Country Listing

Latvia Table of Contents



Latvia's northern location matches Labrador's latitude. In the summer, daylight hours are much longer and in the winter much shorter than in New York City, for example. In December it is still pitch dark at 9:00 A.M., and daylight disappears before 4:00 P.M. This light deprivation may be an important ingredient in deciphering certain aspects of Latvian collective behavior. It may account for the general exuberance and joie de vivre in spring and summer, and the relative taciturnity and melancholy the rest of the year. The climate is far different from that of Labrador, however, because of the effect of the Gulf Stream flowing across the Atlantic Ocean from Mexico. Average temperatures in winter are reasonably mild, ranging in January from -2.8°C in Liepaja, on the western coast, to -6.6°C in the southeastern town of Daugavpils. July temperatures range from 16.7°C in Liepaja to 17.6°C in Daugavpils. Latvia's proximity to the sea brings high levels of humidity and precipitation, with average annual precipitation of 566 millimeters in Riga. There, an average of 180 days per year have precipitation, forty-four days have fog, and only seventy-two days are sunny. Continuous snow cover lasts eighty-two days, and the frost-free period lasts 177 days.

This precipitation has helped provide the abundant water for Latvia's many rivers and lakes, but it has created many problems as well. A large part of agricultural land requires drainage. Much money has been spent for amelioration projects involving the installation of drainage pipes, the straightening and deepening of natural streams, the digging of drainage ditches, and the construction of polder dams. During the 1960s and 1970s, drainage work absorbed about one-third of all agricultural investments in Latvia. Although accounting for only one-third of 1 percent of the territory, Latvia was responsible for 11 percent of all artificially drained land in the Soviet Union.

An additional problem associated with precipitation is the difficulty of early mechanized sowing and harvesting because of waterlogged fields. Heavy precipitation occurs, especially during harvest time in August and September, requiring heavy investment outlays in grain-drying structures and ventilation systems. In 1992, ironically, Latvia experienced the driest summer in recorded weather history, but unusually heavy rains in the preceding spring kept crop damage below the extent expected. The moist climate has been a major factor orienting Latvian agriculture toward animal husbandry and dairying. Even most of the field crops, such as barley, oats, and potatoes, are grown for animal feed.

Natural Resources

Latvia cannot claim valuable natural resources. Nevertheless, the abundant presence of such materials as limestone for cement (6 billion cubic meters), gypsum (165 million cubic meters), high-quality clay (375 million cubic meters), dolomite (615 million cubic meters), peat (480 million tons), and construction materials, including gravel and sand, satisfy local needs. Fish from the Baltic Sea is another potential export resource export. Amber, million-year-old chunks of petrified pine pitch, is often found on the beaches of the Baltic Sea and is in high demand for jewelry. It has also had a symbolic impact on the country, which is often called Dzimtarzeme, or Amberland. The future may hold potentially more valuable resources if oil fields are discovered in Latvian territorial waters, as some geologists have predicted.

Data as of January 1995