North America

North America is the world’s third-largest continent with a total area of 9,358,340 sq miles (24,238,000 sq km), including Greenland and the Caribbean islands. North America lies completely within the Northern Hemisphere.

Area: 9,358,340 sq miles (24,238,000 sq km).
Highest point: Mount McKinley (Denali), USA 20,332 ft (6194 m).
Lowest Point: Death Valley, USA -282 ft (-86 m) below sea level.
Longest river: Mississippi-Missouri, USA 3710 miles (5969 km).
Largest lake: Lake Superior, Canada/USA 31,151 sq miles (83,270 sq km).
Largest island: Greenland 849,400 sq miles (2,200,000 sq km).
Highest recorded temperature: Death Valley, USA 135°F (57°C).
Lowest recorded temperature: Northice, Greenland -87°F (-66°C).
Wettest Place: Vancouver, Canada 183 in (4645 mm).
Driest Place: Death Valley, USA 2 in (50 mm).
Population: approximately 579,490,000 people.
The number of countries: 23.

Countries in North America

Click on any country to see their profile page with Google maps, driving directions, and dozens of land specific data.

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, United States of America.

Google Maps North America

North America includes Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the world’s largest island, Greenland, and several Caribbean countries. During the last Ice Age, a great sheet of ice flowed across the continent, scouring the landscape, deepening the depressions that now hold the Great Lakes, and dumping fertile soil onto the central plains. The Rocky Mountains form the backbone of the continent, running from Alaska to New Mexico. In the east are the Appalachian Mountains, flanked by coastal lowlands to the east and south. In eastern Canada lies the Canadian Shield, a huge basin of ancient eroded rocks now covered with thin soils. Deserts stretch from the southwestern United States down into northern Mexico.

The main mountain ranges of North America, the snowcapped Rockies, and the forested Appalachians vary greatly in appearance (see above cross-section). Their age can explain the difference. The Rockies, shown right, are relatively young mountains that have not yet been worn down. The Appalachians, however, are among the world’s oldest mountains and have been gradually eroded by the scouring action of wind, water, and the movement of glaciers.

Across the center of Canada and the US lie the Great Plains, also called the prairies. This huge area has hot summers and cold, snowy winters. Trees are rare except along rivers and lakeshores, but the region was once covered with grasses grazed by millions of buffalo. Today, little natural prairie survives, and in its place, farmers cultivate vast corn and wheat fields.

The Grand Canyon was formed over millions of years as the Colorado River waters and its tributaries carved their way through the solid rock. At some points, the canyon is 1 mile (1.6 km) deep and cuts through rocks that are 2,000 million years old. Different types of fossils found in the canyon walls reveal the dates of its changing history.

Estimated to contain one-fifth of the world’s freshwater, the five Great Lakes straddle the border between Canada and the US. Only Lake Michigan, shown left, lies entirely within the US. The lakes are linked by waterways and drained by the St. Lawrence River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Niagara River, which joins lakes Erie and Ontario, passes over the famous Niagara Falls.

The great Mississippi flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. At the turn of the last century, the destruction of forests and the plowing of prairies around the river basin caused severe soil erosion. Soil washed into the river, raised the water level, and caused floods. Replanting forests and building dams has helped control the flow, but hefty rains still cause floods.

Political map of North America

As the 20th century began, the United States was the dominant economic and political power in the Western Hemisphere. By the century’s end, it would be the world’s sole superpower.

After the coming of European settlers in the 17th century, the political map of North America changed quickly and significantly. Democracy is well established in some parts of the continent but is a recent phenomenon in others. Canada and USA’s economically dominant nations have a long democratic tradition, but elsewhere, notably in Central America, political turmoil has been more common. In Nicaragua and Haiti, harsh dictatorships have only recently been superseded by democratically-elected governments. North America’s largest countries – Canada, Mexico, and the USA – have federal state systems, sharing political power between national and state or provincial governments. The USA has intervened militarily on several occasions in Central America and the Caribbean to protect its strategic interests.

Transportation in North America

In the 19th century, railroads were used to open up the North American continent. Air transport is now more common for long-distance passenger travel, although railroads are still extensively used for bulk freight transport. Like the Mississippi River, waterways are important for transporting bulk materials, and the Panama Canal is a vital link between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. In the 20th century, road transportation increased massively in North America, introducing cheap, mass-produced cars and extensive highway construction.

The United States and Canada possess ample water resources. Three oceans bound them – Atlantic, Pacific, and the Arctic. The Gulf of Mexico also bounds the United States. As a result, both countries have important shipping and fishing industries. Inland, large rivers and lakes serve as sources of transportation, hydroelectric power, irrigation, freshwater, and fisheries. Eight of the world’s 15 largest lakes are found in this region. Among these are the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. These lakes and the St. Lawrence River form one of the world’s major shipping routes. The continent’s longest and busiest river system is the Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio. The Mississippi River runs almost the north-south length of the United States, from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi’s main tributaries, the Ohio and Missouri rivers, are major rivers in their own right. Canada’s longest river is the Mackenzie River, which is part of a river system that flows across the Northwest Territories to the Arctic Ocean.

Before the railroads came, there were roads that connected towns and cities and provided pathways to the interior. But it was the development of the automobile in the early 20th century that spurred roadbuilding. Today, both the United States and Canada have extensive roadway systems. The United States has about 4 million miles of roads, while Canada has about 560,000 miles (901.232 km).

The Trans-Canada Highway, Canada’s primary roadway, stretches abaut 4,860 miles (7,821 km) from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, British Columbia. In the United States, the interstate highway system is a network of more than 46,000 miles of highways that crisscross the country.

Population in North America

Much of North America is almost empty, especially the frozen far north. Population densities are highest in Mexico and Central America, the coastal plain stretching from the Gulf of Mexico along the Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes area, and the Pacific coast. Large conurbations have developed, notably the San-San (San Francisco–San Diego), Boswash (Boston–Washington), and Main Street (Toronto–Montréal). The Caribbean islands’ populations are small, but settlement is dense due to the limited amount of land available.

In general, North America is one of the most sparsely populated continents. Over two-thirds of the population lives in the United States. Mexico has the next largest population, followed by Canada. Historically, the eastern US has been the most densely populated area, but many people have moved to the warmer southern and western states in the past few decades. In Canada, people have also left the east coast for the Great Lakes and cities such as Toronto or west coast cities such as Vancouver.

The US is often known as a cultural “melting pot” because of all the different peoples that make up its population. The main groups are whites (people of European descent), Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and native peoples.

There have been many immigrants to North America, mostly from Europe, but from South America and Asia, too. Not everyone chose to go. Today’s black Americans are descended from African slaves who were forced to the United States between 1619–1808 to work on plantations. Slavery was not abolished in the US until 1865. Today, African Americans are a vital part of American culture, from politics to sports.

Languages in North America

The three major official languages of North America are of European origin, brought by settlers in the 16th century. In Canada, French and English are spoken; in the USA, English is the main language, with large Spanish-speaking areas in the southwest; Mexicans are Spanish-speaking; while the Caribbean islands use French, English, and Spanish as well as the hybrid Creole tongues. In isolated areas, languages of the indigenous peoples still exist, such as Inuit in the far north of the continent.

English has been the dominant language of the United States since its founding. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language. Typically, immigrants have spoken their native language until they learned English.

Standard of living in North America

The USA and Canada have one of the highest overall standards of living in the world. However, many people still live in poverty, especially in inner-city ghettos and some rural areas. Central America and the Caribbean are markedly more impoverished than their wealthier northern neighbors. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

The United States’ leading products include iron and steel, lumber and paper products, electronic equipment, cars, and aircraft. These industries create many jobs, and women now make up almost half of their total workforce.

The United States has about 7 percent of the world’s land area and about 5 percent of its population. But it has the world’s largest economy – the most powerful, diverse, and technologically advanced in the world.

Climate in North America

North America’s climate includes extremes ranging from freezing Arctic conditions in Alaska and Greenland to the desert in the southwest, and tropical conditions in southeastern Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. Central and southern regions are prone to severe storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes.

The United States and Canada have more in common than just frigid winter temperatures where Alaska meets northwestern Canada. Other shared climate and vegetation zones are found along their joint border at the southern end of Canada and the United States’ northern end.

The United States has more climate zones than Canada. This variety, ranging from tundra to tropical, occurs because it extends over such a large area north to south. Most of the United States is located in the mid-latitudes, where the climates are moderate. Canada is colder because so much of it lies far north in the higher latitudes.

The Arctic coast of Alaska and Canada have tundra climate and vegetation. Winters are long and bitterly cold, while summers are brief and chilly. Even in July, temperatures are only around 40°F/4,4°C. The land is a huge, treeless plain. Much of the rest of Canada and Alaska have a subarctic climate, with very cold winters and short, mild summers.

The milder, dry, and tropical climates of North America are found south of 40°N latitude. Much of the United States is located in these climate zones; little of Canada is.

Most southern states have a humid subtropical climate. This means that summers are hot and muggy, with temperatures ranging from about 75°F/28,8°C to 90°F/32,22°C. Winters are usually mild and cool. Moist air from the Gulf of Mexico brings rain during the winter. The combination of mild temperatures and adequate rainfall provides a long growing season for a variety of crops – from citrus fruits in Florida to peanuts in Georgia. Broad-leafed evergreen trees and needle-leafed evergreen trees are found in this region.

In the United States, only Hawaii and southern Florida have tropical climates. The islands of Hawaii have a tropical wet climate that supports lush rain forests. Temperatures vary only a few degrees in the 70s°F/20s°C. Mount Waialeale on Kauai island receives about 460 inches of rain annually, and is one of the wettest spots on earth.

Land use in North America

Many early settlements became permanent after agriculture replaced hunting and gathering as the primary food production method about 3,000 years ago. When people began to cultivate crops, they changed the landscape to meet their needs. In wooded areas, early farmers cut down trees to build houses and burn them as fuel. They plowed the rich soil of river valleys and flood plains using hoes of wood, stone, and bone to plant crops. They dug ditches for irrigation. Vegetables they first cultivated – corn, beans, and squash – are now staples around the world. Agriculture remains an important economic activity in the United States and Canada. In fact, both countries are leading exporters of agricultural products.

Abundant land and fertile soils stretch from the Canadian prairies to Texas, creating North America’s agricultural heartland. Cereals and cattle ranching form the basis of the farming economy, with corn and soybeans also important. Fruit and vegetables are grown in California using irrigation, while Florida is a leading producer of citrus fruits. The Caribbean and Central American countries depend on cash crops such as bananas, coffee, and sugar cane, often grown on large plantations. This reliance on a single crop can leave these countries vulnerable to fluctuating world crop prices.

Environmental issues in North America

Many fragile environments are under threat throughout the region. In Haiti, all the primary rain forest has been destroyed, while air pollution from factories and cars in Mexico City is among the world’s worst. Elsewhere, industry and mining pose threats, particularly in Alaska’s delicate Arctic environment, where oil spills have polluted coastlines and decimated fish stocks.

Did you know about North America?

  • Almost every climate is found in the 50 United States because they extend over such a large area north to south.
  • Canada’s cold climate is related to its location in the far northern latitudes.
  • Both the United States and Canada have huge mineral and fossil fuel resources.
  • Forestlands cover about one-third of the United States and one-half of Canada.
  • The United States includes regions that are in almost every climate and vegetation zone.
  • The United States is a “nation of immigrants,” settled by people worldwide.
  • The United States is the most diverse and highly industrialized, and urbanized nation in the world.
  • About 600,000 Africans were brought to the United States to work as slave laborers from 1617 until the importation of slaves was banned in 1808.
  • In the late 20th century, the United States has been subjected to terrorist attacks by individuals and groups opposed to its policies.
  • Today, more than 1,000 different religious groups practice their faiths in the United States.
  • In the United States, there is one car for every two persons; in Somalia, one for every 500.
  • Canada’s three territories make up 41 percent of the country’s landmass. Yet, they are too sparsely populated to be provinces.