North America

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World map showing North America
File:North America satellite orthographic.jpg
A satellite composite image of North America

North America is a continent in the northern hemisphere bordered 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 about 24,500,000 km² (9,460,000 sq mi), or about 4.8% of the Earth's surface. As of July 2002, its population was estimated at more than 514,600,000. It is the third largest continent in area, after Asia and Africa, and is fourth in population after Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Both North and South America are named after Amerigo Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a previously undiscovered (by Europeans) New World.

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's only land connection is to South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. (For geopolitical reasons, all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is often considered a part of North America alone.) According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America and resting on the Caribbean Plate. Most, however, tend to see Central America as a region of North America, considering it too small to be a continent on its own. Greenland, although a part of North America geographically and on the same tectonic plate (the North American Plate), is not considered to be part of the continent politically.


Physical features

Plate tectonics recognizes the vast majority of North America as being the surface of the North American Plate. Parts of California and western Mexico are known for being the edge of the Pacific Plate, with the two plates meeting along the San Andreas fault.

The continent can be divided into four great regions (each of which contains many sub-regions): the Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian 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, Washington, and British Columbia with the Great Basin – a lower area containing smaller ranges and low-lying deserts – in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska.

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

Territories and regions

File:North America.png
Political highlights of North America

On the main continent landmass, there are three large and relatively populous countries:

At the southern end of the continent, in a relatively small area commonly known as Central America, are the countries of:

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

And the dependencies:

Lying in the Atlantic Ocean but considered part of the continent are the dependencies:

1 These states and dependencies have territory both in North and South America.
2 These dependencies lie in South America, but are considered North American because of cultural and historical reasons.
See here for details.


The United States, Canada, and the other English-speaking nations of the Americas (Belize, Guyana, and the Anglophone Caribbean) are sometimes grouped under the term Anglo-America, while the remaining nations of North and South America are grouped under the term Latin America.

Alternatively, Northern America is used to refer to Canada and the U.S. together (plus Greenland and Bermuda), while Central America (including Mexico, according to the UN) is mainland North America south of the United States. The West Indies generally include all islands in the Caribbean Sea. In this respect, Latin America generally includes most of Central and South America and, sometimes, the West Indies. The term Middle America is sometimes used to refer to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean collectively.

The term "North America" may mean different things to different people. The term in common usage is often taken to mean "the United States and Canada, only" by some people of the United States and Canada, excluding Mexico and the countries of Central America, unless the context makes it clear that they are to be included (such as with specific reference to Mexico, when talking about NAFTA). For example, guides to wild flora and fauna published by the National Audubon Society for "North America" frequently include only species found in Canada and the U.S.

This may be attributed to the fact that culturally and economically, the U.S. 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. Central Americans, however, are generally content to be called Central Americans – largely because of their shared history, which includes several attempts at supranational integration in the region and in which Mexico, their much larger northern neighbor, was never involved.

Table of territories and regions

Name of territory,
with flag
Region[1] Area
(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Template:Flagicon Anguilla (UK) Caribbean 102 13,254 129.9 The Valley
Template:Flagicon Antigua and Barbuda Caribbean 443 68,722 155.1 St. John's
Template:Flagicon Aruba (Netherlands)[2] Caribbean 193 71,566 370.8 Oranjestad
Template:Flagicon Bahamas Caribbean 13,940 301,790 21.6 Nassau
Template:Flagicon Barbados Caribbean 431 279,254 647.9 Bridgetown
Template:Flagicon Belize Central America 22,966 279,457 12.2 Belmopan
Template:Flagicon Bermuda (UK) Northern America 53 65,365 1,233.3 Hamilton
Template:Flagicon British Virgin Islands (UK) Caribbean 153 22,643 148.0 Road Town
Template:Flagicon Canada Northern America 9,984,670 32,805,041 3.3 Ottawa
Template:Flagicon Cayman Islands (UK) Caribbean 262 44,270 169.0 George Town
Template:Flagicon Costa Rica Central America 51,100 4,016,173 78.6 San José
Template:Flagicon Cuba Caribbean 110,860 11,346,670 102.4 Havana
Template:Flagicon Dominica Caribbean 754 69,029 91.6 Roseau
Template:Flagicon Dominican Republic Caribbean 48,730 8,950,034 183.7 Santo Domingo
Template:Flagicon El Salvador Central America 21,040 6,704,932 318.7 San Salvador
Template:Flagicon Greenland (Denmark) Northern America 2,166,086 56,375 0.026 Nuuk
Template:Flagicon Grenada Caribbean 344 89,502 260.2 St. George's
Template:Flagicon Guadeloupe (France) Caribbean 1,780 448,713 252.1 Basse-Terre
Template:Flagicon Guatemala Central America 108,890 14,655,189 134.6 Guatemala City
Template:Flagicon Haiti Caribbean 27,750 8,121,622 292.7 Port-au-Prince
Template:Flagicon Honduras Central America 112,090 6,975,204 62.2 Tegucigalpa
Template:Flagicon Jamaica Caribbean 10,991 2,731,832 248.6 Kingston
Template:Flagicon Martinique (France) Caribbean 1,100 432,900 393.5 Fort-de-France
Template:Flagicon Mexico Central America 1,972,550 106,202,903 53.8 Mexico City
Template:Flagicon Montserrat (UK) Caribbean 102 9,341 91.6 Plymouth; Brades[3]
Template:Flagicon Navassa Island (USA) Caribbean 5
Template:Flagicon Netherlands Antilles (Netherlands)[4] Caribbean 960 219,958 229.1 Willemstad
Template:Flagicon Nicaragua Central America 129,494 5,465,100 42.2 Managua
Template:Flagicon Panama[5] Central America 78,200 3,039,150 38.9 Panama City
Template:Flagicon Puerto Rico (USA) Caribbean 9,104 3,916,632 430.2 San Juan
Template:Flagicon Saint Kitts and Nevis Caribbean 261 38,958 149.3 Basseterre
Template:Flagicon Saint Lucia Caribbean 616 166,312 270.0 Castries
Template:Flagicon Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (France) Northern America 242 7,012 29.0 Saint-Pierre
Template:Flagicon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Caribbean 389 117,534 302.1 Kingstown
Template:Flagicon Trinidad and Tobago[6] Caribbean 5,128 1,088,644 212.3 Port-of-Spain
Template:Flagicon Turks and Caicos Islands (UK) Caribbean 430 20,556 47.8 Cockburn Town
Template:Flagicon United States[7] Northern America 9,629,091 295,734,134 30.7 Washington
Template:Flagicon U.S. Virgin Islands (USA) Caribbean 352 108,708 308.8 Charlotte Amalie
Total 24,506,524 514,684,479 21.0


  1. ^  Continental regions as per UN categorisations/map.
  2. ^ , 4.–6.   Depending on definitions, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago have territory in one or both of North and South America.
  3. ^  Due to ongoing activity of the Soufriere Hills volcano beginning 1995, much of Plymouth, Montserrat's de jure capital, was destroyed and government offices relocated to Brades.
7. ^  Includes the US state of Hawaii, which is distant from the North American landmass in the Pacific Ocean and is, thus, commonly included with the other territories of Oceania.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

External links

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