Topics: Physical Geography - 1.2 North America

1.2 North America

The northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere, North America is the third largest continent. It is at the NW of South America, joined to South America at the tip of Panama. The continent is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea on the east, the Pacific Ocean on the west, South America on the south and the Arctic Ocean on the north. It is politically divided in the Northern Part – with Canada, Unites States and Mexico – and southern part, called Central America and the Caribbean Countries. USA, Canada and Mexico have an estimated population of 445 million people in 2008, with a GDP of 15,330 billion of 2005 U.S. dollars.

The mainland of Central America extends from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Isthmus of Panama. The countries and territories of the southern part of North America - Central America and Caribbean - are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Santa Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines & Trinidad and Tobago. The total GDP estimated for this region of Central America and Caribbean in 2008 is 291 billion of 2005 U.S. dollars, with a population of 78 million people.

The terminology ‘Anglo-America’ is used to describe Canada and the U.S. while ‘Latin America’ comprises Mexico and the countries of Central America, the Caribbean and all South America.

With an estimated population of 460 million, the North American continent extends through an area of 9,361,791 square miles (24,247,039 square kilometers). Canada represents most of the northern half of North America, much of which is sparsely populated, except for the northwestern portion – Alaska - the largest American state.

Natural features of North America include the northern portion of the American Cordillera, represented by the geologically new Rocky Mountains in the west; and the considerably older Appalachian Mountains to the east. The north hosts an abundance of glacial lakes formed during the last glacial period, including the Great Lakes. North America's major continental divide is the Great Divide, which runs north and south down through Rocky Mountains. The major watersheds all drain to the east: The Mississippi/Missouri and Rio Grande into the Gulf of Mexico, and St. Lawrence into the Atlantic.

Climate is determined to a large extent by the latitude, ranging from Arctic cold in the north to tropical heat in the south. The western half of North America tends to have wilder and wetter climate than other areas with equivalent latitude, although there are steppes (known as ‘prairies’) and deserts in the Southwestern United States of Arizona, Colorado, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas; along with the Mexican states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

1.2 North America
Massachusetts - Rhode Island Map by S. Augustus Mitchell for "Mitchell's New General Atlas" (1885). Source: