Maps of North America - USA and Canada
Detailed maps of North America. The region includes two countries - Canada and the United States of America. The region of North America is very important for the world and we have devoted many pages to its description.
North America fact file
Regions of the World - North America
The continent of North America covers an area of 25.3 million sq km (9.3 million sq miles). It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to its east and the Pacific Ocean to its west. Broadest toward the north, it tapers at its southern end, where a narrow isthmus connects it to South America.
The North American continent can be conveniently divided into temperate North America and the more tropical Central America. Central America consists of countries on the mainland and islands in the Caribbean Sea.
Infrastructure, provision of services, and quality-of-life indicators of Central American countries contrast markedly with those of Canada and the United States of America. In addition, a large cultural divide separates mainly English-speaking Canada and the USA from their predominantly Spanish-speaking southern neighbors. For these reasons, Central America is introduced separately.
North America consists of Canada and the United States, plus St Pierre and Miquelon (France) which lie off the east coast of Canada, and Bermuda (UK) which lies off the eastern coast of the USA.
Physical features North America
In North America there are both old and young mountains. Young folded mountains (the Cordillera) run along the western part of the continent from Alaska to the Central American isthmus and include a number of active volcanoes. This chain arose following the collision of the American and Pacific plates. In the USA, the Cordillera splits into the Rocky Mountains, which form the eastern arm, and the Sierra Nevada and other ranges,
which form the western arm. Several peaks in the Rocky Mountains exceed 4,000 m (13,200 ft). The mountain ranges enclose basins such as the Mojave Desert and Death
Valley, and a number of saline lakes. Death Valley lies below sea level at an altitude of -86 m (-282 ft).
The ancient Appalachian Mountains run along the eastern length of the USA; their highest peak, Mt Mitchell, has an altitude of 2,037 m (6,683 ft). An extensive coastal plain lies between this chain and the Atlantic Ocean. Plains and lowlands are found in the continent's interior. Glaciers, which covered much of this area during the ice ages, sculpted the rocky plateaus of Canada and deposited sediments as vast plains that straddle Canada and the USA.
Several important rivers flow through North America, primarily the Missouri, 4,088 km (2,540 miles) long and the Mississippi, 3,766 km (2,340 miles) long. The St Lawrence River links the Great Lakes of Canada and the USA to the Atlantic Ocean. There are several large lakes of which Lake Superior, which covers 82,100 sq km (31,699 sq miles), is the largest. The Rio Grande flows between the USA and Mexico. The Columbia River drains several states in northwestern USA.
Climate and vegetation North America
North America contains a broad range of temperate climates from warm temperate along the east coast and Mediterranean in southern California to cooler moist climates in northwest and northeast USA and southern Canada. Most of North America is humid, except for a dry belt across the southwest of the USA and basins within the Rockies. An extensive tornado zone is found in the continental interior of the USA. Tropical cyclones, known in this region as hurricanes, and mostly originating in the Caribbean Sea, often strike the southeastern parts of the USA.
Extensive forests occur in temperate North America, ranging from the predominantly deciduous forests found in eastern parts of the USA to the short-tree boreal forests of the subarctic. Tall
trees such as redwoods and firs are found along the Pacific coastline. Other trees include maple, ash, and oak. Deer, brown and grizzly bears, lynx, and beavers are found in these forests. Boreal forests are home to migrating animals such as deer, elk, caribou, and moose.
In southern California, sclerophyllous shrubs thrive in the mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Eucalypt trees are an introduced species in this area and are a fire hazard during summer.
Extensive grasslands cover the interior of the continent. Tall-grass prairies occur where rainfall is over 750 mm (30 in), and short-grass prairies where precipitation is around 370 mm (15 in). Large herds of bison once roamed these areas, but they were practically eradicated by hunting.
In Alaska and Canada, north of the boreal forest, there is a belt of tundra where small shrubs, lichens, and grasses grow. Migrating herds of caribou, reindeer and lemmings live in this zone, along with bears, wolves, foxes, and lynx.
Population North America
North America had a population of 316 million in 2000. High living standards are reflected in the high life expectancies—74.5 years for males and
New York's Statue of Liberty; below vast cornfields in Colorado (left). Snow seems out of place on this pine in desert Utah (below). The magma core of an ancient volcano in Wyoming (above).
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing North America
North America is well endowed with water resources, arable land, forests, and fishing areas. These favorable conditions, coupled with scientific farming practices, have enabled the establishment of highly productive agricultural industries. These include grain farming, such as wheat and maize; livestock for meat and dairying; cotton; and intensive farming of fruit and vegetables.
The extensive forests which still remain, following large-scale deforestation in the nineteenth century, are exploited for their valuable timbers. Large areas have been reforested in order to produce a long-term sustainable industry.
There are fishing grounds off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, especially along the east coast where the cold Labrador current flows.
Industrialization North America
Natural resources, technological innovation, and well-developed infrastructure facilities, including energy supplies, have combined to make North America the world's most important manufacturing region. Continuous innovation in computing, laser technology, optic fibers, and space science have enabled it to withstand strong competition from European and Asian industrial nations.
Manufacturing ranges from chemical industries, metal fabrication, automobiles, aircraft, and high-technology military equipment to books, films, computer software, and recorded music. Tertiary industries, which provide services to a relatively wealthy population, employ millions of people.
North America is well endowed with mineral wealth. Extensive deposits of iron ore and coal have been the cornerstone of the steel industry. However, metals such as chromium and manganese need to be imported. The Cordillera belt contains a large number of metallic ores including copper, zinc, molybdenum, gold, and silver. Nickel and iron ore are extracted from ancient plateau rocks in Canada. Among minerals used for energy supplies, coal, petroleum, and natural gas deposits are widespread. Although a large petroleum producer, the USA must also import large quantities because of heavy consumption.
Languages North America
English is the dominant language in North America, except in the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the main language.
Some surviving American Indian languages are spoken by minority groups such as the Pueblo Indians of southwestern USA and the First Nations in western Canada. In southern states of the USA that were once parts of Mexico, such as California, New Mexico and Texas, Spanish is spoken among Hispanics. Considerable Hispanic migration to the USA, particularly from Mexico and Cuba, has made Spanish increasingly important in the USA, particularly in parts of the east coast, such as Florida and New York.
Boundary disputes and wars
There are no major boundary disputes in the region, nor has the region been directly affected by land war in recent decades. However, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 have left a feeling of vulnerability, especially in the USA.