Lowest Positive Elevation

On December 13, 2015 · Comments Off on Lowest Positive Elevation

My examination of landlocked nations was only partially completed after the Lowest Landlocked Elevation article. Cracks in the earth were forbidding, often hellish places and I wanted to see how the next stack of nations differed, the landlocked places above sea level by the slimmest of margins. In contrast, those lowpoints tended to occur where rivers exited landlocked nations on their eventual journeys to the sea.


Vicinity of Palanca, Moldova

The border between Moldova and Ukraine was a crazy, complicated mess. They’d been trying to detangle their respective claims consistently since signing a treaty in 2001. Numerous disagreements continued to exist without any clear resolution or schedule. Ukraine granted Moldova a path to the sea during early negotiations, a 430 metre frontage on the Danube River where they established a port at Giurgiulesti. In return they were supposed to settle additional issues including a Moldovan land transfer at Palanca so that Ukraine could obtain more direct access between Odessa and Reni. That hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, Ukraine probably had much more pressing issues to deal with on their Russian border.

That was a long way of saying that the lowest point of elevation in Moldova (map) — also it’s eastern most point — located along the Dniester River in Palanca may or may not become part of Ukraine some day. For now, while the spot remains firmly in Moldova and until the two nations resolve their differences, Moldova has the lowest positive elevation of any landlocked nation at about 2 metres (7 feet).


The Kingdom of Swaziland was sandwiched firmly between South Africa and Mozambique, a tiny grain of sand set upon a mighty continent, a mere 200 kilometres (120 miles) by 130 kilometres (81 miles). It had an impressive river flowing completely across its width however, the Maputo or Great Usutu, or Lusutfu or Suthu, or whatever local residents wished to call it while it passed along. Dense jungle and steep banks separated it from its people. Swiftly flowing water made it unnavigable for much of its length. However it flattened and calmed as it approached the border (map) with Mozambique, making Swaziland’s lowest elevation only 21 metres (69 feet). Meanwhile, modern tourism finally found a role for that raging river through the wild Swaziland interior. It became a hotspot for commercial whitewater rafting.


Bridge in Kayes
Bridge in Kayes by Evgeni Zotov on Flickr (cc)

Mali’s lowpoint may have impressed me the most. It occurred on the Sénégal River at the Mali-Mauritania-Sénégal tripoint (map) something like 300 kilometres upstream from the coast. Yet, amazingly it had an elevation of only about 23 metres (75 feet). The nearest Mali settlement was called Tafacirga although I couldn’t find anything worth mentioning about it. However the area fell within the Kayes Region which had a capital of the same name. Kayes, the city, housed a fairly sizable population, about 125 thousand. It was known as the Pressure Cooker of Africa because of its stifling humidity. Extreme heat and extreme humidity all in one convenient place? I think I’ll pass.


The Iron Gate
The Iron Gate by STML on Flickr (cc)

Serbia’s lowest elevation seemed much more hospitable, downright pleasant just downstream from a lovely gorge on the Danube known as the Iron Gates (map). The river here split the Carpathian Mountains from the Balkan Mountains, and while both banks displayed impressive towering elevations the river itself sat at only 28 metres (92 feet) where it left Serbia. The Iron Gates once created a formidable obstacle on the Danube. Its name invoked its power; many found it impenetrable. Blasting and dam construction in the 20th Century obliterated rapids and rocks, creating a placid, scenic passage through the gorge. The Serbian side of the riverbank was then preserved as Djerdap National Park.

Vatican City

Saint Peter's Square from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica
Saint Peter's Square from the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica by Kevin Schludermann on Flickr (cc)

Fiddle around with geo-oddities long enough and every compilation of geographic extremes points to Vatican City eventually. I won’t spend much time on this one except to note that Vatican City was the first entry on the Lowest Positive Elevation list of landlocked nations that didn’t have a river at its lowpoint. It was right there on Saint Peter’s Square (map), at a mere 33 metres (108 feet). I thought the timing might be right to provide serious geo-geek with something worth mentioning at the next Christmas Party. Impress and amaze your friends and neighbors with this most trivial of claims!

(¹) A couple of 12MC readers mentioned Moldova in the previous comments, a danger I knew I ran when I planned multiple articles on a subject without informing anyone. I’ll provide some additional foreshadowing this time — the next article will extend this analysis to landlocked U.S. states. Next stop, Arkansas!

On December 13, 2015 · Comments Off on Lowest Positive Elevation

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