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Andorra
Map of Andorra
Continent Europe
Subregion Southwest Europe
Geographic coordinates 42°30′N 1°30′E / 42.5°N 1.5°E / 42.5; 1.5
Area
 - Total
 - Water
Ranked 193rd
468 km²
121.4 ha[1]
Coastline 0 km (landlocked)
Land boundaries 120.3 km
Countries bordered Spain 63.7 km
France 56.6 km
Highest point Coma Pedrosa, 2,942 m
Lowest point Riu Runer, 840 m
Longest river Gran Valira
Largest inland body of water Lake Juclar (23 ha)[1]
Land use
 - Arable land

 - Permanent
   crops

 - Other

2.13 %

0 %

97.87 % (2005 est.)
Irrigated land
Climate: temperate
Terrain: rugged mountains and narrow valleys
Natural resources hydropower, mineral water, timber, iron ore, lead
Natural hazards avalanches, landslides
Environmental issues deforestation, overgrazing of meadows, air pollution, waste disposal

Andorra is a small, landlocked country in southwestern Europe, located in the eastern Pyrenees mountain range and bordered by Spain and France. With an area of 468 km², it is the sixth smallest country in Europe and also the largest of the European microstates.

Andorra consists predominantly of rugged mountains of an average height of 1,996 metres (6,549 ft) with the highest being the Coma Pedrosa at 2,942 metres (9,652 ft). These are dissected by three narrow valleys in a Y shape that combine into one as the main stream, the Gran Valira river, leaves the country for Spain (at Andorra's lowest point of 840 m/2,756 ft). Andorra's surface area is 468 square kilometres (181 sq mi).

Andorra's climate is similar to that of its neighbours' temperate climates, but its higher altitude means there is, on average, more snow in winter, lower humidity, and it is slightly cooler in summer. There are, on average, 300 days per year of sunshine.

Phytogeographically, Andorra belongs to the Atlantic European province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Andorra belongs to the ecoregion of Pyrenees conifer and mixed forests.

Landslides and avalanches are the main natural hazards. There are frequent earthquakes below Richter magnitude 2. There is no historical record of any damaging earthquakes in Andorra, but the Andorran government has studied the possibility of a future one.[2]

Contents

Mountains

All of Andorra is mountainous, and in total, there are 65 mountain peaks.[3]

The highest mountain is Coma Pedrosa, which rises to 2942 m in the northwest of Andorra near the French and Spanish borders.

Along the border with France, from west to east, the highest mountains are Pic de Médécourbe (2914 m), Pic de Cataperdis (2805 m) and Pic de Tristaina (2878 m), Pic de Font Blanca (2903 m) in the northwest; Pic de Siguer (2903 m), Pic de la Serrera (2914 m) and Pic d'Anrodat (2730 m) in the north; and Pic de Noé (2737 m), Pic de la Cabaneta (2818 m) and Roc Mélé (2811 m) in the east.

Along the border with Spain, from west to east, the highest mountains are Pic de Médécourbe (2914 m), Pic de Coma Pedrosa (2942 m), Port de Cabús (2301 m) and Pic dels Llacs (2692 m) in the west; Pic Negre (2665 m), Torre dels Soldats (2761 m), and Pic de la Portelleta (2905 m) in the south.

In the east, near where the borders of the three countries meet, lies Pic d’Envalira (2825 m) and Pic dels Pessons (2865 m). A lake, Estany de l'Estanyó, and a mountain, Pic de l’Estanyó (2915  m) lie just east of El Serrat and are accessible only by hiking trail.

Lakes and rivers

Andorra is drained by a single basin whose main river, the Gran Valira, exits the country in the south near the Spain–Andorra road border crossing. There are two main tributaries and six smaller open basins. These basins gave the name by which the region was traditionally known, The Valleys (Les Valls).

The Valira del Nord is the northwest tributary, flowing from near El Serrat through the settlements of Les Salines, Arans, La Cortinada, Sornàs, Ordino, and La Massana — where it meets the Tristaina River — and eventually through Les Escaldes where it meets the Valira d'Orient forming the Gran Valira.

The Valira d'Orient is the northeast tributary, flowing from near Grau Roig through Soldeu, Canillo, Encamp, and Les Escaldes where it meets the Madriu River and then the Valira del Nord, becoming the Gran Valira.

There are also several much smaller drainage basins that span Andorra's borders with France and Spain. The most notable of these is the Pic de Maià basin whose main river, the Sant Josep, flows easterly out of the country into France and is a tributary of the Ariège River.

Andorra has 172 lakes, of which the largest is Estanys de Juclar (23 hectares)[1] near Pic de Noé in the north east.

Climate

The climate in Andorra varies greatly with elevation. The valleys have a climate that is similar to the temperate climate of Andorra's neighbours, but because of the higher elevation, winters tend to be more severe, the humidity lower, and summers slightly cooler. Regions above the Alpine tree line at about 2100–2400 m have an alpine climate and alpine tundra. Snow completely covers the northern valleys for several months. There are, on average, 300 days per year of sunshine. Average daily peak insolation varies from 1150 W/m2 in June to 280 W/m2 in December.[4][5]

The average annual temperature varies from 11 °C (52 °F) in Sant Julià de Lòria in the south, to 8 °C (46 °F) in La Massana in the centre, and to 2 °C (36 °F) in Arcalis in the north.[5] The average daily high and low temperatures in Escaldes-Engordany are, respectively, 28 °C (82 °F) and 15 °C (59 °F) in July, and 11 °C (52 °F) and −2 °C (28.4 °F) in January.[4]

Average annual precipitation is 1071.9 mm for the whole country,[3] but it varies across the country, increasing with elevation and from south to north. The driest parish is Sant Julià de Lòria (800 mm per year) in the south, and the wettest is Canillo (1100 mm per year) in the north. Annual precipitation can exceed 1220 mm in the highest mountainous areas. The driest months tend to be January and February, and the wettest, May, June, and November. During the summer months, there are very few rainy days, but the rainfall can be very heavy because it is associated with thunderstorms.[5]

Natural resources

Deposits of iron ore, lead, alum, and building stones are among the resources exploited in Andorra, although the economy depends to a much greater extent on tourism. Andorra’s mountainous terrain attracts about 12 million tourists annually, primarily for skiing and hiking. The largest numbers of visitors come from Spain and France – 10,743,201 and 3,723,869 visitors, respectively, in 2007.[3] It is also a popular destination for British tourists, accounting for one in seven of all British package holidays — more than for Switzerland, Canada and the US combined.[6]

Natural hazards

Avalanches

There is a risk of avalanches from mid winter to early summer. Avalanche control methods such as snow clearing by controlled blast charges, snow nets, snow fences, deflectors, rigid barriers, and snow compaction are used in Andorra to prevent dangerous avalanches.[7][8]

1996 Arinsal avalanche

The 1996 Arinsal avalanche was an exceptionally powerful powder-snow avalanche that followed several days of very heavy snowfalls and high winds.[9] At 19:00 on 8 February 1996, the avalanche fell on the village of Arinsal destroying or severely damaging many cars and buildings including three blocks of flats that were under construction by a Russian company; evacuation of the residents and tourists in the village had been completed 1½ hours before the avalanche, and consequently no lives were lost, but the material and economic damages were large.[9][10] Afterwards, the government ordered the construction of a snow dam across the Arinsal valley to stop future avalanches. The Arinsal snow dam, which is 16 m high and 320 m wide, cost 52 million francs and used 115,000 m3 of soil and 11,000 m3 of rock.[7]

1970 Pas de la Casa avalanche

The 1970 Pas de la Casa avalanche was a powder-snow avalanche that happened after a severe snowstorm left 2 metres (7 ft) of new snow atop the existing snow pack on the mountain slopes above Pas de la Casa. The avalanche began at an elevation of 2,640 m (8,700 ft) on the upper slopes of the Pic d'Envalira (2,825 m/9,270 ft), accelerated down the 35° slope and spilled over six bends of the old CG-2 road that winds its way down the mountain to the village of Pas de la Casa, which is at 2,100 m (6,900 ft). It then hit the village, damaging several buildings including a dispensary and killing a nurse.[10] In 1970, Pas de la Casa had far fewer buildings than it does now, so the damage was relatively limited. In later years as development of the ski resort continued, plans for avalanche control measures were studied, but it was not until 1985 that strong protective features including 250 m of windbreaks and 500 m of snow fences were installed.[10] The new CG-2 goes through the Envalira Tunnel, thus avoiding Pas de la Casa and the risk of avalanches.

Landslides

Landslides are a frequent occurrence in Andorra, which have tended to follow periods of heavy rainfall.[11]

A landslide during the evening rush hour on 25 January 2008 deposited 4000 m3 of loosely bound soil and rocks from the mountain slope above onto the main road CG-3 (Avinguda del Través de la Massana) between La Massana and Ordino, blocking it for three days, as well as completely covering an open-air car park and several parked cars. The only damage was to property, and nobody was injured, but the residents of a block of flats adjacent to the landslide were evacuated as the building was deemed unsafe and it remains vacant. The cause of the landslide was determined to be settlement of the earth due to inadequate ground reinforcement in the construction and excavation of the car park 30 years previously.[12][13]

On 7 July 2009, a rock landslide fell 200 m onto the CG-3 main road between La Massana and Andorra La Vella, blocking the road near the entrance to the Pont Pla Tunnel for three hours. Protective nets on the mountain side caught most of the rockfall, but 4 m3 went over the nets and fell onto the road and pavement.[14]

Earthquakes

The Pyrenees and Catalonia have frequent and sometimes destructive earthquakes — the largest in recorded history being the Catalan earthquake of 1428 with an estimated magnitude of IX on the MSK scale, equivalent to 6.0-6.5 on the Richter scale.[15][16] However, earthquakes whose epicentres are inside Andorra tend to be smaller than magnitude 2.[16][17] An earthquake of magnitude 4.2 on 5 October 1999 in nearby Banheras-de-Luishon was widely felt in Andorra, causing public alarm.[18] The Andorran Government has studied the possibility of a damaging earthquake in Andorra.[2]

Extreme points

Latitude and longitude
Elevation
Centre

References

  1. ^ a b c Girard P & Gomez P (2009), Lacs des Pyrénées: Andorre. (French)
  2. ^ a b Conseqüències per a Andorra d'un possible terratrèmol, Programa dactivitats tardor 08, el Centre Andorra Sostenible, Govern d'Andorra, p.16. (Catalan)
  3. ^ a b c Andorra – The Principality in Figures (2007), p.16, Andorra Turisme / Department of Studies and Statistics
  4. ^ a b Andorra – Escaldes,Weather Underground
  5. ^ a b c Atles climàtic de Catalunya. Periode 1961-1990. Servei Meteorològic de Catalunya, Generalitat de Catalunya. (Catalan)
  6. ^ M Clinch, A postcard from the Pyrenees, Daily Mail, 2004-01-28.
  7. ^ a b JF Meffre (2001), La Predicció local del perill d'allaus a Andorra, La Gestió dels Riscos Naturals, Jornades del CRECIT, pp.100-106, 13/14 September 2001. (Catalan)
  8. ^ G Furdada, JM Vilaplana, E Tomàs, D Mas (1998). The avalanche of La tartera de la Pica, Andorra. Procs. conference on 25 years of snow avalanche research, 203(I):104-107, Ed: E Hestnes, Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, Oslo.
  9. ^ a b Bon Dia newspaper, February 1996
  10. ^ a b c Avalanche d'Arinsal en Andorre du 8 février 1996, JF Meffre (Consellet tècnic en allaus, Servei de predicció d'allaus d'Andorra). (French)
  11. ^ R Capons-Llorens (2005), El relleu postglacial al Principat d'Andorra – Les dinàmiques de vessants i fluviotorrencials. Jornades del CRECIT – Horitzó, 8(2):25-33. (Catalan)
  12. ^ L'esllavissada prové del desgast natural i l'excavació al pàrquing, Diari d'Andorra, No.5735, pp.1,3-4, 27 January 2008
  13. ^ Una esllavissada talla la carretera de la Massana a Ordino i obliga a desallotjar els veïns, 3cat24, 26 January 2008, (Catalan)
  14. ^ M Miño (2009), Una esllavissada obliga a tallar tres hores la carretera de la Massana, Bon Dia newspaper, 7 July 2009. (Catalan)
  15. ^ Maximum felt intensities in Catalonia during the XX century, Table I: Approximative correspondence between the magnitude (Richter) and the intensity (MSK) felt in the epicentral area.
  16. ^ a b Sismicitat a Catalunya, Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya, 1999. (Catalan)
  17. ^ Terratrèmols locals de Juliol de 2001, Institut Geològic de Catalunya. (Catalan)
  18. ^ El terratremol espanta tot Andorra, pero no causa danys, VilaWeb.cat, Maresma i Associats, SL. 1999-10-05.

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