Terrain shapes and bedrock
According to COUNTRYAAH, Spain occupies most of the Pyrenees peninsula. The central part of the country consists of extensive plateaus, the so-called mesetan, with an average height of about 600 m above sea level. The large central plateau country is divided in two parts through the Castilian divide, a long mountain ridge that runs in the east-north-west-southwest to the west and north of Madrid with, among other things. the horstic heights (see horst) Sierra de Gata, Sierra de Gredos and Sierra de Guadarrama. The Northern Mesetan (Old Castilian High Plains) and New Castilian High Plains in the south are large basin formations (see basin) with river courses in the middle and striped mountains on the sides. In the north, the river Duero flows, in the south Tajo and Guadiana, which after passage through Portugal opens into the Atlantic. In the southwest, extensive plains such as La Mancha, a very flat karst area, and Extremadura, which extend into Portugal, are spreading.
The border zones to the plateau area are in many places high and mountainous. In the northwest, the Cantabrian Mountains rise, with the highest peak reaching 2,648 m above sea level. Asturian highlands north therefore fall down to the coast 2,000 m at 15 km. Galicia, Spain’s northwestern part, is lower and has a landscape of hills of granite and a coast with submerged valleys, so-called giant coast. To the northeast, the plateau is terminated by the Iberian mountains and to the south by the Sierra Morena. The bedrock in the western part consists mostly of granite, gneiss, quartzites, sandstones and slates of Paleozoic age (about 245–570 million years old), in the east most of the rocks formed during tertiary.
Two regions in Spain belong to the alpine mountain range formation in Europe and therefore deviate strongly from other parts. It also extends farthest to the south of the Beta Cordillera. Sierra Nevada is included, with the Spanish mainland’s highest peak Mulhacén, 3,478 m asl. North of the mountain range lies the Guadalquivir basin in Andalusia. The Guadalquivir River flows into the Gulf of Cadiz in the Atlantic. In the far north-east there is an equivalent in the Pyrenees with the summit Pico de Aneto, 3,404 m above sea level. South of this, Ebrobäckenet was formed in connection with the rise of the mountain range. The river Ebro flows here to the southeast and flows into the Mediterranean.
Spain lacks larger natural lakes, but many pent-up regulators have been built.
Spain is within the warm-temperate climate zone, but is exposed to both cool, humid air masses from the North Atlantic and dry, warm from North Africa. Climatologically, the country can be divided into three regions of the Pyrenees Peninsula, as well as the Canary Islands (see Canary Islands: Nature).
The coastal regions in the north and west have a maritime embossed climate with strong influence from Atlantic low pressure, especially during winter. The weather is cloudy and rainier than in the rest of Spain and summers are cooler. The average annual temperature is 9 °C in winter and 18 °C in summer. Precipitation falls throughout the year, mainly as rain, with the greatest amounts during the winter season and on the coastal sides of the mountain regions. The annual amounts vary from about 700 mm to about 1,500 mm in western Galicia and the Pyrenees.
The central plateau area has a continental, drier climate with greater temperature variations during the year. The summer is warm and sunny with occasionally dusty and hot winds, resulting in a dehydrated late summer landscape. Winter can sometimes be harsh as cold air flows down from the snow-covered mountains, where mountain climates prevail. Spring and autumn are the rainiest periods of precipitation usually in the form of showers. The annual average temperature is around 4 °C in winter and 24 °C during high summer. The amount of precipitation is between 400 and 600 mm per year.
In the south and east there is a pronounced Mediterranean climate, which means dry and warm summers and precipitation in connection with the winter season’s low-pressure passages. Some areas in southeastern Spain that lie in shelter for the rainy winds have a dry climate, e.g. east of Sierra Nevada, where the rainfall reaches 300 mm per year. The average temperature during the year is around 17 °C in the coastal band. Seville in the Guadalquivir Valley is one of the hottest places in the country with an average July temperature of 25 °C and maximum temperatures approaching 50 °C, while minus degrees can occur in winter. The dry leveech sweeps in from the south over southern Spain during the summer.
Plant-and animal life
Spain exhibits a great wealth of different habitats. The country is dominated by mountains, high plains and a long (7,268 km) coast. In the northwest, the mountains descend directly into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a dramatic coast. The snow-covered Pyrenees border the country to the north and France. The southern and eastern parts of Spain enjoy a pleasant Mediterranean climate. In the hinterland, winters are chilly and summers are hot. The Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic contribute many types of nature unique to Spain.
Picos de Europa in the Cantabrian mountains is Spain’s oldest national park, established as early as 1918. Here you will find a small tribe of brown bears – a waste of a species that was once spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula and is now emerging again. The wolf population is dense and forms an important part of Spain’s total population of more than 2,000 animals. Picos de Europa is also home to Pyrenees gems, deer, wild boar, goose bark and tar.
Further east in the Pyrenees lies the famous Ordesa National Park with Monte Peridido. The mountain massif with mountain peaks exceeding 3,000 m above sea level. and deep valleys, together with the area around French Gavarnie, is one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. An alpine fauna with lambs, masonry creepers, Iberian Capricorns, gems and marmalades has an impact on nature. In the many mountain streams you will find one of Europe’s rarest animals, the bee-beak mouse, with its only resident in the world in the Pyrenees and northwestern parts of the Iberian Peninsula.
In central Spain, with its largest distribution in Extremadura, is one of Europe’s strangest natural habitats – dehesa. With roots in the Middle Ages, a distinctive landscape has been cultivated where trees such as stone oak and cork oak are scattered in an otherwise open meadow landscape. The trees are pruned regularly to optimize the production of acorns, which is an important food for the many pigs that live their lives here all year before becoming the highly prized serrano and ibericos hams. Spain’s famous black bulls also have their home here. In addition to animal production, cork is one of the most important sources of income. Dehesan is an important environment for Iberian emperor eagle, blue cat, black stork and white stork, turtles, blue-collar and wintertime thousands of cranes from northern Europe. Before the summer drought sets in, the dehesan is colored by flowering lavender, rosemary, sword lily, thyme, poppy sunbathing and wild tulips.
One of Spain’s most renowned natural areas is Coto Doñana in Andalucia at the far south. Sand dunes with pine forests alternating with wetlands in the river Gualdaquivir’s delta create ideal conditions for a unique fauna and flora. Wetland birds like flamingos, cattle egret, spoonbill, marbled duck, Ruddy, red-knobbed coot, and purple hen live side by side with wild boar, red deer, fallow deer, the critically endangered Iberian lynx and fövildade dromedaries. Coto Doñana is a classic conservation area – here the international WWF started its operations in 1961 by rescuing 3,000 hectares of the most valuable areas from threatening eucalyptus plantations. This led to the formation of Coto Doñana National Park two years later.
The Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean harbor an interesting nature, where the marine environment is especially valuable. Just south of Mallorca you will find Cabrera National Park, consisting of an archipelago of around 20 smaller islands with dolphins, cascade, gate selection, overwintering genuine sea turtle, Mediterranean lira (Puffinus yelkouan) and yellow-billed lira. The legendary eleonora falcon nestles in the cliff top but arrives from the wintering areas of Madagascar to the Mediterranean region only in the middle of summer. It specializes in autumn-migrating small birds and thus does not finish breeding until September/October.
Despite extensive tourist facilities in the Canary Islands, there is still very valuable nature – spectacular volcanoes, subtropical bay leaf forests, pine forests with blue fin (Fringilla teydea), ravines with rare reptiles and unexplored beaches. In order to preserve a unique fauna and flora, where every fifth species is not found outside the Canary Islands, no less than 40% of the area has been protected. national parks and marine reserves. Famous national parks are Teide (Tenerife), Caldera (La Palma) and Garajonang (Gomera). Together with the Portuguese Azores and Madeira, the Canary Islands is sometimes referred to as the “Galápagos of Europe”.
Spain has 14 national parks (2012) on the mainland and the Balearic Islands, including Ordesa and Aigües Tortes in the Pyrenees and Doñana in Andalusia, as well as Teide and three others in the Canary Islands (see table)
National Parks in Spain (2012)
|Aigüestortes in Estany de Sant Maurici
|Archipiélago de Cabrera
|Caldera de Taburiente
|Marítimo-Terrestre de las Islas Atlantico de Galicia
|Ordesa and Monte Perdido
|Picos de Europa
||Castilla y León, Asturias and Cantabria
|Tablas de Daimiel