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Chapter: 7th Social Science : Geography : Term 3 Unit 1 : Exploring Continents -North America and South America

North America - Exploring Continents

North and South America are often referred to as the new world because they were discovered in the late fifteenth century.

North America - Exploring Continents

North and South America are often referred to as the new world because they were discovered in the late fifteenth century. In 1492 North America was discovered by Christopher Columbus while he wastrying to find a new sea route to India. The landmass was named America in 1507 after the Italian explorer America Vespucci who landed on the continent. In this lesson we can learn location, boundaries, relief features rivers climate natural vegetation, minerals and transportation.


Location and Area

The continent of North America lies between 7°N and 84°N latitudewhich lie entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. The Tropic of Cancer (23 ½°N) passes through the Mexico and Arctic Circle (66 ½°N) runs through northern part of Canada. Longitudinally it extends between 53°W and 180°W and lies entirely in the western hemisphere. This continent has a great longitudinal extent which results in Seven Time Zones. North America covers an area of about 24,709,000 Sq. km. Which occupies 16.50 percent of the entire land area.



North America is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean in the West, the Atlantic Ocean in the east, Arctic Ocean in the north and South America in the south. The North America is joined with the South America by the Isthmus of Panama. The Bering Strait separates North America from Asia.


Political Division

North America is the third largest continent next to Asia and Africa. North America has three large countries and several smaller ones. Canada is largest country of North America followed by the United States of America and Mexico. The seven small countries which lies to the south of Mexico are referred to as central America. These include Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Belize.\

Isthmus : A narrow stretch of land joining two largeland masses.

Strait: A narrow stretch of water joining two large water bodies.



North America is a continent of great physical diversity. Mount McKinley is about 6194 m above the sea level and is the highest peak. Death Valley is about 86 m below the sea level and is the lowest part of the continent of North America. It has some of the oldest and the youngest rocks in the world. On the basis of physiography North America can be classified into the following physical divisions:

1. The Rocky Mountains,

2. The Great Plains,

3. The Appalachian Highlands and

4. The Coastal Plain.


1. The Rocky Mountains

The western part of the continent is occupied by long ranges of young folded mountains interspersed with high plateaus, narrow valleys and broad interior basins. This mountain range extends for about 4800 km from Alaska in the North to the Panama Strait in the South. The width varies from 110 to 480 Kms. They are parallel ranges and are known as the Rockies in the east and the Coast Range Mountains in the west. The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in the Western United States between the Central Valley of California and the Great Basin. In Mexico, they are called Sierra Madre. The Rockies and the Coast Range are together called the “Western Cordilleras”. There are high inter montane plateaus between the ranges. The prominent ones are the Mexican plateau, the Colorado Plateau and the Columbian plateau.

The Cordilleras are also part of the Fire Ring of the Pacific because there are a number of active volcanoes and this area is also subject to earthquakes.


Highest peaks in different continents:

•Asia: Mount Everest (8848 meters)

•South America: Mount Aconcagua (6961 meters)

•North America: Mount McKinley (6194 meters)

•Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 meters)

•Europe: Mount Elbrus (5642 meters)

•Antarctica: Mount Vinson Massif (4,892meters)

•Australia: Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 meters)


The Great Plains

To the east of the Rockies and the west of the Appalachian Mountains lies the great plains of North America. It covers about three - fifth of the continent. This plain stretches from the Arctic Ocean in North to the Gulf of Mexico in the South and from the Appalachian Highlands in the east to the Rockies in the west. The western part of the plains is called the High Plains spreading roughly over the foothills of the Rockies. Most of the rivers of this region have their source in the Western Highlands and the plains generally slope eastwards and southwards. They are drained by rivers like the Mississippi and the Missouri.


The Appalachian Highlands

The Appalachian Highlands do not form a continuous chain like the Western Highlands (The Rockies). These Highlands are low and wide. They have a very few peaks more than 1800m. They include the High Plateaus of Greenland, Labrador or Laurentian Plateau in Canada and the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. These old fold mountains are worn down by weathering and are much lower than the Western highlands. This region is rich in mineral reserves like coal, iron ore, copper etc., which play a vital role in the North American economy.


The Coastal Plains

The coastal plains of North America are the youngest in age. Most of the Atlantic Plain has been drowned (lies underwater). This is low and relatively plain area with sandy soil which is infertile in nature. Here swamps and marshes are abundant and the coast is indented by river mouths and bays on which many important seaports are located.



Many rivers flow across this land and some of them following the valleys are formed by the glaciers. The Mississippi and Missouri rivers are the longest rivers in North America and together they form the fourth longest river system in the world and stretching more than 6114 km from Montana to Gulf of Mexico. After 3700km running the Missouri river joins the Mississippi river. The Mackenzie River is the second largest drainage basin of North America. It has it source from Great Slave Lake and drains into Arctic Ocean.

St. Lawrence has its origin in Lake Ontario which flows north east and drains into the Atlantic Ocean. The plateau of the west has been cut deeply by the River Columbia and its tributary which forms many Gorges called Canyons. The most famous is the Grand Canyon cut by the river Colorado which all flows over the plateau of Columbia. These rivers form a barrier to communication but whose water has been dammed for irrigation and power. The River Yukon rising in the north-west of the Western mountain system is frozen for eight months in the year. The River Rio Grande flows into the Gulf of Mexico and forms the boundary between USA and Mexico.

Grand Canyon is a steep-sided Canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona State of USA

Numerous lakes are found in the glaciated parts of the continent and especially in North Minnesota. These lakes are small and they are used for recreational purposes. The Great Lakes are formed across the continent from west to east. The most important chain consists of five lakes. The biggest is Lake Superior and it is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Winnipeg, Great Bear Lake and Lake Athabasca are some of the other lakes in Canada.

The Mississippi river has been given the nickname “The Big Muddy” because iterodes a lot of sand and mudas it rushes down the Mountains.

Some of the States of the United States are named after the tributaries of two mighty rivers the Mississippi and Missouri.



The vast latitudinal extent from the Tropics to the Polar Regions makes the climate of North America as varied as that of Asia. Unlike the Himalayas, the Rockies run north to south which do not form climatic barrier and do not prevent the icy winds from the Arctic region and penetrating the central plains which therefore have a very long cold winter and very short hot summer. Precipitation occurs due to cyclonic storms. The Arctic region is cold and mostly dry and has a very short summers and a very long bitterly cold winter. As one proceeds southwards the short summers become warm but the winters are very cold. The central plains have extreme climate from freezing conditions in winter to tropical heat in summer.

The South is usually warm all the year round and the regions around the mouth of the Mississippi-Missouri and the Gulf Coast have summer rain from the North East Trades which blow on-shore in summer. The warm moist South Westerlies not only bring rainfall to the North West coast and also keep it warm. The warm Alaskan Current keeps the North West coast ice free. The State of California in USA has a Mediterranean Climate with moist winter and dry summers.

The Westerlies or Anti- trades are prevailing windsfrom the west toward theeast in the middle latitudesbetween 30 and 60 degrees latitude.


Natural Vegetation

North America is endowed with a diverse and extensive forest cover. Approximately 30 percentage of the total land area is under forest cover. Lumbering is a well developed industry particularly in Canada. North America is a major producer of timber, plywood, wood pulp and paper. It accounts for approximately 20 percentage of the world's production of timber. This diversity is brought about primarily because of the different latitudes and variations in altitude, soil and precipitation.

Forest, Flora and Fauna of different regions of North America



Though least proportion of the total workforce is engaged in agriculture. America's agriculture is most productive in the world. Extensive agriculture system is practiced in Canada and USA. Both Canada and USA are the major exporter of wheat than the other countries of the world. Wheat, Corn (Maize), Oats, Soybean, Barley and many other food crops are grown throughout the vast interior plains.



Wheat was introduced by European settlers in North America. It is grown extensively in the Prairies of North America. North America is the largest exporter of wheat. Vast wheat producing area are called wheat belt.



It is the Native Food Crop of North America which is the main staple food grains in Mexico. It is grown in southern Prairies. North America produces more than half of the world total Maize.


Barley and Oats

These are temperate crops which withstand cold climate and need less water. The Barley is grown in the United States and are produced in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington. Barley and Oats is used as cattle fodder.



Cotton grows well in Southern and Western States and it is dominated in Texas, California, Mississippi, South of the Prairies and the Mexico. Warm summer with frequent rainfall and fertile soil are favourable conditions for growth of cotton crop.


Sugar cane

Sugar cane is cultivated along the Gulf of Mexico, Parts of Central America and West Indies. It is an important Cash Crop of West Indies. Cuba is known as the “sugar bowl of the world” and it is the world's largest exporter of sugar.


Soya beans

It is raised in the same area where Maize is grown. It is used for extraction of edible oil.


Potatoes and Sugar beet

Prairie Region, North Dakota and Minnesota are the producers of Sugar Beets and Potatoes. Sugar beet is used for making Sugar. Potato and Sugar Beet are used to feed cattle and pigs.



Mainly Citrus Fruits are cultivated in Texas, California, Great Lakes regions and St. Lawrence Valley. The important Fruits of North America are Cranberries, Blueberries, Concord Grapes, Strawberries, Gooseberries and the other fruits.


Cattle rearing

Cattle rearing are carried on a commercial scale in the drier parts of the Prairies in the south Western part of United States. Vast herds of Cattle and Sheep are kept on large Ranches. Richer pastures are used for cattle and poorer sparse pastures are used for sheep. North America is the largest producer of meat and about one fourth of the world production.


Dairy farming

Dairy farming refers to rearing cattle for milk. It is an important industry of USA and Canada. Dairy farming is found in the cooler and humid part of the Prairies, Great Lakes areas and north east region along the Atlantic coast. North America produces about 25 percent of the world total milk and dairy products.



Fishing is locally important in the seas around the continent. Grand bank is one of the world's best fishing grounds. It is located in the island of Newfoundland in Canada. Here the meeting of Cold Labrador current and Warm Gulf Stream current provides suitable condition for fish to thrive. The cold Labrador Current brings plenty of plankton which provides food for fish. Cod, Herring, Mackerel, Salmon and Halibut are the major varieties of fish in North America.

Grand Banks: The Grand Banks is among the world's largest and richest resource areas, renowned for both their valuable fish stocks and petroleumreserves.



North America has rich mineral resources. North America is the leading producer of Iron Ore, Petroleum, Natural Gas, Copper, Silver, Sulphur, Zinc, Bauxite and Manganese. Lead and Uranium are the other important minerals. North America has vast deposit of Oil and Natural Gas. The United States, Canada and Mexico are among the world top Oil producers.

Important Minerals in North America 



North America has plenty of resources and is needed for industrial development. Industries are highly concentrated in the north eastern part of the continent because of large minerals deposits like coal, iron ore etc., and good transportation network like Roads, Railways and Canals. The United States is one of the most industrialized countries in the world. Industry contributes about 25% of Gross National Product. The United State ranks first in Iron and Steel industry. They use the latest technology in developing their industries.


Major industries in North America

1. Iron and Steel Industry

The North American continent is the world's most important Iron and Steel industrial centre. Iron and Steel industries require Iron Ore, Coal and cheap transportation. The important centres of the Iron and Steel industries are Pittsburgh, Chicago and Birmingham in the United States and Hamilton in Canada.


2. Heavy Engineering Industries

Industries which require heavy and bulky raw materials using enormous amounts of power, involvement of huge investment and large transport costs are called heavy industries. These industries depend heavily on the Iron and Steel industry. The important Heavy Industries are automobile industries, aircraft industries, ship building industries, Railway Wagon industries and farm equipment industries. USA is the largest producer of automobiles. The important Centres of heavy engineering industries are Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Atlanta in USA and Windsor in Canada.


3. Wood Pulp and Paper Industry

About 50 per cent of the world’s wood pulp and newsprint is produced by North America. Canada is the largest producer and exporter of all kinds of paper in the world. Paper industries are particularly concentrated in Ontario and Canada.


4. Textiles Industry

The textiles industry includes the manufacturing of all textiles like cotton, woolen, and synthetic. The United States is the largest producer of Cotton Textiles. The industries are mainly located in Texas. California, Arizona, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Toronto, Cornwell and Kingston are the major centres in Canada. Moreover, the cool and wet climate of the area is most suitable for spinning and weaving, as the yarn does not break frequently. The Woolen Textile industries are located in the east of the Alleghany Plateau. The New England region contains 70% woolen textile industries. North America is the second largest producer of synthetic fibers. Rayon and other synthetic fibers are made up of cellulose obtained from wood Pulp.


5. The Meat - Packing Industry

This is an important industry in Canada and USA where cattle rearing is done on a large scale in the Prairies. Chicago, Kansas City, Saint Louis in the United States and Calgary and Winnipeg in Canada are the important meat-packing centres.



Most of the people in North America are descendants of settlers from other parts of the World. The first among them were, the Europeans, arrived in the 16th century. Today, the small groups of Native Americans that remain have their own territories and followed a traditional way of life.


Population distribution

The current population of North America as 364,446,736 in the year 2018. North America has about 4.77 % of the total world's population. The largest country by land area is Canada. The largest city by population is Mexico City. The population density is about 20 present per Sq. km.


Population and Density of North America

Densely populated areas: Eastern part of North America, Great Lakes region, Florida, California, Mexico and Central America are the mostly densely populated areas.

Moderate populated areas: Central part of United States, Central Highland, Highlands of Mexico, Central and western Canada are the Moderate populated areas.

Sparsely populated areas: Northern Canada, Alaska, Rocky Mountain regions and desert regions are sparsely populated areas.

Languages and Religions most of the people speak English, Spanish and French. Various faiths have been a major influence of culture, philosophy and law. Between them 80% of the people follow Christianity. United States of America is known as “Melting Pot” where hundreds of different cultures meet, blend and creating a new culture.

Eskimos live in the very cold and inhospitable region where plenty of fish varieties are available. They were able to dress themselves in thick warm clothes made of fur, they live in igloos.

Their lives were very simple and they could not alter the environment to any extent. They specially designed a house by ice and is known as igloos.



North America has developed a well-designed Network of Roadways (Freeways) Railways, Waterways and Airways.

A. Roadways

North America especially USA and Canada have the best laid roadways in the world. They are made of Asphalt and Concrete roads can be used in all weather conditions. The Super Ways (or) Free ways make travelling easy and fast. The Pan American highway runs from Alaska in the far North west to Panama in the south.

B. Railways

North America is extensively served by an efficient network of railway. Tarns-Continental railways and Tarns-Canadian railways are link the east and west coast of Canada and United States. Chicago has the biggest railway junction in the world. The New York railway junction is one of the busiest railway stations in the world.

C. Waterways

The Great Lakes region along St. Lawrence and Mississippi rivers are the most important inland waterway in North America. Quebec City, Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and New Orleans are some of the important inland ports. New York is the most important port along the East coast. Vancouver and San Francisco are important ports on the West Coast of North America.

Panama Canal: In 1914 a Canal was cut across the Isthmus of Panama for 80 kms long which connects the Atlantic with Pacific Ocean.

It greatly reduced the distance between Europe and the West Coast of North and South America.

D. Airways

Airways provide in valuable means of transport. All the cities and industrial centres in North America are linked by airways. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Montreal and Mexico City are some of the international airports in North America.



North America exports a host of agriculture and industrial products. The main exports are Industrial Machinery, Automobile, Paper, Fish, Wheat, Bananas, Meat Aircraft, Telecom Equipments, Chemical, Plastics, Fertilizers, Wood Pulp, Timber, Crude Oil, Natural Gas, Aluminum, Nickel and Lead. The countries of North America Imports include Coffee Cocoa Sugar, Textiles, Iron ore and Electronics goods. The countries of Europe, Japan, China and India are the major trading partners.


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