Carpathians


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Carpathians

(kärpā`thēənz) or

Carpathian Mountains,

Czech, Pol., and Ukr. Karpaty, Rom. Carpaţii, major mountain system of central and E Europe, extending c.930 mi (1,500 km) along the north and east sides of the Danubian plain. The geologically young mountains, which are part of the main European chain, link the Alps with the Balkans. The Carpathians begin in SW Slovakia and extend northeasterly along the Czech–Slovak border to Poland. There the Northern Carpathians, comprising the Beskids and the Tatra, run east along the Polish border, then SE through W Ukraine; in Romania they are continued by the Transylvanian Alps (or Southern Carpathians), which extend SW to the Danube River. The highest peaks are Gerlachovský (8,737 ft/2,663 m) in the Tatra and Moldoveanu in the Transylvanian Alps. The Carpathians are rich in minerals and timber. The region's cold winters and hot summers make it a year-round resort. Although the Carpathians are a barrier to the southward movement of cold air masses, numerous low passes facilitate overland travel between the densely populated areas that flank the system. The Carpathians themselves are sparsely populated, with the greatest number of people found in the larger agricultural valleys to the south.

Carpathians

(kar-pay -th'ee-ănz) See table at mountains, lunar.

Carpathians

 

a mountain system in the eastern part of Central Europe, in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the USSR, and Rumania. The Carpathians stretch 1, 500 km from the Devin Gates west of Bratislava to the Iron Gates on the Danube, forming an arc that protrudes to the northeast and east. The width in the northwest is about 250 km; in the central region (the narrowest) it is about 120 km, and in the southeast as much as 430 km.

Terrain. The Carpathians are a complex system of mountain massifs and ranges arranged in belts and separated by longitudinal and transverse valleys. The mountains are divided into the Western Carpathians, the Eastern Carpathians (a portion of which is formed by the Ukrainian Carpathians), and the Southern Carpathians. The Carpathians also include the Western Rumanian Mountains, which adjoin the Southern Carpathians on the north, and the broad Transylvanian Plateau. The highest point in the Carpathians is Mount Gerlachovka (2, 655 m), and prevailing elevations are 800–1, 200 m. The Transylvanian Plateau lies at an altitude of 600–800 m.

Along the entire outer side of the Carpathian arc there stretches a zone of foothills (40–60 km) composed chiefly of loose Neocene deposits (sandstones, clays, gypsums). The Western Carpathian foothills are dissected by the valleys of the Morava, Oder, and Vistula rivers and their tributaries and by the Oswiecim and Sandomierz basins, the bottoms of which lie at an altitude of 200–300 m. Within the Eastern Carpathians, the foothills are hilly and ridgy in relief, with elevations of 400–500 m. In the south and southeast the relief of the foothills becomes low-mountain, with elevations of 800–1,000 m, and there are areas of clay and salt karst and active mud volcanoes. The entire outer edge of the Carpathians from the Morava River to the Dimbovija River is composed chiefly of flysch. On the northern and eastern slopes this causes a predominance of rounded peaks and gentle slopes. More rugged topography is usually confined to the outcrops of dense sandstone massifs (Gorgany and Biesz-czady). The central zone of the Carpathians is formed by a broken chain of rock massifs composed primarily of crystalline rock (granites and gneisses) and limestones. The highest massifs are the Tatra, the Low Tatra, the Rodnei, Fagara§, Paring, and Retezat (more than 2, 000 m). The crests of the ranges often bear traces of Pleistocene glaciation. Alpine landforms are most evident in the Tatra and Fagara§ massifs. Owing to the rather extensive distribution of limestones and dolomites, many regions of the Carpathians have karst relief, especially in the massifs of the Slovakian Karst, Haghima§, and Anina.

Along the inner side of the Carpathian arc stretches a band of volcanic massifs. In the west their elevation usually does not exceed 1,000 m (Kremnicke Pohofi, Stiavnicke Pohofi, Vihorlat Massif)- Sometimes these massifs have the appearance of table mountains, and in places they form rugged contours. In the east the volcanic mountains increase in altitude, and in the Caliman Massif attain an altitude of 2, 102 m (Mt. Pietros).

The Western Rumanian Mountains (up to 1, 848 m) consist of rugged massifs and karst. Many of the intramontane basins in the Carpathians are of tectonic origin. The Transylvanian Plateau lies between the Southern and Eastern Carpathians and the Western Rumanian Mountains. It is composed predominantly of loose Neocene deposits and in places is covered by loess. The plateau’s terrain is characterized by a complex combination of hilly elevations, flat surfaces, and river valleys. In places along the edges of the plateau there are mud volcanoes.

Because of relatively low elevations, the Carpathians are comparatively easily crossed, particularly in the central portion. The major passes through which railways and highways have been built for the most part lie at elevations of 500–1,000 m (Dukla, Jablonitsa, Predeal).

Geological structure and minerals. The Carpathians are part of the northern branch of the alpide geosynclinal (folded) region. The major portion of the Carpathian arc is composed of thick Cretaceous and Paleogene flysch series that frequently form disrupted folds and sheets tilted toward the Ciscarpathian Fore-deep. A series of tectonic (structural facies) zones have been identified, separated by major overthrusts with amplitudes sometimes exceeding 40 km. The basic fold phases are pre-Neocene and Pliocene. In the Eastern Carpathians there stretches the extensive Maramure§ Massif consisting of several complexes and sheets of crystalline schists and gneisses and of a Mesozoic sedimentary cover. The Southern Carpathians are composed chiefly of ancient crystalline schists and granites with a sedimentary Upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic cover; an overlapping structure is characteristic. The folded flysch region of the Western and part of the Eastern Carpathians is rimmed on the inner side by the narrow Pieniny Cliff Zone—a belt of Jurassic limestone cliffs and tectonic detached masses among the flysch. In the Western Carpathians, behind the cliff zone stretches a band of slightly dislocated Paleogene Podhale flysch, and then there rises the Central Zone of the ancient cores of the Western Carpathians, which has an overlapping structure. The Central Zone consists of numerous crystalline massifs (Tatra, Low Tatra) with a sedimentary cover from the Upper Paleozoic and Mesozoic. The formation of these sediments ended in the Cretaceous period, and there is very little post-Cretaceous folding. In the east, along the major faults, this entire system has subsided and serves as the basement on which the Transcarpathian Interior Trough has developed. This trough extends across the Ukrainian SSR and is composed of a slightly dislocated Neocene series (Burdigalian-Pliocene). To the south the trough adjoins the Pannonian Central Massif, which is buried beneath a thick series of chiefly Neocene deposits from the Hungarian Depression. Along the inner portion of the Carpathian arc, Neocene volcanic rock is widely found (andesites, basalts). On the outer side the Carpathians are rimmed by the Ciscarpathian Foredeep, which is composed of a thick series of Neocene molasses. The foredeep is divided into an interior zone with a flysch base and with a complete series of folded molasses and an external zone with a platform base and only the upper, very slightly dislocated molasses. Along their border stretches a buried folded ridge, which is a continuation of the Swietokrzyskie Mountains in Poland. Regional marginal faults separate the foredeep from the flysch Carpathians and from the platform and also separate the various zones. During the period of sedimentation in the flysch trough, the interior cordilleras margined the facies zones, and during folding they served as resistant blocks and caused the development of regional thrusts.

The chief minerals associated with the Ciscarpathian Fore-deep are oil and gas (also in the Carpathians), ozocerite, and common and potassium salt. In the Carpathians there are various building materials, including marble (Maramure§), and mineral springs of diverse composition. In the Transcarpathian Trough rock salt is mined. There are mercury deposits in Transcarpathia, and the Slovak Ore Mountains contain ore deposits. In Rumania there are deposits of bituminous coal and lignite, iron and manganese ores, and deposits of nonferrous and rare metals (Baia Mare, Mun^ii Metalici).

Climate. The climate of the Carpathians is temperate and transitional from marine to continental. Because of their areal extent and altitude differences, the mean January temperature is from —5° to — 4°C in the north and east and from —3° to — 2°C in the south. On the highest peaks it drops to —9° or — 10°C, and in places even lower. In some intramontane depressions winter temperature inversions have been noted. The mean July temperature in the foothills is 17°-18°C in the north and east and 19°-20°C in the south; in the upper mountain zone it drops to 5°-4°C, and in places lower. The annual precipitation in the foothills varies from 600–800 mm on the outer side of the Eastern and Southern Carpathian arc to 900–1,000 mm in the Western Rumanian Mountains and the Western Carpathians. In the alpine zone, total precipitation increases to 1, 200–1, 400 mm in the south and 1, 800–2, 000 mm in the northeast. Maximum precipitation occurs in the summer. Most precipitation is in the form of rainfall. In the foothills the snow cover may last from two to three months (in some areas forming only sporadically), from five to seven months in the mountains, and in places even longer. In the Carpathians there are no contemporary glaciers or perpetual snow.

Rivers and lakes. The Carpathians form one of Europe’s main divides. The rivers of the Vistula and Oder basins, encompassing a large portion of the northern Carpathian slopes, flow into the Baltic Sea. Most of the Carpathian rivers are part of the Danube Basin; the rivers on the northeastern slopes are in the Dnestr Basin. Annual drainage fluctuates from 50–100 mm in the Carpathian foothills to 800–1,000 mm and more in the alpine areas. The rivers are fed by snow and rain. Their regime is characterized by sharp annual fluctuations in discharge, with the greatest discharge occurring in the spring (owing to the melting of snow) and in the first half of summer (torrential rains). The Carpathian rivers are an important potential source of electric power, and many of them are used for irrigation. The few lakes in the Carpathians are found chiefly in the alpine areas, where they fill the bottoms of ancient cirques.

Types of landscapes. In the Carpathians, landscapes are distributed according to the principles of altitude zonation. In the past the foothills were covered with forest steppe and oak and beech-oak forests, which are now almost completely cut down. In their place are found orchards, vineyards, and arable land. In the mountains the natural landscapes have survived better. The lower zone of the mountains is occupied by oak forests rising to an altitude of 550–600 m in the north and 700–800 m in the south. Above these elevations they are gradually replaced by beech forests extending to an altitude of 1, 100–1, 250 m in the north and 1, 300–1, 350 m in the south. The soil cover consists mainly of mountain-forest brown soils, and rendzinas have developed on the calcareous soils. Beech forests occur most widely in the Southern Carpathians and the Western Rumanian Mountains; elsewhere they are found along the inner side of the mountain arc. Above the beech forests grow mixed forests of beech, fir, and spruce, which are especially well developed along the outer side of the Carpathian arc, where they often descend to the foothills and frequently replace the beech forests. The mixed forests rise to an altitude of 1, 200–1, 300 m in the north and 1, 500–1, 550 m in the south. The upper limit of forest vegetation is formed by coniferous forests, chiefly spruce but sometimes larch and pine. These forests end at an altitude of 1, 500–1, 600 m in the north and 1, 700–1, 800 m in the south. Coniferous forests are best developed in the Eastern Carpathians, usually growing on mountain-forest brown and mountain-podzolic soils. In many places the coniferous forests have been significantly reduced by cutting, and their upper boundary has descended to 100–200 m below the natural tree line. The forests give way to a zone of subalpine shrubs and meadows extending to an altitude of 1, 700–2, 000 m in the north and 2, 100–2, 200 m in the south. This zone is represented primarily by Krummholz, consisting of thickets of dwarf pine, juniper, and alder, interspersed with grassy mountain meadows (balds). Above this region, to an altitude of 2, 300–2, 400 m, lies a zone of alpine meadows and shrubs; it occurs only sporadically, chiefly in the Western and Southern Carpathians, where it alternates with talus and rock. The vegetation is reprnted by formations of alpine grasses and sedges with an admixture of alpine motley grass and by thickets of rhododendron and dwarf willow. Mountain peat-meadow soils predominate. On some peaks rising above 2, 300–2, 400 m there are fragments of a subnival zone, with a predominance of barren or lichen-covered rock.

The animal world is represented for the most part by forest fauna. Squirrels and rabbits are widespread; predators include bears, wolves, lynx, and marten; and ungulates are represented by deer, roe deer, chamois, and wild boar. Birds include caper-caillies, owls, woodpeckers, and cuckoos. An extensive network of preserves and parks has helped to maintain the natural landscapes. These include Babia Gora and Pieniny (Poland), Tatra (Poland and Czechoslovakia), Aggtelek (Hungary), Retezat (Rumania), and Carpathian (USSR).

Population is unevenly distributed. The most heavily populated areas are the foothills and intramontane basins, where field crops, grapes, and fruit are cultivated. The mountains are comparatively sparsely settled, and here the chief occupations are herding and forestry. Among the many resorts in the Carpathians are K’rynica, Zakopane, and Szczawnica in Poland; Biikk-szek and Paradfured in Hungary; Piestany, Sliac, and Tatranska Lomnica in Czechoslovakia; Baille-Herculane, Vatra Dornei, and Sinaia in Rumania; and Truskavets and Morshin in the USSR. Tourism is well developed, as well as mountain climbing and winter sports, primarily in the Tatra, Fagara§, Retezat, and the Ukrainian Carpathians.

REFERENCES

Anuchin, V. A., and A. I. Spiridonov. Zakarpatskaia oblast9. Moscow, 1947.
Armand, D. L. Rumyniia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946.
Vlasova, T. V. Vengriia. Moscow, 1948.
Gerenchuk, K. I., M. M. Koinov, and P. M. Tsys’. Pryrodno-geogra-fichnyi podil Uvivs’kogo ta PodilYkogo ekonomichnikh raioniv. L’vov, 1964.
Lencewicz, S. Fizicheskaia geografiia PoVshi. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from Polish.)
Pecsi, M., and B. Sarfalvi. Vengriia. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from Hungarian.)
Pryroda Ukrains’kykh Karpat. L’vov, 1968.
Fiziko-geograficheskoe raionirovanie Ukrainskoi SSR. Kiev, 1968.
Bulla, B. Magyarorszdg termeszeti fbldrajza. Budapest, 1964.
Kondracki, J. Geografiia fizyczna Polski, 2nd ed. Warsaw, 1967.
Mihailescu, V. Carpapi Sud-Estici de pe teritoriul R. P. Romîne. Bucharest, 1963.

N. N. RYBIN (physical geography) and O. S. VIALOV (geological structure and minerals)

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