Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
North America is the third largest continent in area and in population after Eurasia and Africa. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 9,355,000 square miles (24,230,000 square kilometres). In 2001 its population was estimated at 454,225,000. It can be geographically defined by subtracting South America from the supercontinent of the Americas.
Although Canada, the United States, and Mexico are geographically in North America, in a European mindset, however, North America is often considered to include Canada and the United States, but not Mexico or any of the Central American countries, which in some contexts may cause confusion. In Latin America, the Americas is considered as one continent and therefore North America is only a subcontinent composed by Canada, United States and Mexico.
North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America. North America's only land connection is to South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama and Panama Canal. According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the narrows of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America. Most, however, tend to see Central America as a region of North America, considering it too small to be a continent of its own.
The continent can be divided into four great regions (each of which contains many sub-regions): the Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Arctic; the geologically young, mountainous west, including the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the eastern coastal plain does extend south along the Gulf.
The western mountains are split in the middle, into the main range of the Rockies and the coast ranges in California, Oregon and Washington state, with the Great Basin -- a lower area containing smaller ranges and low-lying deserts -- in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska (which can be considered the tallest in the world if measured from the base to the summit, as distinct from sea level to summit).
North American cratons and basement rocks.
North America craton.
Regional and political divisions
On the main continent itself there are three large and relatively populous countries:
- Canada (some large islands off the shore of North America and belonging to Canada include Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands on the west, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island on the east, and Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, and Victoria Island in the north)
- Mexico (including the Revillagigedo archipelago and numerous smaller islands closer to the coast)
- United States, most of it - includes the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, but not the US state of Hawaii which lies in the Pacific Ocean
At the extreme southern end of the continent, in a relatively small area called Central America, are the countries of:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Dominican Republic
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad and Tobago 1
And the dependencies:
- Anguilla (British dependency)
- Aruba 2 (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
- Cayman Islands (British dependency)
- Guadeloupe (overseas department of France)
- Martinique (overseas department of France)
- Montserrat (British dependency)
- Navassa Island (U.S. territory)
- Netherlands Antilles 1 (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
- Puerto Rico (U.S. commonwealth)
- Turks and Caicos Islands (British dependency)
- British Virgin Islands (British dependency)
- U.S. Virgin Islands (territory of the USA)
Lying in the Atlantic Ocean but considered part of the continent are the dependencies:
- Bermuda, a British dependency found about 1,072 km (670 mi.) southeast of New York City
- Greenland, the largest island in the world and a self-governing dependency of Denmark, which is located in the far north of the continent to the east of Nunavut. Saint Pierre and Miquelon, found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, is the last of France's once vast possessions in America north of the Caribbean.
1 These states and dependencies have territory both in North and South America.
2 These dependencies lie in South America, but are considered North American because of cultural and historical reasons.
See here for details.
The United States, Canada, and the other English-speaking nations of the Americas (Belize, Guyana, and the anglophone Caribbean) are sometimes grouped under the term Anglo-America, while the remaining nations of North and South America are grouped under the term Latin America.
The term "North America", when employed in a context other than geography, may mean different things to different people. To many Americans and Canadians the term, in common usage, is often taken to mean "The United States of America and Canada, only", excluding Mexico and the countries of Central America, unless the context makes it clear that they are to be included (for instance, with specific reference to Mexico, when talking about NAFTA). This is due to the fact that culturally and economically, the USA and Canada are more alike to each other than they are to the rest of North America. Mexicans, however, are acutely aware that Mexico is a part of North America and object to this usage. Central Americans, however, are generally content to be called Central Americans.
Political divisions - area and population data
|Name||Area (km²)||Population (2002-07-01 est.)||Population density (per km²)|
|Antigua and Barbuda||443||67,448||152|
|British Virgin Islands (UK)||153||21,272||139|
|Cayman Islands (UK)||262||36,273||138|
|Navassa Island (U.S.)||5||0||n/a|
|Netherlands Antilles (Neth.)||960||214,258||223|
|Puerto Rico (U.S.)||9,104||3,957,988||435|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||261||38,736||148|
|Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Fr.)||242||6,954||29|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||389||116,394||299|
|Trinidad and Tobago||5,128||1,104,209||215|
|Turks and Caicos Islands (UK)||430||18,738||44|
|U.S. Virgin Islands (U.S.)||352||123,498||351|
- Discoverer of the Americas
- Economy of North America
- European colonization of the Americas
- History of North America
- Birds of North America
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