Geography of the United States
By this time, we are already familiar with the study of geography. When we look at the geography of any area (e.g., the U.S.A. or New York State), we must consider five main Themes, or topics: Location, Place, Interaction, Movement and Region.
The Five Themes of Geography
describes where a place is -- its position on the Earth's surface. Two ways to describe location: Relative Location and Absolute Location. Relative Location: The description of a place in relation to another. Absolute Location: The exact location of a place using lines of longitude and latitude. Place
describes an area in terms of its physical and human characteristics such as climate, landforms, waterways, language, religion, social activities, etc... Interaction
describes how people change their environment or adapt to it Movement
describes the movement of people, goods, and ideas. This occurs through migration, trade, and cultural diffusion. Region
describes an area that has its own unifying characteristics. This is done: politically -- the Middle East is a political region, physically -- the rainforests of Brazil, and culturally -- Muslim areas are influenced by the religion of Islam. Physical Geography
The United States
The U.S. is located in the center of the North American continent. It is bordered by Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south. On the east is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west, is the Pacific Ocean. In addition to the 48 continental states, Alaska and Hawaii are included, for a grand total of 50 states. For the sake of comparison, all of the land area in North America totals 13,408,433 square miles. Of that, the United States alone accounts for 5,983,517 square miles. That means the U.S. occupies just less than half (almost 45%) of continent! It also means that the United States is the third-largest country on earth (by size), right behind Russia and Canada. According to 2001 Census figures, the U.S. population measured nearly 285,000,000 people. So, not only are we the third-largest in size (behind China and India), but we are also the third-largest nation if measured by population. U.S. Climates and Regions
Most of the United States has a temperate climate, but Hawaii and Florida are tropical, Alaska is polar/arctic, the Great Plains region is semiarid (dry, almost desert-like), and the Great Basin of the southwest is an arid (desert-like) climate.
The U.S. can be divided into many different regions (areas that share some common characteristics). By clicking on the map to the left, you can see the United States divided into five geographic regions: The Western Mountains & Basins, the Great Plains, the Central Lowlands, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This is only one way to classify the very diverse areas of America. Not only does it have very different geographic regions, but the U.S. has a huge array of natural resources such as timber, coal, petroleum, and natural gas. In addition, it has large metal deposits of copper, lead, uranium, gold, iron, nickel, silver and zinc. As you can imagine, the mining industry in the U.S. is extensive.
From the non-agricultural, arid land in the southwest, to the fertile central lowlands and coastal plains, there is an extremely variable array of landforms and land usage in the United States. The map to the right highlights two dozen different vegetation zones in the U.S. and North America. Barriers to Expansion
One of the greatest obstacles for early settlers intent upon moving westward, were the Appalachian Mountains. They extend, in an almost unbroken chain, from Maine to Alabama, with very few places to pass through. Early settlers quickly found the Cumberland Gap (at the junction of modern-day Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) to be one of the easiest ways westward (and inland) from the colonies.
Four hundred miles west of the Cumberland Gap, settlers would...
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