lowland region extends east and south of Vienna. It is covered by fertile loose soil, especially around the river March (see Morava) and in Burgenland. This is a continuation of the Hungarian plain of Kisalföld and here lies Lake Neusiedler.
According to COUNTRYAAH, Austria has a humid, warm-tempered and continental climate. The altitude conditions strongly affect the rainfall and temperature. Strongly different weather and climatic conditions can therefore prevail in relatively close places. The high areas in the west have alpine climates with a permanent snow cover at altitudes above 3,000 m above sea level. In the south-eastern parts of the country, located south of the Alps, during the summer, Mediterranean weather conditions prevail.
Austria can be climatologically divided into three regions: the Alps, the Danube Valley and southeastern Austria. In the Alps, winter sports have much more sun in winter than the valleys, which, due to temperature inversion, can simultaneously have fog and low temperatures for several days at a time. The temperature reversed relationship prevails during the summer. The hot and dry hair dryer occurring up to 40 days a year in some valleys, especially those oriented in the north-south direction, are considered to affect both vegetation and humans. The blowing winds can cause very rapid snow melt in the spring and thus be a triggering factor for snow avalanches. The Danube valley is the driest part of the country and is climatologically similar to southern Germany. In winter, the snow depth is usually low, but the snow can last several weeks during cold winters. Southeastern Austria differs from more northern regions mainly in the summer weather, which can be stable, sunny and warm like the Mediterranean climate. However, there is often unstable weather with showers and thunderstorms.
The annual average temperature is between 4 and 10 °C, in the mountains down to –5 °C. In the lowland and hill areas in the east and north, the average temperature for January is –1 °C to –3 °C and for July 20 °C. The highest measured temperature is 39.7 °C, the lowest –37.4 °C.
The rainfall mainly falls during the summer, but the differences during the year are smaller in the east. The annual precipitation in the east is 600–800 mm, in the west about 1,000 mm and in the mountains up to 2,000 mm.
Plant-and animal life
Three quarters of Austria’s surface is occupied by the Alps, with alpine meadows and traditional livestock operations above the forest boundary, beech and coniferous forests on the slopes – most with forestry, and cultivated valleys. The eastern part of the country, especially in connection with the larger rivers, is flatter with a different plant and animal life. Most watercourses are extensive and with a few exceptions, nature in Austria is strongly characterized by man.
In southwestern Austria lies the huge Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria’s ‘roof’. There are more than 300 peaks over 3,000 m, 342 glaciers and over 500 smaller lakes. The alpine meadows are still characterized by grazing cattle and sheep as well as mowing, and the forests with larch, spruce, pine, silver spruce and cembrata are the subject of a more nature-adapted forestry anchored in the local traditions. The alpine fauna is characterized by typical species of chamois, ibex, alpine marmot, ptarmigan, rock partridge, Alpine accentor, white-winged snowfinch andking eagle. The plants are also characteristic of the Alps with alpine roses (Rhododendrum ferrugineum and R. hirsumtum), gentian (including golden gentiana), edelweiss, anemones (including narcissus anemone, Anemone narcissiflora), Christmas rose, sipple (among others mosippa and alpsippa, Pulsatilla alpina), brown coal, and a specialty – Rudolfs Stenbräcka (Saxifraga rudolphiana) with one of its few occurrences right here. The butterfly fauna is characterized by several more highly alpine species – alpapollo (Parnassius phoebus), gray-yellow hawthorn (Colias phicomone)) and dwarf butterfly (Mellicta asteria).
Lammgam has been successfully reintroduced and there are specially prepared observation points from which to follow the species. Wolf, brown bear and lice were extinct at an early stage due to grazing. Deer are fed during the winter on hunting and forestry grounds and thus do not live under natural conditions.
In eastern Austria lies Lake Neusiedler with the country’s other famous national park, Neusiedler See – Seewinkel. The park borders Fertö-Hanság in Hungary. The Neusiedler See – Seewinkel basically consists of two parts – the shallow Neusiedler Lake with widespread reeds and east of it Seewinkel with shallow salt lakes and associated puffs. Lake Neusiedler houses a rich bird life with species such as greyhound, perch, red-headed duck, white-eyed duck, brown marsh, pipe drum, purple heron, egret, smaller marsh, kittens down, thrush and white-star blue hawk (Luscinia svecica cyanecula).
Seewinkel with a completely different character hosts birds such as white stork, spoon duck, snag, stilt runner, cutting spot, tassel whip, black-legged beach popper and black-headed gull. The protection of the area has a long and at times conflict-filled history – the region is densely populated where vineyards, hunting and fishing still propagate their interests. Through the allocation of the area as a national park and a world heritage site, the chances of preserving this valuable natural area for the future have increased significantly.
To the east of the capital Vienna is one of Austria’s most valuable national parks, the Danube-Auen, established in 1996 after more than ten years of campaign to save the last undeveloped stretch of the Danube from dam. At a distance of 38 km, gallery forests with poplar, elm, oak and ash, old Danube river arms, meadows and flood zones have been set aside as one of Central Europe’s best examples of the “auen landscape”. There are beavers, sea eagles, kingfishers, collar flycatchers, larger Danube water salamander (Triturus dobrogicus), marsh turtle and over fifty different fish species, including the rare Hungarian dog fish (Umbra krameri), which here has its westernmost distribution along the Danube. Together with the lower races of the Czech River Dyje (German Thaya) and Slovak Morava, it has been proposed to establish a world heritage site to strengthen future protection.
Upstream of the Dyje River lies Austria’s smallest national park, Thayatal. Despite its small size, the national park houses half of all the plant species in the country. Along the river one of Austria’s most beautiful river valleys spreads. Along the colder northern slopes with beech, Germanic clay, yew tree and elm you will find plants such as tibast and curly lily. In sunny, warmer conditions, oak and avenue and along the river dominate poplar, al and various species. No less than four different species of snakes thrive within the national park – snook, hazel, snout and squash – the latter with a south-eastern distribution in Europe. Other animals areotters, black stork, mountain owl, white-backed woodpecker and raven. Recently, moose and wildcats have been found.
In the middle of Austria is the Kalkalpen National Park. As the name indicates, the bedrock is dominated by lime, which creates special conditions for flora and fauna. Among forests of fir, spruce, pine and beech prevail. Numerous cave systems create ideal conditions for bats and no less than 20 different species have been identified in the park. Otherwise, the fauna is typical of these medium-high mountains – tar, boar, jerk, king eagle, pigeon hawk, pilgrim falcon, white-backed woodpecker, three-pointed woodpecker, gray woodpecker,nightcrawler, mountain owl, smaller flycatchers, beavers, otters, sea sleepers and apollo butterfly. Lo is seen more and more often. Amphibians and reptiles are represented by yellow-bellied bell frog (Bombina variegata), snook, hazel snake and viper. About ten different orchids grow in the Kalkalpen. guckusko.
Austria has seven national parks as well as several nature parks, landscaped areas and a large number of nature reserves. These areas cover about 28% of the country’s area. The national parks cover a total of about 2,400 km2, which is just under 3% of the area. By far the largest national park is the High Tatra in the Tatra Mountains. The Natura 2000 network includes approximately 220 sites covering 15% of the country’s area (2010). In addition, there are a number of biosphere areas within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programs.