Geography of Taiwan: Important Geographical Information about Taiwan

Taiwan is an island that is shaped like a broad leaf of tobacco. It measures 144 kilometers wide at its broadest point and a length that extends for 394 kilometers. From north to south, Taiwan is bisected by the Central Mountain Range, or the Chungyang Shanmo in the local language. There are four other mountain ranges found of the eastern side of the island, including the Haian, Yushan, Alishan and Hsuehshan ranges, covering a major portion of the island with several mountains covered with forests. The rest of the land area is composed of flatlands that lay like terraces, with low foothills and coastal plains.

With the land sloping more gently on the western side, only about one-third of the land area of Taiwan is arable. Coal deposits are available at the northern end of the island. There are also copper, gold, natural gas, marble, asbestos and limestone deposits in Taiwan. Mountains are plentiful and prominent along the eastern coast of Taiwan and the terrain slopes abruptly into the Pacific Ocean while sediments level off at the western side of the island just below the sea and effectively extending the land area some 15 to 30 kilometers towards the western side from the foot of the hills.

Several mountains in the central range are quite high, with some 200 mountains rising to about 3,000 meters in height and covering about 32% of the total land area. The hills and flatland terraces that rise above sea level between 100 and 1,000 meters cover another 31 % of the land area of Taiwan. Taiwan’s topography is tilted. The coastal plains on the western section of the island are lower than the areas in the eastern side. The western side slopes from the foothills to even out as the land extends to its western coast toward the Strait of Taiwan.

The highest mountain in the island is Yu Shan or the Jade Mountain, which is about 3,952 meters high. It got its name from the mountain’s winter glory, when it gets covered with thick snow and shines like brilliant white jade, almost stainless-like, which blindingly reflects the sun. Interestingly, the mountain rose from the ocean floor as a result of the sliding of the Eurasian Plate under the Philippine Plate. That means it rose from the sea for a total of 8,000 meters when the island was formed about five million years ago.

The Penghu or Pescadores Archipelago that is made up of 64 larger and 21 smaller islands, Orchid Island, Hsiao Liuchiu together with the main island of Taiwan comprise the whole of Taiwan, which is located in the South China Sea. Taiwan also administers the islands of Kinmen, Matsu, Wuchiu, Taiping and Pratas. It is separated from mainland China by the Taiwan Strait. With a total area of over 36,000 square kilometers, Taiwan is slightly smaller than the Netherlands but just about the size of Holland.

The island of Taiwan, including the Pescadores Islands has a total shoreline that extends for 1,566 kilometers. Small groups of coral reefs that can be traced back to the Pleistocene Period can be seen on the southern coast of Taiwan.

As of July 2011, Taiwan’s population is estimated to reach over 23.2 million. Of this, about 98% are of Han Chinese ancestry. The highest concentration of inhabitants is in the capital city, Taipei, which is up north. Kaohsiung in the south comes second. Taichung City in the central district of Taiwan is also one of the most densely populated areas in the island. Tainan is another metropolitan area that has a large concentration of inhabitants.

Taiwan experiences wet weather in the southern part during the summer months of May until September due to the southwest monsoon. Its climate is described as tropical oceanic. It can be hot and humid when the summer season hits Taiwan. Temperatures can range from 27 °C to 35 °C, which is somewhere between 80 °F to 95 °F range. The weather pattern though, leaves the northern part of Taiwan dry, with the area having a semi-tropical climate, with snow in the cooler months due to the mountain altitudes. Severe storms (taifeng) and thunderstorms are natural occurrences during summer. Torrential rains and flooding are part of Taiwan’s weather as it lies in the track of tropical cyclones of high severity. While these typhoons, averaging four to five a year bring in too much rain and strong winds to Taiwan and can cause great damage to crops, it is also beneficial to the island as they are one of the greatest sources of water for the island.

Due to Taiwan’s tropical and subtropical climate, rainfall is abundant, with an annual average of 160 inches or 4,000 millimeters. The rainy season occurs at different times during the year in the northern and southern parts of the archipelago. Monsoon season in Taiwan’s southwest heralding the coming of the storms occurs from June to October. On the northern side, monsoonal storms batter this section of the country from October until March.

Winter in Taiwan is relatively long, lasting from December until before March ends, tapering off to herald the arrival of spring. It can be considered mild as low temperatures barely drop below 5 °C, which is only about 41 °F. But the dampness that prevails makes winter temperatures bone-chilling.

Spring is short, starting in April and lasting only until May. The same is true during the fall season from October until November. These are the best times to travel to Taiwan as the daytime weather is very mild and the sky is clear while the evenings are cool.

The nation suffers from air and water pollution due to the sheer number of vehicles that are out on the country’s thoroughfares daily.

The island is classified as seismologically unstable because it is located on two tectonic plates, the Philippine Plate and the Eurasian Plate. It also has numerous fault lines that make the island very susceptible to earthquakes. Hualien on the eastern coast of Taiwan receives the most tremors because it is located directly in between the two plates. The Eurasian Plate slid under the Philippine Plate eons ago on the southern part of the island while the Philippine Plate slid under the Eurasian Plate on the northern part. The phenomenon led to the formation of the island of Taiwan and its numerous mountain ranges.

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