One of the key elements in building the national identity of a nation is knowledge about its environment: basic understanding of its location in the world, its climate, people, nature and natural resources for sustainable development. Information on the geography and environment of any country is essential not only for people living there but also for visitors, investors and other interested parties. This information is particularly important for small countries like Latvia, where the issue of national identity is a focus of discussion and research. There are previously published books on the geography of Latvia. “Latvija — zeme un iedzīvotāji” (Latvia: Land and Inhabitants) written by Marģers Skujenieks was published in 1921. The three volumes of “Latvijas zeme, daba un tauta” (Land, Nature and People of Latvia), edited by Pauls Galenieks and Nikolajs Malta, were published by Valters and Rapa publishing house in the 1930s. This was an academic work. Jānis Rutkis wrote “Latvijas ģeografija” (Geography of Latvia) in exile in 1960, using very limited materials available outside of Latvia due to the “iron curtain”. In 1973, “Latvijas PSR ģeogrāfija” (Geography of the Latvian SSR) was published on the hither side of the “iron curtain”. However, the perspectives and content of this book were very much influenced by Soviet ideology, and hence presently it has only a historical value. The real predecessor of this new monograph is the iconic book series “Latvijas zeme, daba un tauta” (Land, Nature and People of Latvia) published during the first period of independence of Latvia (1918–1940).
Last books on the geography of Latvia were published a long time ago, and many things have changed since then, not only in social, cultural and economic fields but also in the land, nature, environment and people of Latvia. A great deal of research has been conducted in these fields. For better or worse, a significant part of these studies have been published internationally, commonly in English, are scattered abroad and so are not available to readers in Latvia. Much research during the last decades has focused on current issues, such as past and future climate change, problems and patterns of migration, conservation of biological diversity and many others. In view of this, the aim of the new book “Latvija. Zeme, daba, tauta, valsts” (Latvia. Land, Nature, People, Country) is to compile the latest research and available information on Latvia and make it available to Latvian readers. The book has 61 contributors, experts in their fields. The latest information on the nature, people and economy of Latvia is presented under the framework of the concept of sustainable development.
Chapter I “Latvijas teritorija” (The Territory of Latvia) introduces the main territorial divisions of Latvia and their historical development and describes the structure of municipalities.
Chapter II “Ģeoloģiskā vide un resursi” (Geological Environment and Resources) describes the geology of Latvia, from the basic information on its geological location to historical geological development and surface topography. The latest research data on geological structure, its historical development and current geological processes are discussed. Special attention is paid to geological resources, evaluating their significance and extraction possibilities, also considering environmental impacts.
Chapter III Atmosfēra” (Atmosphere) describes the most important factors and processes that influence the climate variability in Latvia. Special attention is given to description of long-term changes, variability of solar radiation, and air mass processes and their transformations from the Baltic Sea to the eastern continental part of Latvia. Air temperature variability and long-term changes are depicted using annual mean and monthly mean air temperatures, as well as their extremes, which clearly show the patterns of climate change in Latvia. In addition, changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme temperatures and atmospheric precipitation are given. The chapter explains the main patterns of precipitation in relation to factors causing local and regional differences. The chapter also describes the main features and long term changes of seasonal soil temperature regimes. The urban climate in Latvia has been described in studies conducted in Riga, and, using this information, the chapter illustrates the most important weather extreme and related natural hazards that affect each sector of society in Latvia. One of the sub-chapters is devoted to expected climate change and its effects on resources.
Chapter IV “Virszemes ūdeņi” (Surface Waters) describes interior waters in rivers, lakes and reservoirs, as well as includes a subchapter on the Baltic Sea Basin. Information is given on the distribution and hydrology of rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Particular focus is laid on present-day hydrological processes, water quality and use of water resources. The subchapter on the Baltic Sea gives a general description of the Basin, the dominant water flows, wave patterns, water temperature and salinity, and the main environmental problems. The importance of the Baltic Sea in the economy and welfare of inhabitants is stressed.
The first subchapter of Chapter V “Dzīvības sfēra” (Sphere of Life) is about soils, their formation, spatial distribution, use and protection of soil resources. The chapter also reviews the chemistry and ecology of soils. Focus is paid on soil survey, classification and mapping as important for ensuring sustainable use of soil resources today. The subchapter on Biota characterises the biogeography, vegetation and ecosystems of Latvia. The authors review the historical development of the biota as well as discuss current ecological changes associated with human impacts, climate change and other factors. One subchapter is focused on ecosystem services. While an overarching assessment of ecosystem services in Latvia has not been conducted, the authors provide examples of ecosystem service valuation for several types of ecosystems: forests, agricultural land, marine ecosystems and others.
Chapter VI “Iedzīvotāji un apdzīvojums” (Population and Settlement Patterns) describes population dynamics and its drivers. The chapter includes discussion of population settlement and changes, features of geographic mobility and migration. It also outlines the development of rural and urban areas and the role of the capital Riga within the settlement pattern in Latvia.
Chapter VII “Saimniecības ģeogrāfija un Latvijas vieta pasaulē” (Economic Geography and Latvia’s Place in the World) discusses the historical economic development of Latvia in a geopolitical context and delineates the present condition in the development of several sectors of the economy. Attention in the chapter is paid to the role of geographical factors in the economy. One subchapter describes Latvia’s role of in the European Union and work within the international community.
Chapter VII “Ainavas” (Landscapes) provides a summary of the spatial classifications of natural and cultural landscapes and their regional units. General information is given on land use and cover, the components of landscape patterns and their changes in relation to the ecological and cultural/historical drivers. One subchapter is focused on cultural landscapes in a historical context.
Chapter IX “Dabas daudzveidība un kultūrvēsturiskās vērtības” (Diversity of Nature and Cultural Heritage) sketches the protection systems for nature and cultural heritage sites in Latvia. The diversity of nature is considered in both national and European Union contexts, providing information on EU protected habitats. Subchapters describe and exemplify the systems for protecting the diversity of nature and cultural heritage monuments. The role of the diversity of nature and cultural heritage monuments in the welfare of inhabitants is stressed.
The final Chapter XI “Latvijas ilgtspējīga attīstība” (Sustainable Development of Latvia) is on sustainable development in Latvia, describing the concept of sustainable development, its evaluation criteria and adopted development goals. Current and expected trends and drivers of sustainable development of Latvia are discussed.