North America (the name “America” coming from Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, who may have visited the mainland of North America in 1497 and 1498) is the third largest continent, lying mostly between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer, covering an area of 24,230,000 square kilometers. The continent, often referred to as the “New World”, includes the countries of Canada, the second largest country in the world, the United States of America, Mexico, Greenland as well as the small French overseas department of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the British dependency of Bermuda. North America ranks fourth in comparing population statistics of the continents, with 2000 estimates of more than 405 million inhabitants.
Climate, vegetation and natural regions
North America, because of its vast size has very varied climatic regions. Five major climatic regions can be identified, the first being the tropical climate in Southern Mexico, the second, the mild climate with wet winters and virtually rainless summers of the Pacific zone along the coastal regions from southern Alaska to southern California. The third region includes the western interior of the United States and much of northern Mexico and is described as mostly mountainous and desert country. The fourth region consists of the eastern two-thirds of the United States and southern Canada and has a humid climate with obvious seasonal changes, and the last region is that of the northern two-thirds of Canada and Alaska, as well as all of Greenland, which have arctic and sub-arctic climates.
The Continent is surrounded by oceans and seas. On the west coast is the Pacific Ocean, the east coast is the Atlantic Ocean, to the south of the United States and Mexico lies the Gulf of Mexico, in the northern areas near Alaska and the north of Canada lies the Arctic ocean.
The most notable forests in North America are the taiga or boreal forest, which is a large expanse of mainly coniferous trees that covers much of central and southern Canada and Alaska. There is also a large area of redwood forests in California in the US and tropical forests in Mexico.
Mining and Mineral Resources
North America has two of the world’s largest mining countries, namely the United States and Canada. In 1998 the value of raw mineral production in the United States was US$ 125 billion.
The continent has a vast variety of important minerals. Mexico holds large reserves of barite, copper, fluorite, lead, zinc, manganese and sulfur. Coal beds can be found in eastern and western Canada as well as in the United States in its vast Appalachian fields.
Iron ore deposits are found in eastern Canada, much of which is in the Québec Province-Labrador border area, central Mexico and in the northern United States. Significant gold and silver deposits can be found in Mexico, the United States and Canada. Canada has major copper, nickel, phosphate rock, molybdenum and uranium deposits.
Greenland has recently seen increased exploration activities, in particular diamond exploration. However, there are no major producing mines.
Energy and Mineral Resources
North America has large deposits of mineral resources, particularly petroleum and natural gas. These resources can be found in large areas of Alaska, Canada, the southern and western United States and eastern Mexico. North America consumes vast quantities of energy and relies heavily on the production of petroleum and natural gas.
Canada depends more on hydroelectricity then the other countries, however also makes use of large quantities of petroleum and natural gas. In 1999 Canada was the fifth-largest energy producer in the world behind the United States, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia. During the 1970’s and 1980’s Mexico’s energy production surged and in 2000, Mexico produced about 3.5 million barrels per day of oil, with net oil exports of roughly 1.5 million barrels per day.
The United States makes use of an enormous amount of energy, more than the country’s domestic output of coal, petroleum, natural gas, and hydroelectric and nuclear power, so imports of petroleum and natural gas are needed.
During 2000, the United States produced around 8.1 million barrels of oil per day, of which 5.83 MMBD was crude oil, and the rest natural gas liquids and other liquids. The United States imported an estimated 11.1 MMBD of oil (crude and products) during 2000, representing around 57% of total U.S oil demand.
The eastern half of the United States and adjacent parts of Ontario and Quebec are the most densely populated areas of North America. In 2000 the population of the United States was 274,943,496; Canada 31,330,225; Mexico 102,026,691 and Greenland 60,324 people.
During the 1990’s 74% of Mexicans were living in urban years and 76% of Canadian, Americans and inhabitants of Greenland were urbanised. I
n both Canada and the United States the rate population increase has declined since the 1950’s and the rate of population in Mexico is 2.2% per year, one of the highest population growth rates in the world.
North America, because of its cultural and historic diversity has many different languages. English is the most widely spoken of the languages with about 90% of Americans and 66% of Canadians speaking English. French is widely spoken in Canada and Spanish is spoken by Hispanic people in the United States. Several of the indigenous people of the North America’s such as the Inuit people and those of Greenland speak indigenous languages also.
The economies of the various countries that make up North America are extremely diversified and therefore hard to categorise as one area.
Generally speaking the continent has experienced growth and increased levels of productivity. The United States of America has experienced a considerable slowdown with regards to economic growth. As of April 2001 the country has experienced a decline in growth in comparison the past five years where, due to low inflation (3.4% in 2000), low unemployment (4.1% in 2000) and rapid productivity growth the economy flourished.
Canada is currently experiencing an economic boom with an expected projected gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 3.2% in 2001. Mexico inaugurated new president, Vincente Fox at the end of 2000 and has aims at increasing the country’s gross domestic product growth (GDP) to 7% in 2001.
Agriculture and farming is relatively important on the continent, Mexico having significantly more emphasis on subsistence farming than its neighbour the United States or Canada. All three countries have well developed commercial farming areas and leading commodities include cotton, cattle, coffee, wheat, sugar, beans and corn. Forestry is an important sector in Canada.
Notable forest industry activity occurs in British Columbia, Ontario, and the Québec Province. Manufacturing is a leading economic sector of the United States and a growing one in Mexico. Output is extremely diversified in all the countries of North America.
The United States of America, Canada and Mexico belong to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), effective as of the 1st January 1994. This agreement is for the following 15 years and eliminates the trade barrier between the countries.
Figures show that in 1997 the combined NAFTA countries had a combined gross domestic product of US $8.9 trillion. The United States of America is the lead trade partner for both Mexico and Canada.
The United States ranks as one of the world’s leading trading countries in terms of the total value of exports and imports. Primary exports of the United States include machinery, chemicals, foodstuffs, aircraft and motor vehicles. Mexico’s primary exports include crude petroleum, coffee and metal ore’s. Amongst Canada’s primary exports are motor vehicles, metal, forest products and chemicals.