61 Geography of North America: Important Geographical Facts

General introduction

North America, which includes Greenland and the Caribbean islands, is the world’s third-biggest continent, covering 9,358,340 square miles (24,238,000 square kilometers). It is entirely located in the Northern Hemisphere. One of the most significant features of the North American mainland, which is entirely located on the North American tectonic plate (Plate Tectonic), is its amazing variation in regional physical landscapes. During the previous Ice Age, a massive sheet of ice swept across the continent, scouring the terrain, deepening the depressions that today hold the Great Lakes, and depositing fertile soil on the central plains.

Climate of North America
Most Northerly Point: Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland 83˚ 38‘ N
Most Southerly Point:Peninsula de Azuero, Panama 7˚ 15‘ N
Most Easterly Point:Nordostrundingen, Greenland 12˚ 08‘ W
Most Westerly Point: Attu, Aleutian Islands, USA 172˚ 30‘ E

Climatic Condition of North America

The diversity of landscapes is matched by a variety of climates. Except for the southern point of Florida, there are no places of pure tropical climate in North America to speak of—but there is a great lot of variety. North America has both moist coastal zones and arid inland, as well as well-watered plains and bone-dry deserts.  Commercial farming thrives in the Cf (humid subtropical) and Df (humid continental) climates. The more north you travel, the colder it becomes. Even if warmer offshore seas provide some relief to coastal communities, the rigors of continentality (inland climate environment remote from ameliorating maritime influences) persist. Hot summers, cold winters, and little precipitation make these higher-latitude continental interiors tough to live in.

Rainfall & Temperature of North America

The influence of the Pacific (Pacific Oceanic Bottom Relief) Mountains on inland places may be seen throughout the west, particularly in the United States. When moisture-laden air arrives from the ocean, the mountain wall pulls it higher, cools it, condenses the moisture in it, and generates rain, the rain for which Seattle, Portland, and other Pacific Northwest cities are (inch) famous.

Most of the moisture has been removed from the air by the time it passes the mountains and drops on the landward side, and the forests on the ocean-facing side quickly give way to scrub and brush. This rain shadow effect runs over the Great Plains; North America does not become moist again until the Gulf of Mexico transports humid tropical air northward via the Mississippi Basin into the eastern interior.

In a very general way, therefore, and not including the coastal strips along the Pacific, nature divides North America into an arid west and a humid east.

North America is accessible to air masses from the freezing north and tropical south between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians. In the winter, southward-moving polar fronts drive icy, bone-dry air masses deep into the center of the continent, freezing even Memphis and Atlanta; in the summer, hot and humid tropical air rushes northward from the Gulf of Mexico, giving Chicago and Toronto (What is Cyclone, Different forms of the cyclone, Distribution of cyclone) a taste of the tropics.

Cyclone

Such air masses collide in low-pressure systems along weather fronts replete with lightning, thunder, and, on occasion, extremely catastrophic tornadoes. In addition, the summer heat increases the risk of storms in the Gulf-Atlantic Coastal Plain, which may cause devastating destruction in low-lying communities. Natural vegetation is pruned, groundwater reservoirs are replenished, natural lakes are filled, and coastal waterways are flushed as a result of tropical cyclones.

Different Mountain Ranges of North America Continent

The snow-capped Rockies (What is Mountain, Different Mysterious Mountain Systems exists on the Earth) and the wooded Appalachians are North America’s two major mountain ranges. The age gap explains the disparity. The Rockies are young mountains that haven’t been worn down yet. The Appalachians, on the other hand, are among the world’s oldest mountains, having been gradually eroded by the scouring impact of wind, water, and glacial movement.

The Rocky Mountains stretch from Alaska to New Mexico and serve as the continent’s backbone. The Appalachian Mountains are to the east, bordered by coastal plains to the east and south. The Canadian Shield, a vast basin of old eroded rocks presently covered by thin soils, is located in eastern Canada. Deserts extend from the southern United States down to northern Mexico.

General topography of North America from west to east

The Pacific Mountains stretch from Southern California to Alaska in the Far West.

The Rocky Mountains provide a continental backbone in the western interior, stretching from middle Alaska to New Mexico. The low-relief landscapes of the Interior Lowlands and the Great Plains to the west of the Great Lakes are shared by Canada and the United States, and the international boundary even separates the Great Lakes.

Facts
Highest Points over north America:
Mount McKinley (Denali), USA 20,332 ft (6194 m)
Mount Logan, Canada 19,550 ft (5959 m)
Volcán Pico de Orizaba, Mexico 18,700 ft (5700 m)
Mount St Elias, USA 18,008 ft (5489 m)
Popocatépetl, Mexico 17,887 ft (5452 m)

The Great Plains of North America

The Great Plains, often known as the prairies, run across the middle of Canada and the United States. Summers in this vast area are hot, and winters are frigid and snowy. Except along rivers and lakeshores, trees are few, although the terrain was originally covered with grasses eaten by millions of cattle. Today, little natural prairie remains, and farmers plant large fields of corn and wheat in its place.

The region of the Great Lakes

Between the Rockies and the Appalachians there are two great drainage systems:

  1. The five Great Lakes, which drain into the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean, and
  • The mighty Mississippi-Missouri river system, which transports water from a vast interior watershed to the Gulf of Mexico, where the Mississippi forms one of the world’s major deltas.

Mississippi Delta
Satellite view of Mississippi Delta

The five Great Lakes cross the border between Canada and the United States and are estimated to hold one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. the location of the lakes from west to east comprising of Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

Facts
Longest Rivers:
Mississippi-Missouri, USA 3710 miles (5969 km)
Mackenzie, Canada 2640 miles (4250 km)
Yukon, Canada/USA 1978 miles (3184 km)
St Lawrence/Great Lakes, Canada/USA 1900 miles (3058 km)
Rio Grande, Mexico/USA 1900 miles (3057 km)

Only Lake Michigan comes under the land of the United States. The lakes are connected by rivers and drained by the St. Lawrence River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The Niagara River, which connects Lakes Erie and Ontario, flows beneath the world-famous Niagara Falls.

Great Lakes
Major River of North America Continent
Lake Name
Country
Area
Lake Superior,
Canada/USA
(83,270 sq km / 31,151 sq miles)
Lake Huron,
USA
(60,700 sq km / 23,436 sq miles)
Lake Michigan,
Canada
(58,020 sq km / 22,402 sq miles)
Great Bear Lake,
Canada
(31,790 sq km / 12,274 sq miles)
Great Slave Lake,
Canada
(28,440 sq km / 10,981 sq miles)

Natural Resources of North America

North America Energy and mineral Deposits

Water is unquestionably a natural resource, and North America as a whole is quite well supplied with water, despite worries about long-term prospects in the American Southwest and Far West, where some states rely on supplies in neighboring states. Another source of worry is the dropping of water tables in some of North America‘s most important aquifers (underground water reserves), where a combination of overuse and declining replenishment predicts an increase in supply difficulties.

Mineral Reserves

North America is endowed with abundant reserves of minerals that are mainly found in three zones:

  1. The Canadian Shield north of the Great Lakes: The Canadian Shield contains substantial iron ore, nickel, copper, gold, uranium, and diamonds.

  1. The Appalachian Mountains in the East: The Appalachians yield lead, zinc, and iron ore.

  1. The Mountain Ranges of the West: the western mountain zone has significant deposits of copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum, uranium, silver, and gold.

North America is also well-endowed in terms of fossil fuel energy supplies (oil, natural gas, and coal). Nonetheless, the United States’ insatiable demand, the greatest in the world, cannot be supplied solely by domestic-supply, requiring large imports.

North America has some of the world’s greatest coal deposits, which may be found in Appalachia, under the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, and in the southern Midwest, among other areas. These reserves provide an adequate supply for millennia to come, despite the fact that coal has become a less desired fuel due to its harmful emissions (particularly carbon dioxide), which contribute to global warming (What is Climate Change and its Dangerous Effects on Earth).

coals Deposits

The Primary Oil-Production locations are:

  1. Along and offshore from the Gulf Coast, where the Gulf of Mexico bottom is producing a greater percentage of the output;

  1. In the Midcontinent District, from western Texas to eastern Kansas; and

  1. Along Alaska’s North Slope facing the Arctic Ocean. An important development is taking place in Canada’s northeastern Alberta, where oil is being drawn from deposits of tar sands in the vicinity of Fort McMurray.

Natural gas reserves are distributed similarly to oilfields because petroleum and natural gas are found in equivalent geological formations (e.g., the bottoms of historic shallow oceans).

That output has risen significantly in recent decades, as natural gas has become the fuel of choice for electricity generation in North America. Driving this expansion has been the widespread application of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology. By injecting pressurized fluids into deeply buried shale rocks to create fractures, vast quantities of trapped gas can be extracted, resulting in surging supplies and dropping prices. (Fracking is also widely used to extract oil from shale formations.)

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