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North America

"North American" redirects here. For other uses, see North American (disambiguation).

North America

Area 24,709,000 km² (9,540,000 sq mi) Population 523,736,000 (est. July 2007) Density 21.2/km² (54.9/sq mi) Countries 23 Dependencies 18 Languages English, Spanish, French, and many others Time Zones UTC (Danmarkshavn, Greenland) to UTC -10:00 (west Aleutians) Largest
(2005) Mexico City
New York City
Los Angeles

North America is a continent [2] in the Earth's northern hemisphere and (chiefly) western hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by the North Pacific Ocean; South America lies to the southeast. It covers an area of about 24,709,000 square kilometers (9,540,000 sq mi), about 4.8% of the planet's surface or about 16.5% of its land area. As of July 2007, its population was estimated at nearly 524 million people. It is the third-largest continent in area, following Asia and Africa, and is fourth in population after Asia, Africa, and Europe. North America and South America are collectively known as the Americas.



North and South America are popularly accepted as having been named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. Vespucci was the first European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies, but a different landmass previously undiscovered by Europeans. Vespucci was the first to discover South America and the Amerique mountains of Central America, which connected his discoveries to those of Christopher Columbus. The etymology is further complicated by the need of cartographers to come up with a name that paralleled the feminine names of the other continents (e.g. Europa, Asia etc.). The convention is to use the surname for naming discoveries except in the case of royalty and so a derivation from "Amerigo Vespucci" may be problematic. [3]

The second and less generally accepted theory is that the continents are named after a Welsh merchant named Richard Amerike from Bristol, who is believed to have financed John Cabot's voyage of discovery from England to Newfoundland in 1497. A minutely explored belief that has been advanced is that America was named for a Spanish sailor bearing the ancient Visigothic name of 'Amairick'. Another is that the name is rooted in an Native American language.[4]


Main article: History of North America
The ruins of Chichen Itza.

Scientists have several theories as to the origins of the early human population of North America. The indigenous peoples of North America themselves have many creation myths, by which they assert that they have been present on the land since its creation.

Before contact with Europeans, the natives of North America were divided into many different polities, from small bands of a few families to large empires. They lived in several "culture areas", which roughly correspond to geographic and biological zones and give a good indication of the main lifeway or occupation of the people who lived there (e.g. the Bison hunters of the Great Plains, or the farmers of Mesoamerica). Native groups can also be classified by their language family (e.g. Athapascan or Uto-Aztecan). It is important to note that peoples with similar languages did not always share the same material culture, nor were they always allies.

Scientists believe that the Inuit people of the high Arctic came to North America much later than other native groups, as evidenced by the disappearance of Dorset culture artifacts from the archaeological record, and their replacement by the Thule people.

Place d'Armes in Montreal, historic heart of French Canada.

During the thousands of years of native inhabitation on the continent, cultures changed and shifted. Archaeologists often name different cultural groups they discover after the site where they are first found. One of the oldest cultures yet found is the Clovis culture of modern New Mexico. A more recent example is the group of related cultures called the Mound builders (e.g. the Fort Walton Culture), found in the Mississippi river valley. They flourished from 3000 BC to the 1500s AD.

The more southern cultural groups of North America were responsible for the domestication of many common crops now used around the world, such as tomatoes and squash. Perhaps most importantly they domesticated one of the world's major staples, maize (corn).

As a result of the development of agriculture in the south, many important cultural advances were made there. For example, the Maya civilization developed a writing system, built huge pyramids, had a complex calendar, and developed the concept of zero around 400 CE, a few hundred years after the Mesopotamians.[5] The Mayan culture was still present when the Spanish arrived in Central America, but political dominance in the area had shifted to the Aztec Empire further north.

Upon the arrival of the Europeans in the "New World", native peoples found their culture changed drastically. As such, their affiliation with political and cultural groups changed as well, several linguistic groups went extinct, and others changed quite quickly. The names and cultures that Europeans recorded for the natives were not necessarily the same as the ones they had used a few generations before, or the ones in use today.

Geography and extent

Further information: Geography of North America
A satellite composite image of North America. Clickable map

North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America (which is sometimes considered a single continent[6][7][8] and North America a subcontinent).[9] North America's only land connection is to South America at the Colombia-Panama border according to most authorities, or at the Panama Canal by some and even at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico by a few who separate Central America which rests mostly on the Caribbean Plate. Before the Central American isthmus was raised, the region had been underwater. The islands of the West Indies delineate a submerged former land bridge, which had connected North America and South America via Florida and Venezuela.

The continental coastline is long and irregular. The Gulf of Mexico is the largest body of water indenting the continent, followed by Hudson Bay. Others include the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Gulf of California.

There are numerous islands off the continent’s coasts: principally, the Arctic Archipelago, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Alexander Archipelago, and the Aleutian Islands. Greenland, a Danish self-governing island and the world's largest, is on the same tectonic plate (the North American Plate) and is part of North America geographically. Bermuda is not part of the Americas, but is an oceanic island which was formed on the fissure of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge over 100 million years ago. The nearest landmass to it is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and it is often thought of as part of North America, especially given its historical, political and cultural ties to Virginia and other parts of the continent.

Physical geography

Sedimentary, volcanic, plutonic, metamorphic rock types of North America.

The vast majority of North America is on the North American Plate. Parts of California and western Mexico form the partial edge of the Pacific Plate, with the two plates meeting along the San Andreas fault. The southern-most portion of the continent and much of the West Indies lie on the Caribbean Plate, while the Juan de Fuca and Cocos Plates border the North American Plate on its western frontier.

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.

The United States Geographical Survey states that the geographic center of North America is "6 miles west of Balta, Pierce County, North Dakota" at approximately 48°10′N 100°10′W / 48.167, -100.167, approximately 15 miles (25 km) from Rugby, North Dakota. The USGS further states that “No marked or monumented point has been established by any government agency as the geographic center of either the 50 States, the conterminous United States, or the North American continent.” Nonetheless, there is a 15-foot (4.5 m) field stone obelisk in Rugby claiming to mark the center.

North America bedrock and terrain.

North American cratons and basement rocks.

North American craton.

Human geography

Mexico City is the most populous city in North America. New York City, the largest city in the United States and a major world city. Toronto is the most populous city in Canada -- fifth in North America -- and is one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities.

The prevalent languages in North America are English, Spanish, and French. The term Anglo-America is used to refer to the anglophone countries of the Americas: namely Canada (where English and French are co-official) and the United States, but also sometimes Belize and parts of the Caribbean. Latin America refers to the other areas of the Americas (generally south of the United States) where Romance languages derived from Latin predominate: the other republics of Central America, Mexico, much of the Caribbean, and most of South America.

The French language has historically played a significant role in North America and retains a distinctive presence in some regions. Canada is officially bilingual; French is the official language of the Canadian province of Quebec and is co-official with English in the province of New Brunswick. Other French-speaking locales include the French West Indies and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, as well as the U.S. state of Louisiana, where French is also an official language. Haiti is included with this group based on past historical association but Haitians speak Creole and French.

Socially and culturally, North America presents a well-defined entity. Canada and the United States have a similar culture and similar traditions as a result of both countries being former British colonies. A common cultural and economic market has developed between the two nations because of the strong economic and historical ties. Spanish-speaking North America shares a common past as former Spanish colonies. In Mexico and the Central American countries where civilizations like the Maya developed, indigenous people preserve traditions across modern boundaries. Central American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations have historically had more in common due to geographical proximity and the fact that, after winning independence from Spain, Mexico never took part in an effort to build a Central American Union.

Economically, Canada and the United States are the wealthiest and most developed nations in the continent, followed by Mexico, a newly industrialized country; the countries of Central America and the Caribbean are much less developed. The most important trade blocs are the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the recently signed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)—the last of these being an example of the economic integration sought by the nations of this subregion as a way to improve their financial status.

Demographically, North America is a racially and ethnically diverse continent. Its three main racial groups are Whites, Mestizos and Blacks (chiefly African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans).[citation needed] There is a significant minority of Amerindians and Asians among other less numerous groups.

Countries and territories

North America is often divided into subregions but no universally accepted divisions exist. Central America comprises the southern region of the continent, but its northern terminus varies between sources. Geophysically, the region starts at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico (namely the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatán[10]). The United Nations geoscheme includes Mexico in Central America; conversely, the European Union excludes both Mexico and Belize from the area. Geopolitically, Mexico is frequently not considered a part of Central America.[11]

Northern America is used to refer to the northern countries and territories of North America: Canada, the United States, Greenland, Bermuda, and St. Pierre and Miquelon. They are often considered distinct from the southern portion of the Americas, which largely comprise Latin America. The term Middle America is sometimes used to collectively refer to Mexico, the nations of Central America, and the Caribbean.

territorywith flagArea
(July 2007 est.)[12]Population density
(per km²) CapitalAnguilla(UK) &0000000000000102.000000102 &0000000000013677.00000013,677 134.1 The ValleyAntigua and Barbuda&0000000000000443.000000443 &0000000000069481.00000069,481 157.0 St. John'sAruba(Netherlands)[13]&0000000000000193.000000193 &0000000000100018.000000100,018 518.2 OranjestadBahamas&0000000000013940.00000013,940 &0000000000305655.000000305,655 21.9 NassauBarbados&0000000000000431.000000431 &0000000000280946.000000280,946 651.8 BridgetownBelize&0000000000022966.00000022,966 &0000000000294385.000000294,385 12.8 BelmopanBermuda(UK) &0000000000000053.00000053 &0000000000066163.00000066,163 1241.3 HamiltonBritish Virgin Islands(UK) &0000000000000153.000000153 &0000000000023552.00000023,552 153.9 Road TownCanada&0000000009984670.0000009,984,670 &0000000033390141.00000033,390,141 3.3 OttawaCayman Islands(UK) &0000000000000262.000000262 &0000000000046600.00000046,600 177.9 George TownClipperton Island(France) &0000000000000009.0000009 &-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 0.0 — Costa Rica&0000000000051100.00000051,100 &0000000004133884.0000004,133,884 80.9 San JoséCuba&0000000000110860.000000110,860 &0000000011394043.00000011,394,043 102.8 HavanaDominica&0000000000000754.000000754 &0000000000072386.00000072,386 96.0 RoseauDominican Republic&0000000000048730.00000048,730 &0000000009365818.0000009,365,818 192.2 Santo DomingoEl Salvador&0000000000021040.00000021,040 &0000000006948073.0000006,948,073 330.2 San SalvadorGreenland(Denmark) &0000000002166086.0000002,166,086 &0000000000056344.00000056,344 0.026 NuukGrenada&0000000000000344.000000344 &0000000000089971.00000089,971 261.5 St. George'sGuadeloupe(France) &0000000000001780.0000001,780[14]&0000000000452776.000000452,776[14]254.4 Basse-TerreGuatemala&0000000000108890.000000108,890 &0000000012728111.00000012,728,111 116.9 Guatemala CityHaiti&0000000000027750.00000027,750 &0000000008706497.0000008,706,497 313.7 Port-au-PrinceHonduras&0000000000112090.000000112,090 &0000000007483763.0000007,483,763 66.8 TegucigalpaJamaica&0000000000010991.00000010,991 &0000000002780132.0000002,780,132 252.9 KingstonMartinique(France) &0000000000001100.0000001,100[14]&0000000000436131.000000436,131[14]396.5 Fort-de-FranceMexico&0000000001972550.0000001,972,550 &0000000108700891.000000108,700,891 55.1 Mexico CityMontserrat(UK) &0000000000000102.000000102 &0000000000009538.0000009,538 93.5 Plymouth; Brades[15]Navassa Island(USA) &0000000000000005.0000005 &-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.0000000 0.0 — Netherlands Antilles(Netherlands)[13]&0000000000000960.000000960 &0000000000223652.000000223,652 233.0 WillemstadNicaragua&0000000000129494.000000129,494 &0000000005675356.0000005,675,356 43.8 ManaguaPanama[16]&0000000000078200.00000078,200 &0000000003242173.0000003,242,173 41.5 Panama CityPuerto Rico(USA) &0000000000008870.0000008,870[17]&0000000003944259.0000003,944,259 444.7 San JuanSaint Barthélemy(France) &0000000000000021.00000021 &0000000000006852.0000006,852[18]326.3 GustaviaSaint Kitts and Nevis&0000000000000261.000000261 &0000000000039349.00000039,349 150.8 BasseterreSaint Lucia&0000000000000616.000000616 &0000000000170649.000000170,649 277.0 CastriesSaint Martin(France) &0000000000000054.00000054 &0000000000033102.00000033,102[19]608.5 MarigotSaint Pierre and Miquelon(France) &0000000000000242.000000242 &0000000000007036.0000007,036 29.1 Saint-PierreSaint Vincent and the Grenadines&0000000000000389.000000389 &0000000000118149.000000118,149 303.7 KingstownTrinidad and Tobago[13]&0000000000005128.0000005,128 &0000000001056608.0000001,056,608 206.0 Port of SpainTurks and Caicos Islands(UK) &0000000000000430.000000430 &0000000000021746.00000021,746 50.6 Cockburn TownUnited States of America[20]&0000000009826630.0000009,826,630 &0000000301139947.000000301,139,947 30.6 Washington, D.C.United States Virgin Islands(USA) &0000000000000346.000000346[17]&0000000000108448.000000108,448 313.4 Charlotte AmalieTotal &0000000024709036.00000024,709,036 &0000000523736302.000000523,736,302 21.2


The term North America may mean different things to different people in the world according to the context. Usage other than that of the entire continent includes:

  • In English, North America is sometimes used to refer to the United States and Canada exclusively.[21] Alternatively, usage may include Mexico[22] (as with North American Free Trade Agreement) and other entities.[23]
  • In Latin America, Spain, and some other parts of Europe, North America usually designates a subcontinent (subcontinente in Spanish) of the Americas containing Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and often Greenland, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Bermuda.[24]

Historical toponymy

North America, in whole or in part, has been historically referred to by other names:

See also

Main list: List of basic North America topics
North America Portal
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: North America

Notes and references

  1. ^ List based on 2005 figures in Table A.12, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, United Nations. Accessed on line January 1, 2008.
  2. ^ United Nations Statistics Division- Standard Country and Area Codes Classifications (M49). United Nations Statistics Division.
  3. ^ Lloyd, John; John Mitchinson [2006]. The Book of General Ignorance. Harmony Books, p. 95. ISBN 978-0-307-39491-0. “New countries or continents were never named after a person’s first name, but always after the second…” 
  4. ^ The Naming of America: Fragments We've Shored Against Ourselves. By Jonathan Cohen
  5. ^ Robert Kaplan (January 16, 2007). What is the origin of zero? How did we indicate nothingness before zero?. Scientific American. Retrieved on 2008-02-19.
  6. ^ The Olympic symbols. International Olympic Committee. 2002. Lausanne: Olympic Museum and Studies Centre. The five rings of the Olympic flag represent the five inhabited, participating continents (Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania).
  7. ^ Océano Uno, Diccionario Enciclopédico y Atlas Mundial, "Continente", page 392, 1730. ISBN 84-494-0188-7
  8. ^ Los Cinco Continentes (The Five Continents), Planeta-De Agostini Editions, 1997. ISBN 84-395-6054-0
  9. ^ Encarta, "Norteamérica".
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Central America"
  11. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary, "Central America"
  12. ^ a b Land areas and population estimates are taken from The 2008 World Factbook which currently uses July 2007 data, unless otherwise noted.
  13. ^ a b c Depending on definitions, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago have territory in one or both of North and South America.
  14. ^ a b c d Since Guadeloupe and Martinique have been upgraded from overseas departments to regions of France, they are no longer listed separately in The World Factbook. Therefore, these figures are from the last edition in which they appear -- July 2006.
  15. ^ Due to ongoing activity of the Soufriere Hills volcano beginning 1995, much of Plymouth's de jure capital was destroyed and government offices were relocated to Brades.
  16. ^ Panama is generally considered a North American country, though some authorities divide it at the Panama Canal; land area and population figures are for the entire country.
  17. ^ a b Water area makes up a considerable portion of this entity's total area. Therefore, for a more accurate figure on which to calculate population density, this figure includes land area and excludes water area.
  18. ^ Figure as of March 1999 census.
  19. ^ Figure as of October 2004 census.
  20. ^ Includes the U.S. 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.
  21. ^ Burchfield, R. W., ed. 2004. "America." Fowler's Modern English Usage (ISBN 0-19-861021-1) New York: Oxford University Press, p. 48 -- quotation reads: "the term 'North America' is mostly used to mean the United States and Canada together. Countries to the south of the United States are described as being in Central America (Mexico, Nicaragua, etc.) or South America (Brazil, Argentina, etc.)"; see also: McArthur, Tom. 1992. "North American." The Oxford Companion to the English Language (ISBN 0-19-214183-X) New York: Oxford University Press, p. 707. See also [1]
  22. ^ the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: refers to "Three nations, on the same continent"
  23. ^ Countries of North America: includes Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States
  24. ^ In Ibero-America, North America is considered a subcontinent containing Canada, the United States, Mexico, Greenland, Bermuda and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon."Norteamérica (Mexican version)"/(Spaniard version). Encarta Online Encyclopedia.
v • d • eCountries of North AmericaSeveral nations listed here straddle both North and South Americaor can also be considered CaribbeanSovereign states

Antigua and Barbuda · Bahamas · Barbados · Belize · Canada · Costa Rica · Cuba · Dominica · Dominican Republic · El Salvador · Grenada · Guatemala · Haiti · Honduras · Jamaica · Mexico · Nicaragua · Panama · St. Kitts and Nevis · St. Lucia · St. Vincent and the Grenadines · Trinidad and Tobago · United States

DependenciesDenmarkGreenlandFranceGuadeloupe · Martinique · Saint Barthélemy · Saint Martin · Saint Pierre and Miquelon · ClippertonNetherlandsAruba · Netherlands AntillesUnited KingdomAnguilla · Bermuda · British Virgin Islands · Cayman Islands · Montserrat · Turks and Caicos IslandsUnited StatesPuerto Rico · U.S. Virgin Islands v • d • eContinentsof the world   











N. America

S. America


Geological supercontinents
Gondwana · Laurasia · Pangaea · Pannotia · Rodinia · Columbia · Kenorland · Ur · Vaalbara

Historical continents
Arctica · Asiamerica · Atlantica · Avalonia · Baltica · Cimmeria · Congo craton · Euramerica · Kalahari Desert · Kazakhstania · Laurentia · Siberia · South China · Ur


Submerged continents
Kerguelen Plateau · Zealandia

Possible future supercontinents
Pangaea Ultima · Amasia

Mythical and theorized continents
Atlantis · Lemuria · Mu · Terra Australis

See also Regions of the world v • d • eRegionsof the world


Maghreb · Northern · Central · Southern · Western · Eastern


North (Anglo  · Northern) · Middle (Central  · Caribbean) · South (Latin  · Southern Cone)


Central · Eastern (Far East · Asia-Pacific) · Northern (Siberia) · Southern (Indian subcontinent) · Southeastern · Southwestern/Western


Western · Central · Eastern · Northern · Southern

Middle EastArabian Peninsula · Caucasus · Levant ·


Australasia · Melanesia · Micronesia · Polynesia


Arctic · Antarctica

OceansWorld · Arctic · Atlantic · Indian · Pacific · SouthernSee also Continents of the world
Categories: Regions of the Americas | Continents | North AmericaHidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements since February 2007 | Articles with unsourced statements since January 2008

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