The natural characteristics are largely determined by the geographic location on the eastern Baltic Sea. The country is within the zone of mixed forests.
The Precambrian crystalline bedrock which lies at a depth of between 380 to 1800 m, is overlain by platform sedimentary rocks (mainly Paleozoic age) and Quaternary sediments. The Pleistocene glaciations, particularly the last glacial event, played an important role in the evolution of the natural environment of Latvia, particularly the distribution of soils and topography. The highest point in Latvia is Gaizina kalns with an elevation of 312 m.a.s.l.
The economic minerals are mainly associated with Paleozoic and Mesozoic bedrock units and glacial deposits. The main resources utilized include limestone, dolomite, gypsum, sandstone, shale, sand and gravel, and peat.
The climate is transitional maritime to temperate. On average 120-140 cyclones move across Latvia every year resulting in frequent changes in weather conditions. Climatic differences are largely determined by the proximity to the Baltic Sea and the topography.
Latvia has more than 3,000 small lakes and reservoirs (>1 km2) covering 2% of the territory of Latvia. They are mainly located in the uplands and in the coastal lowland.
Latvia is traversed by a dense network (0.6 km/km2) of rivers. The largest river watersheds are Daugava, Lielupe, Venta, Gauja and Salaca. Rivers are the major source of electricity.
The typical landscape of Latvia is a mix of natural and cultural features. The soils are dominantly fine grained podzols and gleys.
Latvia has a population of about 2.5 million of which 70% nowadays live in urban areas (as compared with 37% in 1935). The average population density is 38 people per km2.
The capital Riga has about 1/3 of the entire population of Latvia.
The increase in the population following World war II has mainly been a result of immigration. Latvia had the highest growth of population in all of Europe. The main points of immigration were from the neighboring regions of Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. The natural growth in population declined from the late 1950's into the 1980's. Natural increase per 1,000 inhabitants was -6,9 in 1995.
In 1996, 66% of the population was of working age (15-64). Pensioners made up 14 % of the population. The unemployment rate is about 7%.
Latvia became an independent state in 1918 and experienced rapid economic development. It was one of the most economically developed countries in Europe in the 1930's. During the Soviet occupation the Latvian economy was centrally managed. After regaining independence a major restructuring effort began, including privatization of land and businesses, to create a market economy.
The major industries are: automobile, metal fabrication, electrical, radio-electronics, chemical. microbiological, pulp and paper, lumber, and construction materials.
The major trading partners are Russia and the former Soviet republics Lithuania and Estonia and the West. Exports to the West make up 47% of total exports, whereas imports comprise 33%, mainly from Germany. The major import items are energy resources (natural gas, diesel fuel, gasoline, electrical energy), iron ore and steel, automobiles, tractors, and pharmaceuticals. The major export items are pulp, lumber, microbuses, foot apparel and agricultural products.
Latvia is ideally situated with respect to trade between the east and the west. The ports of Riga and Ventspils are of economic importance. New port facilities are currently being constructed in Liepaja and Salacgriva.
Hydroelectric power plants at the Daugava river together with thermoelectric power plants in Riga and other cities supply only less than half of Latvia's energy needs. The remaining energy needs are covered by imported electrical power from Estonia and northwestern Russia and by oil from Russia.
The major environment issues include:
Surface groundwater pollution is mostly concentrated in densely populated centers including Riga, Jurmala, Ventspils, Liepaja, Olaine, Tukums and Incukalns. These areas and Daugavpils, Livant, Brocent, and Valmeira also have the highest air pollution levels.