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Papua New Guinea - Geography

PNG is the largest of the Pacific Islands Nations. PNG has several large volcanic islands and 600 small and scattered islands to the east and north in the Bismarck and Solomon Sea. Total land area is over 462,840 km2 (178,704mi2). The topography of PNG is among the most rugged in the world, with altitudes of over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet).

Papua New Guinea consists of a great crest of mountains, jutting from the sea to altitudes over 15000 feet, surrounded by slopes and valleys. The terrain is extremely rugged with mountains and fast-flowing rivers, which have long cut the interior of the country off from outsiders.

Large geographical diversity exists with offshore islands, lowland forests and extensive marshes, dry savannah and temperate highlands. Only 13 percent of the country is inhabited. PNG is one of the most diverse countries in the world (geographically, biologically, linguistically, and culturally). Its abundant natural resources have not led yet to economic prosperity for the majority of its people. PNGs relative level of poverty in relation to neighboring countries is increasing.

Situated to the north of Australia, PNG has a total land area of 462,840 km (178,704 mi), including the large islands of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville and hundreds of smaller islands. Comparatively, the area occupied by PNG is slightly larger than Sweden, or the state of California, USA. The country extends 2,082 km (1,294 mi) north-northeast to south-southwest and 1,156 km (718 mi) east-southeast to westnorthwest.

Mainland PNG shares the island of New Guinea, the second-largest island in the world, with Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia. To the north is the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; to the east, the Solomon Islands; to the west, Irian Jaya; and about 160 km (100 mi) to the south, the nearest neighbor, Australia. PNG has a total boundary length of 5,972 km (3,711 mi), of which 5,152 km (3,201 mi) is coastline.

Much of the country is dominated by rugged mountains, rainforests, coral atolls and river systems. The mainland is distinguished by the central highland mountain range (Central Cordillera) that rises to over 4,000 metres reaching the highest point at Mount Wilhelm (14,793 ft or 4,509 m) in the Bismarck range. The Star, Hindenburg, Muller, Kubor, Schrader, Bismarck, and Owen Stanley form part of the range that extends from Indonesias region of West Papua to the eastern cape. Smaller islands feature mountain ranges with lower elevation that rise directly from the sea or from narrow coastal plains. Major rivers in the country include the Sepik (1,126 km), Ramu (640 km) and Markham (180 km) that flow north to the Bismarck Sea, and the Fly-Strickland (1,050 km) and Purari (470 km), which flow south to the Gulf of Papua in the south west. Low land valleys of these rivers are covered with rich grasslands.

PNG forms part of the volcanic chain known as the Pacific ring of fire that runs between Japan and New Zealand, making it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, particularly along its northern and eastern coasts. This ring of fire has 75% of the worlds active volcanoes and approximately 90% of the worlds earthquakes occur along the ring, which also covers North and South America. Volcanic eruptions are not uncommon and the area is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. For instance, the inhabitants of the Manam Islands were evacuated to the mainland in 2005 after a violent eruption by the island's volcano and a tsunami at Aitape on the country's northern coast in 1998 killed over 3,000 people and caused widespread devastation. The most recent earthquake was in July 2010 when two quakes struck 537 km northeast of Port Moresby and 117 km east of Kandrian, respectively.

PNG's capital city, Port Moresby, is located on the country's southern coast. PNG is situated between the stable continental mass of Australia and the deep ocean basin of the Pacific. The largest section is the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, which is dominated by a massive central cordillera, or system of mountain ranges, extending from Indonesia's Irian Jaya to East Cape in PNG at the termination of the Owen Stanley Range, and including the nation's highest peak, Mt. Wilhelm (4,509 meters/14,793 ft.). A second mountain chain fringes the north coast and runs parallel to the central cordillera.

In the lowlands are many swamps and floodplains. Important rivers are the Sepik, flowing about 1,130 km (700 mi) to the north coast, and the Fly, which is navigable for 800 km (500 mi) in the southwest. The Bougainville-New Ireland area comprises Bougainville and Buka islands, the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, New Ireland, New Hanover, the St. Matthias group, and the Admiralty Islands.

Over 80 percent of Papua New Guinea's land area is covered by forests. It is home to one of four significant rain forest wildernesses remaining on the planet. There is also an incredible wealth of some 22000 plant species, 90 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world. The forests are home to over 200 kinds of mammals, 1500 species of trees, and 780 different birds, including go percent of the world's spectacular Bird of Paradise, the country's national emblem.

PNG is prone to natural disasters including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and landslides. It ranks in the top six countries for the highest percentage of population exposed to earthquake hazards and for population exposed to severe volcanic risk. Landslide hazards is also particularly high. Heavy rains often lead to damage to road infrastructure and livelihoods, as well as economic losses, as seen in June and September of 2012.

The country experiences periodic high-magnitude earthquakes. On 16 November 2000, the New Ireland region experienced a quake that hit 8.0 on the Richter scale. It was recorded as the largest earthquake of the year worldwide, but fatalities were limited to two people. On 11 March 2003, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit the same region, and on 9 September 2005, a 7.7 magnitude quake occurred; both quakes caused some damage but no reported deaths.

PNG ranks in the top six countries for the highest percentage of population exposed to earthquake hazards. Located on the margins of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, PNG regularly experience earthquakes between magnitudes 5 and 7. East and West Sepik, the Southern Highlands, Oro and Milne bay are the provinces most susceptible to seismic activity.

Landslides in PNG are generally associated with large, shallow earthquakes and rainfall. Many landslides occur during the wet season as the rainwater infiltrates the soil and weakens the restraining properties of the soil or rock. The provinces most susceptible to landslides are Eastern Highlands, Simbu, Western Highlands, Southern Highlands, Enga, Morobe, Western, East and West New Britain.

West and East Sepik, Madang, Morobe, Milne Bay, Manus, New Ireland, the autonomous region of Bougainville, East and New West Britain, are the locations most prone to tsunamis. In 1998 more than 2000 people were killed in Sanduan Province when a 6.8 earthquake triggered a tsunami off PNGs northwestern coast, wiping out the village of Sissaro.

PNG has the highest percentage of population exposed to severe volcanic risk. The country has 16 active volcanoes and 22 dormant volcanos, which is the most in the South West Pacific. Ten of the 16 and all of the dormant volcanos are located within the Bismark Volcanic Arc. Five are located in West New Britain Province, potentially threatening 250,000 people.

Additionally, of the 16 volcanoes, six of them are classified as high-risk volcanoes, meaning they have had explosive eruption in the past and the potential for more in the future. The six high-risk volcanos in PNG are Ranbaul in East New Britain, Ulawun and Pago in West New Britain, Karkar and Mana in Madang, and Mount Lamington in Oro province.

In October 2006 Mount Tavurvur situated on the outskirts of Rabaul erupted. Approximately 2,000 residents were evacuated from areas experiencing heavy ash falls. The worst affected communities included Matupit, Bai, Nordup, Matalau, Rakunat, Koere, and Rabuana.

The smaller islands of PNG are areas of extreme topographic contrast and generally feature mountain ranges rising directly from the sea or from narrow coastal plains. Volcanic landforms dominate the northern part of New Britain and Bougainville, and some of the smaller islands are extremely volcanic. An eruption in September 1994 of two volcanoes caused the destruction of half of the town of Rabaul on New Britain Island.

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Page last modified: 20-12-2016 19:41:23 ZULU