North America


  1. Physical Environment
    • Physical Geography
    • Climate
    • Resources
  2. Regions of the North American Realm
    • The American Manufacturing Belt
    • New England/Atlantic Provinces
    • French Canada
    • The Agricultural Heartland
    • The South
    • The Southwest
    • The Periphery Interior
    • The West Coast
  3. Demographic Analysis (FROM POPULATION DATA SHEET)
    • Population Growth
    • Under 15 / Over 65
    • Infant Mortality
    • Percent Urban
    • GNI PPP
  4. United States
    • Population
    • Human Geography
    • Economic Geography
  5. Canada
    • Population
    • Human Geography
    • Economic Geography
  6. References
  7. Questions

Physical Geography

Distinctive regions that include the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and the Appalachian Highlands characterize the physical geography of North America. The Rocky Mountains have a rugged topography that dominates from Alaska to New Mexico. The Appalachian Highlands are on the eastern side of the continent. This range is lower than the Rocky Mountains and they extend form Canada's Atlantic Provinces to Alabama. Between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Highlands lie the interior plains, which extend from the Arctic Ocean to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. These plains are divided into three main provinces (1) the great Canadian Shield, which contain North America's oldest rocks; (2) the Interior Lowlands, covered largely by glacial debris laid down by melt water and wind during a period of glaciation and (3) the Great Plains, the extensive sedimentary surface that slowly rises westward toward the Rocky Mountains. To the west of the Rocky Mountains are the Intermontane Basins and Plateaus. They are called intermontane because they lie between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific coast mountain system. This zone is divided into the (1) Colorado Plateau in the south, which includes the Grand Canyon; (2) the Columbia Plateau, which is lava, covered and in the north; and (3) the central Basin and Range country of Nevada and Utah, that includes the Great Salt Lake.

The climates in North America are as varied as its landforms. North America has three different climate classifications within its region, which include: Arid climates (B), Humid Middle Latitudes (C), and Continental climates (D). Class B climates are in areas such as east of the Sierra Nevada. Class C climates are south of the Great Lakes with 30 to 60 inches of rain annually to portions of eastern Quebec. Class D climates make up much of the North American interior with hotter summers and colder winters. The average rainfall in this climate ranges from 10 to 30 inches annually. The region in this climate classification straddles the transition zone between humid and arid which is defined as the 20-inch line of annual precipitation that runs near the 100th meridian. Here on the Great Plains area rainfall decreases from east to west. The region's size, latitudinal range, and varied terrain have contributed to a diversity of temperature and precipitation patterns. The scale of the physical setting is notable in that it varies in latitude from Hawaii, which is 20 degrees north to northernmost Canada and Greenland, which is 80 degrees north. Wind and clouds coming off the ocean toward the mountains have plenty of precipitation but when they get to the mountains they lose all the precipitation on the west side causing the eastern side to not get much precipitation. This is known as the rain shadow effect because temperatures generally decrease with increasing elevation causing the air masses to release moisture and when the air masses are on the eastern side they don't have the precipitation. The air masses on the eastern side tend to be warmer and drier creating a more arid climate.

North America is extraordinarily rich in natural resources such as fossil fuels, oil, natural gas, coal, and industrial metals making it one of the largest consumers on the planet. Having about 4.6% of the world's population, the U.S. consumes between 40-60% of the world's resources including 30% of the world's commercial energy budget. Coal was an important resource in the expansion of the U.S., even though now it provides less than one-fourth of the nation's energy supply. The Powder River Basin is a leading area in the production of strip-mined coal providing for the generation of electricity for much of the central part of the United States. The major area of oil production in the U.S. is in the Texas-Louisiana Basin, which has abundant deposits of oil, natural gas, sulfur and salt.

Regions of the North American Realm

The American Manufacturing Belt was an area of predominantly manufacturing activities along the Atlantic coast and stretching inland to the Great Lakes. The onset of post industrialization has reduced its regional role. Along with that the number of blue-collar jobs was reduced leading to a region with chronic unemployment. This problem is most apparent in the inner cities and suburbs of Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, corresponding to former areas of steel manufacturing now collectively referred to as the Rust Belt.

The New England/Atlantic Provinces include Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. It also extends across the Canadian border to include the four Atlantic Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. Each of the regions is rural in character and they have difficult environments in which land resources are limited. Development has centered on primary activities, mainly fishing on the banks of the North Atlantic. Forestry in the uplands, and farming in the few fertile valleys is also possible.

French Canada includes the southern portion of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Maine. A characteristic of the French landscape is long lots. These are narrow rectangular farms, which are laid out in sequence and perpendicular to the St. Lawrence and other rivers, allowing each farm access to the waterway. Industrialization is supported by cheap hydroelectric energy generated at huge dams in northern Quebec. Tertiary and post-industrial commercial activities are centered in Montreal; tourism and recreation are also important.

In the heart of North America, agricultural becomes the predominant feature of the landscape. Because the eastern half of the Agricultural Heartland lies in Humid America and closer to the population concentration on the northeastern seaboard, mixed crop and livestock farming wins out over less competitive wheat raising. The fertile Prairie of Canada Provinces is subject to more serious drought than even the US Plains and they have shorter growing seasons. North American corn and wheat production defines the boundaries of the Agricultural Heartland region.

The South has an estimated population of about 77 million. The regional boundaries of the South aren't as distinctive as the other regions. The South covers the southeastern part of the country from parts of Texas to Virginia. Summers are long and hot in this part of the region with over seven months of frost-free seasons. The migration of Afro-Americans to urban centers due to declining demands for labor in the agricultural South has become a 20th century phenomenon. The black population is another well-known way in which the South stands out. Currently blacks make up about 50% of the population in the South. The South was the nation's poorest region though it is getting better. The South's level of economic development has increased since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The South had an economy dominated by the production of cash crops such as cotton for many centuries, and now the South is a major world producer of coal.

The Southwest region includes central and southern California, southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Spaniards were the first to colonize the southwest region. The U.S. controlled nearly all the Southwest by 1850, although part of the area maintained a distinctive Hispanic culture. The Hispanic culture is spreading even more today as large numbers of immigrants come across the border. Agriculture is important even though most of the economy is nonagricultural. Most areas in the Southwest receive less than 20 inches of rainfall a year so most of the land use is for ranching, although agriculture is more profitable where irrigation is possible. One of the most valuable agricultural districts in the world is in California's Central Valley.

The Interior Periphery is the largest region. It covers most of Canada, all of Alaska, the northern parts of Minnesota-Wisconsin-Michigan, New York's Adirondack, and the inland US West between and including the Sierra Nevada-Cascades and the Rocky Mountains. The region is isolated, has a rugged environment, and attracts the sparsest population. The Great Plains was the last region to develop and now it is a major Anglo-American agricultural region even though it suffers drought. The most favorable area of this agricultural area is from central Ohio to eastern Nebraska. The Interior Periphery accounts for over two fifths of the United States agricultural production. The Interior Periphery's history is based on the technological developments, economic fluctuations and corporate and government decisions made in the Manufacturing Belt. Economic recession has had a negative affect on the mining industry and iron mines which were closed in Minnesota, Northern Ontario and Labrador. But coal and uranium operations in the Rocky Mountains weren't touched by these economic misfortunes. Mining of silver, lead, zinc, and nickel continue, especially in Canada. Business and industrial firms are streaming into the area because of the low wages, low taxes, and skilled labor. Software Valley, a 40-mile corridor between Salt Lake City and Provo, is the world's second largest concentration of information technology after Silicon Valley.

The Pacific coast of the US and southwestern Canada has been a lure to migrants since the Oregon Trail. Most major development here took place during the post World War II era. It was a time of enormous population and economic growth. Silicon Valley located in San Francisco is an area of high technology. Silicon Valley is the main center for design and production of computer chips and other modern electronics. California had fifty years of unrelenting growth and it has begun to take its toll. The people of this area deal with inland droughts, coastal-zone flooding, mudslides, brushfires, and earthquakes. California is a national innovator, but that is subject to change because most of its economy is tied to aerospace, weapons, and other volatile industries. The Pacific Northwest includes the Oregon's Willamette Valley, the Cowletz-Puget Sound, and the British Columbia coastal zone. This area was used for timer and fishing industries. The Columbia River dam projects of the 1930's and 1950's generated cheap hydroelectricity, which attracted aluminum and aircraft manufactures. The regions greatest potential is its location as a gateway to the western Pacific Rim.

The United States

Population for the United States in 2000 was 275.6 million and the GNP per capita was $29,240. The U.S. has the largest population of any industrialized country in the world. About 70% of the region's population lives in the metropolitan area despite the importance of agriculture. The greatest distribution of people is in the areas surrounding Chicago, Detroit, and northeastern Ohio. The population redistribution in the United States since the 1920's can be characterized as rural to urban. The east and west coasts have the greatest concentration of people.

The human geography is still being shaped by the wide spectrum of immigrant groups. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Eskimos or Aleuts make up about 27% of all Americans. The number of immigrants living in the U.S. has almost tripled since 1970. Hispanics are expected to surpass and become the country's largest minority group by 2015. Most of the Hispanic population is located around New York.

The economic geography of the Untied States today is the bountiful environment, human and technological resources blending together to create one of the world's most advanced economies. At the end of the twentieth century, the economic geography transitioned from industrial to a post-industrial society. The largest settlement agglomeration is known as the Megalopolis, which reaches from Washington to Boston. The United States has a spatial economy which has four major sectors; 1) Primary activity-this sector is were workers and environment come in contact, examples are mining and agriculture, 2) Secondary activity-manufacturing sector in which raw materials are transformed into finished industrial products, 3) Tertiary activity-the service sector which includes education, retailing and office-based jobs, 4) Quaternary activity-the dominant sector which involves collection, processing, and manipulation of information. The current breakdown of these activities in the US labor force is agriculture 2 percent, manufacturing 15 percent, services 18 percent, and quaternary 65 percent.


Population for Canada in 2000 was 30.8 million, a little over 10% of the U.S. population.  The GDP per capita was $19,170, well under that of the U.S. but far above Mexico's GDP per capita of $3,840. Canada is divided into ten provinces and two federal territories. About one eighth of the country is settled. The people tend to cluster in five areas which are; main Street, the Saint John-Halifax crescent, the area around Winnipeg in southeastern Manitoba, the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, and the southwestern corner of British Columbia. The population has evolved slower than the US. In 1886, the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway sparked a period of settlement in the far west and the Prairie Provinces. During this time industrialization also occurred and by 1920 manufacturing had surpassed agriculture and become the leading source of national income. The dominant zone of industrial activity is the Toronto-Hamilton-Windsor corridor of southern Ontario.

The major language of the country is a continuing problem. For many years, the people of Quebec regarded themselves as second-class citizens and feel they are not getting a fair share of the countries wealth. To them bilingualism means the French-speakers had to learn English, but not vice versa. This has led to several efforts to create a sovereign Quebec, which have all failed.

Canada's economy has been supported by a considerable variety and quantity of resources. In addition, Canada has been a leading agricultural producer and exporter especially of wheat and other grains. New technologies keep productivity high, but labor requirements are diminishing. Farmers account for less than 3 percent of the national workforce. Post-industrialization has caused employment to decline in the manufacturing sector, but the tertiary and quaternary activities are creating a host of new economic opportunities. Canada's economic future is also going to be affected by the continuing development of its trading relationships. The landmark NAFTA Agreement signed in 1989 was a step in that direction. The agreement initiated a ten-year long phasing out of all tariffs and investment restrictions between the two countries.


Wheeler, Jr., Jesse H. and J. Trenton Kostbade.  World Regional Geography. Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishing, 1990.

de Blij, H.J., and Peter O. Muller. Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts 2000. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.

Rowntree, Les, Martin Lewis, Marie Price, and William Wyckoff. Diversity Amid Globalization: World Regions, Environment Development. Upper Saddle, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.


1. Which of the following is true about resource consumption in the United States: A. having about 4.6% of the world's population, the United States consumes between 40-60% of the world's resources; B. the higher resource consumption of the United States is not reflected in a higher per capita GNP as compared to other industrialized countries of the world; C. a majority of U.S. resource consumption is related to transportation, specifically with automobiles; D. oil represents a major portion of U.S. resource consumption and up to 45% of this resource is imported; E. all of the above.
2. Which of the following is true about the United States? A. it has the highest per capita GNP, even higher than the smaller and affluent countries of western Europe; B. because of liberal abortion policies, the U.S. has the lowest population growth rate of any country in the world; C. it has a huge supply of resources and is self-sufficient in oil production; D. it has the largest population of any industrialized country in the world; E. all of the above.
3. Of the industrialized countries of the world, the United States has probably been the most successful in: A. developing industry in high technology; B. making the transition to a post-industrialized, information-based society; C. contributing to significant, although costly, advances in medicine; D. integrating a multi-racial and multi-cultural society; E. all of the above.
4. Of the following regions in North America, which was the last to develop? A. the South; B. Mormon Utah; C. the Middle West; D. the Great Plains; E. the Industrial North.
5. The Rust Belt is a region that coincides with A. an area of poor soils in the American South. B. a former area of predominantly steel manufacturing within the American Manufacturing belt. C. an area of soils with a high concentration of iron. D. an iron ore mining area in northern Minnesota.
6. The so-called megalopolis extends from: A. Boston to Washington; B. Boston to Philadelphia; C. New York to Washington; D. New York to Baltimore.
7. On the great plains of the United States and Canada, rainfall decreases from: A. North to South; B. East to West; C. West to East; D. South to North.
8. The United States and Canada have about what percentage of the world's population: A. 4.6%; B. 10.1%; C. 12.5%; D. 30%.
9. It is estimated that North America may use as much as what percentage of the world's resources: A. 10%; B. 20%; C. 30%; D. 60%.
10. What is the percentage of U.S. population in agriculture: A. about 2%; B. 5%; C. 10%; D. 15%.
11. Which one of the following states contains territory located in the Intermontane Basin-and-Plateau physiographic region? A. Wisconsin; B. Texas; C. Pennsylvania; D. Nevada.
12. Which city is not located within the traditional American Manufacturing Belt: A. Toronto; B. Baltimore; C. Detroit; D. Atlanta.
13. Which of the following is a leading area in the production of strip-mined coal providing for the generation of electricity for much of the central part of the United States? A. Alaska's North Slope; B. Southern California; C. the Powder River Basin in Wyoming's sector of the Great Plains; D. the seabed just offshore from the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast.
14. Silicon Valley is an area of high-technology industries located in: A. Southern California; B. in the San Joaquin Valley; C. in the San Francisco Bay area; D. adjacent to Napa Valley.
15. Blacks today comprise about ___ percent of the U.S. population: A. 6; B. 12; C. 27; D. 39.
16. Which western U.S. city is least likely to suffer the adverse effects of the "rain shadow" phenomenon? A. Denver, Colorado; B. San Francisco, California; C. Salt Lake City, Utah; D. Las Vegas, Nevada.
17. Which of the following cities is not located on one of the Great Lakes? A. Chicago; B. Toronto; C. Pittsburgh; D. Buffalo.
18. Montreal and the lower course of the St. Lawrence River are located in the Canadian province of: A. Quebec; B. Ontario; C. Newfoundland; D. Nova Scotia.
19. The major area of oil production in the U.S. is: A. Alaska; B. California Coastal area; C. Texas-Louisiana Basin; D. Pennsylvania.
20. A major Anglo-American agricultural region that suffers from frequent drought is: A. the Corn Belt; B. the Great Plains; C. southeastern United States; D. the North Central dairy region; E. none of the above.
21. Soils, terrain, and precipitation make which of the following a most favored agricultural region: A. the Pacific Northwest; B. eastern Kentucky and Tennessee; C. the coastal plain; D. the area from central Ohio to Eastern Nebraska; E. none of the above.
22. The migration of Afro-Americans to urban centers has been: A. a twentieth century phenomenon; B. a post-World War II phenomenon; C. at a peak level shortly after the Civil War; D. important only since 1960.
23. The United States population distribution shows: A. a massive concentration in the Northeast and the southern California; B. highest population densities in the South; C. a single major population region on the West Coast; D. a remarkably uniform distribution of population.
24. A population pyramid for the United States in the year 2030 will likely show: A. a rather even distribution of population by age groups; B. a disproportionate share of elderly age groups; C. nearly 40 percent of the population at less than fifteen years of age; D. little change from today.
25. The earliest industrialized Anglo-American region is: A. New England; B. Nova Scotia; C. the Midwest; D. the West Coast.
26. Recent industrial growth in the southern United States has largely depended upon: A. southern raw materials; B. local markets; C. the availability of labor and material resources; D. the federal intervention in economic activity location.
27. Canada is A. rich in natural resources; B. overpopulated; C. a minor trading partner of the United States; D. unconcerned about the "giant" to the south.
28. United States population redistribution since 1920 is characterized by: A. its recency; B. rural to urban movement; C. black migration from southern rural areas to northern cities only; D. sub-urbanization of blacks; E. none of the above.
29. An area that was severely affected by the declining need for coal miners are: A. the north central states; B. Louisiana and Alabama; C. the New England states; D. West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.
30. The percentage of black population currently in the United States south: A. 10 percent; B. 25 percent; C. 75 percent; D. 50 percent.
31. The Hispanic population in the United States: A. is the fourth ranking minority; B. has contributed a major cultural infusion to the Borderlands; C. mainly resides in rural areas; D. has molded smoothly into the mainstream of American culture.
32. The Appalachian region: A. has suffered from a lack of resources; B. has become a focus of federal efforts to alleviate poverty; C. has excellent agricultural resources; D. has little recreational potential.
33. Which two crops define the Agricultural Heartland? A. rice and corn; B. cotton and wheat; C. corn and wheat; D. soybeans and apples.
34. Which group in Canada felt they were second-class citizens? A. Canadians; B. people of Ontario; C. people of Quebec; D. Manitobans

SUBMITTED BY MICHAEL ZADINA ON 4/27/96. Updated by Shelina Williams on March 14,1997. Resubmitted by Anna Young on 12/1/00.