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North America

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Political highlights of North America
Political highlights of North America

North America is the third largest continent in area and the fourth ranked in population. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 9,355,000 square miles (24,230,000 square kilometres). In 2001 its population was estimated at 454,225,000.

North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America. North America'South_America" title ="South America">South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the narrows of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America. Most, however, prefer to see Central America as a subcontinent or region of North America.

On the main continent itself there are three large and relatively populous countries: Canada (some large islands off the shore of North America and belonging to Canada include Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands on the west, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island on the east, and Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, and Victoria Island in the north); Mexico (including the Revillagigedo archipelago and numerous smaller islands closer to the coast); and most of the United States (includes the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, but not the US state of Hawaii which lies in the Pacific Ocean).

At the extreme southern end of the continent, in a relatively small area called Central America, are the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, site of the Panama Canal.

The United States and Canada are sometimes grouped under the term Anglo-America while the rest of North America (not including Greenland, and some islands off the mainland coast) and South America is grouped under the term Latin America.

It should be noted that the term "North America", when employed in a context other than geography, may mean different things to different people. To many Americans and Canadians the term, in common usage, is often taken to mean "The United States of America and Canada, only", excluding Mexico and the countries of Central America, unless the context makes it clear that they are to be included (for instance, with specific reference to Mexico, when talking about NAFTA). This is due to the fact that culturally and economically, the USA and Canada are more alike to each other than they are to the rest of North America. Mexicans, however, are acutely aware that Mexico is a part of North America and object to this usage. The Central Americans, however, are generally content to be called Central Americans.

A satellite composite image of North America
A satellite composite image of North America

At the extreme southeastern end of the continent lies a chain of islands territories called the Antilles, the Caribbean or the West Indies, which include:

Lying in the Atlantic Ocean but considered part of the continent are Bermuda, a British dependency; Greenland, a self-governing dependency of Denmark, the largest island in the world, located in the far north of the continent, to the east of Canada'Nunavut" title ="Nunavut">Nunavut Territory; and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, found off the coast of Canada, the last of France's once vast possessions in America north of the Caribbean.

Physical Features

Arguably, four great regions can be discerned: the central lowlands, or Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Candian Arctic; the geologically young, mountainous west, including the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the eastern coastal plain does extend south along the Gulf.

The western mountains are split in the middle, into the main range of the Rockies and the coast ranges in California, Oregon and Washington state, with the Great Basin -- a lower area containing smaller ranges -- in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska (which can be considered the tallest in the world if measured from the base to the summit, as distinct from sea level to summit).

Political Divisions of North America

Name Area (km²) Population (2002-07-01 est.) Population density (per km²)
Anguilla (UK) 102 12,446 122
Antigua and Barbuda 443 67,448 152
Aruba (Neth.) 193 70,441 365
Bahamas 13,940 300,529 22
Barbados 431 276,607 642
Belize 22,966 262,999 11
Bermuda (UK) 53 63,960 1,200
British Virgin Islands (UK) 153 21,272 139
Canada 9,976,140 31,902,268 3.2
Cayman Islands (UK) 262 36,273 138
Costa Rica 51,100 3,834,934 75
Cuba 110,860 11,224,321 101
Dominica 754 70,158 93
Dominican Republic 48,730 8,721,594 179
El Salvador 21,040 6,353,681 302
Greenland (Denm.) 2,166,086 56,376 0.03
Grenada 344 89,211 259
Guadeloupe (Fr.) 1,780 435,739 245
Guatemala 108,890 13,314,079 122
Haiti 27,750 7,063,722 255
Honduras 112,090 6,560,608 59
Jamaica 10,991 2,680,029 244
Martinique (Fr.) 1,100 422,277 384
Mexico 1,972,550 103,400,165 52
Montserrat (UK) 102 8,437 83
Navassa Island (US) 5 0 n/a
Netherlands Antilles (Neth.) 960 214,258 223
Nicaragua 129,494 5,023,818 39
Panama 78,200 2,882,329 37
Puerto Rico (US) 9,104 3,957,988 435
Saint Kitts and Nevis 261 38,736 148
Saint Lucia 616 160,145 260
Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Fr.) 242 6,954 29
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 389 116,394 299
Turks and Caicos Islands (UK) 430 18,738 44
United States 9,629,091 280,562,489 29
U.S. Virgin Islands (US) 352 123,498 351
Total 24,497,994 490,354,921 20.0

Since 1931, Rugby, North Dakota has officially been recognised as being at the geographic center of North America. The location is marked by a 4.5 metre (15 foot) field stone obelisk.

See also

Continents of the World
Asia | Africa | North America | South America | Antarctica | Europe | Australia

(The Pacific Islands in Oceania are not part of any continent)

Regions of the World

Antarctica | East Asia | Central Asia | Southeast Asia | South Asia | North Asia | Middle East | Levant | Arabia | North Africa | Central Africa | Great Lakes | Congo | Guinea | Sahel | Sudan | West Africa | East Africa | Southern Africa | Great Plains | Central America | Caribbean | Andean States | Eastern South America | Northern South America | Western Europe | Eastern Europe | Northern Europe | Scandinavia | Southern Europe | Central Europe | Balkans | Australasia or Australia | Micronesia | Melanesia | Polynesia
(For more, visit subcontinent and subregion)

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