North America is the third largest continent in the world. With an area of about 24,709,000 square kilometres it comes behind Asia and Africa in size, and covers about 4.8 percent of the earth’s surface area. North America lies entirely on the Northern hemisphere and almost wholly within the western hemisphere. Comprising about 16.5 percent of the total land area in the world, this continent is home to 23 independent countries. North America is surrounded by Arctic ocean in its north side, Atlantic Ocean to the east, pacific ocean to its south and west, and South America and Caribbean Sea to its south east side.
North America can be considered as the northern sub continent of the larger continent called Americas. Most of the land area of the continent is under the control of Canada, United States, Greenland and Mexico. Rest of the countries occupy the Central American and the Caribbean region. With a population of nearly 565 million people, North America is the fourth most populated continent in the world. About 7.5 percent of the world population lives in this continent.
The name America came from Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian merchant and navigator who was one of the earliest European explorers to visit the New world. The term America was used only for the southern half of the continent first. Later, it was applied for the whole landmass. The portion of landmass widening out from the Isthmus of Panama was called North America, and the southern part was called South America. Some authorities claim that North America beings at the narrows of Tehuantepec and not at the Isthmus of Panama, and that the intervening region should be included in Central America. In this definition, part of Mexico will come to be under Central America even though it lies mainly in North America. As such, the whole of Mexico, and the Central American and South American countries are grouped under Latin America to overcome such confusion. The United States and Canada is collectively called Anglo-America. Even with such a cultural division, Mexico and Central America are bound to North America physically. Greenland is also physically close to North America, but culturally divided from it. The area from the southern border of the United States to the northern border of Columbia is called Central America by some geographers. Some definitions of Middle America also make West Indies a part of it.
The continent has most of its parts located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle. It has an east-west extent of 5,000 miles, and a north-west extent of over 5,000 miles. The northern part of the Americas is occupied by North America. This is generally referred to as the Western hemisphere or the New World. The landmass of the continent of North America is triangular in shape with the base in the north and the apex at the south. There are other parts associated with the continent like Greenland, which is the largest island in the world, and other offshore groups like the West Indies, Arctic Archipelago, Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands, and also the Aleutian islands.
The Denmark Strait separates Greenland from Iceland, and the much narrower Bering Strait separates Alaska from the mainland of Asia. The only land connection between North America and South America is the very narrow Isthmus of Panama.
The continent’s highest point is Mount McKinley in Alaska. It has a height of 20,320 feet or 6,194 meters above the sea level. The lowest point is the Death Valley in California at a depth of about 282 feet or 86 meter below sea level. The total coastline of North America is around 37,000 miles or 60,000 kilometres. This is the second largest of all the continents, second only to Asia.
North America can be divided into four main regions, and each of them has its own sub-regions. The regions are the Great Plains, the mountainous west, the flat plateau of the Canadian Shield, and the varied eastern region. The Great Plains stretches all over the vast area from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Arctic. The mountainous west is the geologically younger area. It covers the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, Alaska, and California. The plateau of the Canadian Shield is raised but relatively flat. The varied eastern region consists of the Appalachian Mountains, the Florida Peninsula, and the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard. Mexico falls mainly in the western region with the long plateaus and cordilleras.
The western mountains are split in to two at the middle. One part is the main range f the Rockies, and the other part consists of the Coast Ranges in Oregon, California, Washington, and British Columbia. The Great basin lies in between the two ranges. This is a lower area that contains a number of smaller ranges and low lying deserts. Denali in Alaska is the highest peak.
The first inhabitants of North America were believed to be ancient Asiatic people who migrated to North America from Siberia some time during the last glacial period, which was called the Wisconsin Glacial Stage. This is the most recent major division of the Pleistocene Epoch. The various Indian and Eskimo groups are descendants of these people, which have been largely supplanted by people from the Old World. The people of European ancestry form the largest group, which is followed by people from Africa and Asia. Along with all these groups, there is also a large group of Latin Americans. They are of a mixed Indian and European ancestry.
The most commonly spoken languages in North America are English, Spanish and French. Canada and the United States are the Anglophone countries. The term Anglo-America is used to refer to these countries and even Belize and some parts of the tropics. The other areas of the Americas are referred to as Latin America.
Metropolitan Areas of North America
North America is known to contain some of the oldest rocks on the face of the earth. The geological structure of the continent is built around a stable platform of Precambrian Rock, which is called the Canadian Shield. The Appalachia Mountains rose to the southeast of the shield, and the Cordilleras rose to the west. The latter is younger and taller, and occupies around a thirds of the total land area of the continent.
North America is abundant in natural resources, including mineral wealth, fresh water, vast forests, and some of the most fertile soils of the world. All these have together helped North America become one of the most economically developed areas of the world. All its inhabitants enjoy a much higher standard of living than most other parts. The continent also bats of the highest average income per person of any continent, and also a higher average food intake per person. The per capita consumption of energy is four times as the world average even though the population of the continent is less than 10% of the total world population.