Geography and climate of Abkhazia

Abkhazia is a region in South Caucasus. It is "de facto" independent republic, but is internationally recognized as an autonomous republic within Georgia who exercises control of only a small portion of Abkhazia known as Upper Abkhazia. The article deals with the geography and climate of Abkhazia.

Geography

Abkhazia covers an area of about 8,600 km² at the western end of Georgia, on the north shore of the Black Sea. The Caucasus Mountains to the north and the northeast divide Abkhazia from Circassia. To the east, the region is bordered by Svanetia. To the southeast, Abkhazia is bounded by Samegrelo; and on the south and southwest by the Black Sea.

The region is extremely mountainous (nearly 75% is classified as mountains or foothills) and settlement is largely confined to the coast and a number of deep, well-watered valleys. The Greater Caucasus Mountain Range runs along the region's northern border. The Gagra, Bzyb, and Kodori Ranges branch off from the Main Caucasus Range. The highest peaks of Abkhazia are in the northeast and east (along the border with Svanetia) and several exceed 4,000 meters (13,120 feet) above sea level. The highest mountain is Dombai-Ulgen (4046 m). The climate is mild, which in the Soviet times caused it to become a popular holiday destination known as the "Georgian Riviera".

Landscape

The landscapes of Abkhazia range from coastal forests (endemic pine forests near Bichvinta/Pitsunda) and citrus plantations, to eternal snows and glaciers to the north of the republic. Because of Abkhazia's complex topographic setting, most of the territory has been spared from significant human cultivation and development. Therefore, a large portion of Abkhazia (nearly 70% of the territory) is still covered by forests today. Abkhazia is also well known for the high number of endemic species of plants that are found only in the Caucasus, only in Georgia, or only in Abkhazia.

The world's deepest known cave, Krubera (Voronja) Cave ("The Crows' Cave", in English), is located in Abkhazia's western Caucasus mountains. The latest survey (as of September 2006) has measured the vertical relief of this cave system as 2158 meters (7080 feet) between its highest and lowest explored points.

Southeastern Abkhazia, a part of the Colchis Lowland, is covered by Colchian forests (alder, hornbeam, oak, beech), or by citrus and tea plantations. The foothills, up to an elevation of 600 meters (1,968 feet) above sea level, are covered by deciduous forests (with evergreen elements), and include tree species such as oak, hornbeam, beech, and buxus. The forest covers from 600 to 1,800 meters (1,960-5,904 ft) above sea level is made up of both deciduous and coniferous species of tree. The most common species are beech, spruce, and fir. The mixed forest zone is home to some of the tallest trees in Europe and the world, where some specimens of the Nordmann Fir (especially around Lake Ritsa) reach heights of over 70 meters (230 feet). The zone extending 1,800-2,900 m (5,904-9,512 ft) above sea level is made up of either subalpine forests or alpine meadows. Territory lying above 2,900 m (9,512 ft) is mainly covered by eternal snows and glaciers.

Climate

Because of Abkhazia's proximity to the Black Sea, its climate is very mild, considering the northern latitude. The Caucasus Mountains are greatly responsible for moderating the region's climate, as they shield Abkhazia from cold northerly winds.

The coastal areas of the Republic have a subtropical climate, where the average annual temperature in most regions is around 15 degrees Celsius. Average winter (January) temperatures vary between 4 and 6°C, while average summer (July) temperatures are anywhere between 22 and 23°C. The coastal territory rarely experiences strong frosts during the winter.

Higher elevations of Abkhazia, above 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) above sea level have a maritime, mountain climate, experiencing relatively cold winters and long, warm summers. Elevations above 2,000 m (6,560 ft) above sea level have colder winters and shorter summers. Abkhazia's highest regions have a cold, summerless climate throughout the year.

Abkhazia receives high amounts of precipitation, but is known for its unique micro-climate (transitional from subtropical to mountain) along most of its coast, causing lower levels of humidity. The annual precipitation along the coast ranges from 1,100 to 1,500 mm (43-59 inches). The foothills, the lower ranges, and the interior gorges of the Republic receive anywhere between 1,000 and 1,800 mm (39-71 in.) of precipitation annually. Some of the interior gorges that are sheltered from the moist influences of the Black Sea receive the lowest amounts of precipitation. The higher mountainous regions receive 1,700-3,500 mm (67-138 in.) of precipitation per year. Although there is usually no significant snowfall in the coastal regions, the mountains of Abkhazia do receive significant amounts of snow. Avalanches in the northeast sometimes pose a threat to populated areas. Snow depths often exceed 5 meters (18 feet) in some of the high, mountainous areas facing the Black Sea.


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