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Asia ā´zhə [key], the world's largest continent, 17,139,000 sq mi (44,390,000 sq km), with about 3.3
billion people, nearly three fifths of the world's total population.

Asia: Boundaries
Asia's border with Europe—which, geographically, may be regarded as a peninsula of the Eurasian
landmass—lies approximately along the Urals, the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus, the Black
Sea, the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, and the Aegean Sea. The connection of Asia with Africa is
broken only by the Suez Canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. In the far northeast of
Asia, Siberia is separated from North America by the Bering Strait. The continent of Asia is washed on
the S by the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal; on the E by the South China Sea, East
China Sea, Yellow Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, and Bering Sea; and on the N by the Arctic Ocean.

Asia: Geology and Geography

Geologically, Asia consists of ancient Precambrian landmasses—the Arabian and Indian peninsulas in the
south and the central Siberian plateau in the north—enclosing a central zone of folded ridges. In
accordance with this underlying structure, Asia falls into the following major physiographic structures:
the northern lowlands covering W central Asia and most of Siberia; the vast central highland zone of
high plateaus, rising to c.15,000 ft (4,570 m) in Tibet in China and enclosed by some of the world's
greatest mountain ranges (the Himalayas, the Karakorum, the Kunlun, the Tian Shan, and the Hindu
Kush); the southern peninsular plateaus of India and Arabia, merging, respectively, into the Ganges and
Tigris-Euphrates plains; and the lowlands of E Asia, especially in China, which are separated by mountain
spurs of the central highland zone. Mt. Everest (29,029 ft/8,848 m), in Nepal, is the world's highest peak;
the Dead Sea (1,312 ft/400 m below sea level) is the world's lowest point. Great peninsulas extend out
from the mainland, dividing the oceans into seas and bays, many of them protected by Asia's numerous
offshore islands. Asia's rivers, among the longest in the world, generally rise in the high plateaus and
break through the great chains toward the peripheral lowlands. They include the Ob-Irtysh, the Yenisei-
Argana, and Lena of Siberia; the Amur-Argun, Huang He, Chang (Yangtze), Xi, Mekong, Thanlwin, and
Ayeyarwady of E and SE Asia; and the Ganges-Brahmaputra, Indus, and Tigris-Euphrates of S and SW
Asia. Central Asia has vast areas of interior drainage, including the Amu Darya, Syr Darya, Ili, and Tarim
rivers, which empty into inland lakes or disappear into desert sands. Lake Baykal and Lake Balkash are
among the world's largest lakes. Climatically, the continent ranges through all extremes, from torrid
heat to arctic cold and from torrential rains (the product of monsoons) to extreme aridity (as in the
Tarim Basin).

Asia can be divided into six regions, each possessing distinctive physical, cultural, economic, and political
characteristics. Southwest Asia (Iran; Turkey, in Asia Minor ; and the nations of the Fertile Crescent and
the Arabian peninsula or Arabia ), long a strategic crossroad, is characterized by an arid climate and
irrigated agriculture, great petroleum reserves, and the predominance of Islam. South Asia (Afghanistan
and the nations of the Indian subcontinent) is isolated from the rest of Asia by great mountain barriers.
Southeast Asia (the nations of the southeastern peninsula and the Malay Archipelago) is characterized
by monsoon climate, maritime orientation, the fusion of Indian and Chinese cultures, and a great
diversity of ethnic groups, languages, religions, and politics. East Asia (China, Mongolia, Korea, and the
islands of Taiwan and Japan) is located in the mid-latitudes on the Pacific Ocean, and is characterized by
cultures strongly influenced by civilizations of the Huang He and Chang (Yangtze) river systems. It forms
the most industrialized region of Asia. Russian Asia (in the northern third of the continent) consists of
the vast region of Siberia and the Russian Far East . In the center of the continent is Central Asia, formed
of a set of independent former republics of the Soviet Union. This region is characterized by desert
conditions and irrigated agriculture, with ancient traditions of nomadic herding.

Asia: Population, Culture, and Economy

The distribution of Asia's huge population is governed by climate and topography, with the monsoons
and the fertile alluvial plains determining the areas of greatest density. Such are the Ganges plains of
India and the Chang (Yangtze) and northern plains of China, the small alluvial plains of Japan, and the
fertile volcanic soils of the Malay Archipelago. Urbanization is greatest in the industrialized regions of
Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but huge urban centers are to be found throughout the continent.
Almost two thirds of Asia's indigenous population is of Mongolic stock. Major religions are Hinduism (in
India); Theravada Buddhism (in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos); Lamaism,
or Tibetan Buddhism (in Mongolia and China, particularly Tibet); East Asian Buddhism (in China and
Korea, mixed with Confucianism, shamanism, and Taoism; in Japan mixed with Shinto and
Confucianism); Islam (in SW and S Asia, W central Asia, and Indonesia); and Catholicism (in the
Philippines, East Timor, and Vietnam).

Subsistence hunting and fishing economies prevail in the forest regions of N and S Asia, and nomadic
pastoralism in the central and southwestern regions, while industrial complexes and intensive rice
cultivation are found in the coastal plains and rivers of S and E Asia. Because of extremes in climate and
topography, less than 10% of Asia is under cultivation. Rice, by far the most important food crop, is
grown for local consumption in the heavily populated countries (e.g., China, India, Indonesia,
Bangladesh, and Japan), while countries with smaller populations (Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan) are
generally rice exporters. Other important crops are wheat, soybeans, peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, jute,
silk, rubber, tea, and coconuts.

Although Asia's economy is predominantly agricultural, regions where power facilities, trained labor,
modern transport, and access to raw materials are available have developed industrially. Japan, China,
Russian Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Israel are distinguished for their industrialization. China
and India are making considerable strides in this direction. The most spectacular industrialization has
occurred in Japan and the Four Little Dragons —Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The
economies of Thailand, Indonesia, and South China are booming thanks to Japanese investment in
plants and to cheap indigenous labor. The development of railroads is greatest in the industrialized
countries, with Japan, India, China, and Russian Asia having the greatest track mileage.
Also contributing greatly to the income of many Asian countries are vital mineral exports—petroleum in
SW Asia, Russian Asia, and Indonesia and tin in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Asia's other valuable
mineral exports include manganese from India and chromite from Turkey and the Philippines; China
produces great amounts of tungsten, antimony, coal, and oil.
Africa ăf´rĭkə [key], second largest continent (2009 est. pop. 1,010,000,000), c.11,677,240 sq mi
(30,244,050 sq km) including adjacent islands. Broad to the north (c.4,600 mi/7,400 km wide), Africa
straddles the equator and stretches c.5,000 mi (8,050 km) from Cape Blanc (Tunisia) in the north to Cape
Agulhas (South Africa) in the south. It is connected with Asia by the Sinai Peninsula (from which it is
separated by the Suez Canal) and is bounded on the N by the Mediterranean Sea, on the W and S by the
Atlantic Ocean, and on the E and S by the Indian Ocean. The largest offshore island is Madagascar; other
islands include St. Helena and Ascension in the S Atlantic Ocean; São Tomé, Príncipe, Annobón, and
Bioko in the Gulf of Guinea; the Cape Verde, Canary, and Madeira islands in the N Atlantic Ocean; and
Mauritius, Réunion, Zanzibar, Pemba, and the Comoros and Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.

Africa: Geology and Geography

Most of Africa is a series of stable, ancient plateau surfaces, low in the north and west and higher (rising
to more than 6,000 ft/1,830 m) in the south and east. The plateau is composed mainly of metamorphic
rock that has been overlaid in places by sedimentary rock. The escarpment of the plateau is often in
close proximity to the coast, thus leaving the continent with a generally narrow coastal plain; in
addition, the escarpment forms barriers of falls and rapids in the lower courses of rivers that impede
their use as transportation routes into the interior. Northern Africa is underlain by folded sedimentary
rock and is, geologically, more closely related to Europe than to the rest of the continent of Africa; the
Atlas Mts., which occupy most of the region, are a part of the Alpine mountain system of southern
Europe. The entire African continent is surrounded by a narrow continental shelf. The lowest point on
the continent is 509 ft (155 m) below sea level in Lake Assal in Djibouti; the highest point is Mt. Uhuru
(Kibo; 19,340 ft/5,895 m), a peak of Kilimanjaro in NE Tanzania. From north to south the principal
mountain ranges of Africa are the Atlas Mts. (rising to more than 13,000 ft/3,960 m), the Ethiopian
Highlands (rising to more than 15,000 ft/4,570 m), the Ruwenzori Mts. (rising to more than 16,000
ft/4,880 m), and the Drakensberg Range (rising to more than 11,000 ft/3,350 m).

The continent's largest rivers are the Nile (the world's longest river), the Congo, the Niger, the Zambezi,
the Orange, the Limpopo, and the Senegal. The largest lakes are Victoria (the world's second largest
freshwater lake), Tanganyika, Albert, Turkana, and Nyasa (or Malawi), all in E Africa; shallow Lake Chad,
the largest in W Africa, shrinks considerably during dry periods. The lakes and major rivers (most of
which are navigable in stretches above the escarpment of the plateau) form an important inland
transportation system.

Geologically, recent major earth disturbances have been confined to areas of NW and E Africa.
Geologists have long noted the excellent fit (in shape and geology) between the coast of Africa at the
Gulf of Guinea and the Brazilian coast of South America, and they have evidence that Africa formed the
center of a large ancestral supercontinent known as Pangaea. Pangaea began to break apart in the
Jurassic period to form Gondwanaland, which included Africa, the other southern continents, and India.
South America was separated from Africa c.76 million years ago, when the floor of the S Atlantic Ocean
was opened up by seafloor spreading; Madagascar was separated from it c.65 million years ago; and
Arabia was separated from it c.20 million years ago, when the Red Sea was formed. There is also
evidence of one-time connections between NW Africa and E North America, N Africa and Europe,
Madagascar and India, and SE Africa and Antarctica.

Similar large-scale earth movements (see plate tectonics ) are also believed responsible for the
formation of the Great Rift Valley of E Africa, which is the continent's most spectacular land feature.
From c.40 to c.60 mi (60–100 km) wide, it extends in Africa c.1,800 mi (2,900 km), from the northern
end of the Jordan Rift Valley in SW Asia to near the mouth of the Zambezi River; the eastern branch of
the rift valley is occupied in sections by Lakes Nyasa and Turkana, and the western branch, curving N
from Lake Nyasa, is occupied by Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu, Edward, and Albert. The lava flows of the recent
and subrecent epochs in the Ethiopian Highlands, and volcanoes farther south, are associated with the
rift; among the principal volcanoes are Kilimanjaro, Kenya, Elgon, Meru, and the Virunga range with Mt.
Karisimbi, Nyiragongo, and Nyamuragira (Nyamulagira). A less spectacular rift, the Cameroon Rift, is
associated with volcanic activity in W Africa and trends NE from St. Helena Island to São Tomé, Príncipe,
and Bioko to near the Tibesti Massif in the Sahara.

Africa: Climate
Africa's climatic zones are largely controlled by the continent's location astride the equator and its
almost symmetrical extensions into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Thus, except where
altitude exerts a moderating influence on temperature or precipitation (permanently snowcapped peaks
are found near the equator), Africa may be divided into six general climatic regions. Areas near the
equator and on the windward shores of SE Madagascar have a tropical rain forest climate, with heavy
rain and high temperatures throughout the year. North and south of the rain forest are belts of tropical
savanna climate, with high temperatures all year and a seasonal distribution of rain during the summer
season. The savanna grades poleward in both hemispheres into a region of semiarid steppe (with limited
summer rain) and then into the arid conditions of the extensive Sahara (north) and the Kalahari (south).
Belts of semiarid steppe with limited winter rain occur on the poleward sides of the desert regions. At
the northern and southern extremities of the continent are narrow belts of Mediterranean-type climate
with subtropical temperatures and a concentration of rainfall mostly in the autumn and winter months.

Africa: African Peoples

African peoples, who account for over 12% of the world's population, are distributed among 55
countries and are further distinguishable in terms of linguistic (see African languages ) and cultural
groups, which number around 1,000. The Sahara forms a great ethnic divide. North of it, mostly Arabs
predominate along the coast and Berbers (including the Tuareg) and Tibbu in the interior regions. Sub-
Saharan Africa is occupied by a diverse variety of peoples including, among others, the Amhara, Mossi ,
Fulani , Yoruba , Igbo , Kongo (see Kongo, kingdom of ), Zulu (see Zululand ), Akan , Oromo , Masai , and
Hausa . Europeans are concentrated in areas with subtropical climates or tropical climates modified by
altitude; in the south are persons of Dutch and British descent, and in the northwest are persons of
French, Italian, and Spanish descent. Lebanese make up an important minority community throughout
W Africa, as do Indians in many coastal towns of S and E Africa. There are also significant Arab
populations both in E Africa and more recently in W Africa. As a whole, Africa is sparsely populated; the
highest densities are found in Nigeria, the Ethiopian highlands, the Nile valley, and around the Great
Lakes (which include Victoria and Tanganyika). The principal cities of Africa are usually the national
capitals and the major ports, and they usually contain a disproportionately large percentage of the
national populations; Cairo, Lagos (Nigeria), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Alexandria
(Egypt), and Casablanca (Morocco) are the largest cities of Africa.

Africa: Economy
Most of Africa's population is rural, but, except for cash crops, such as cacao and peanuts, agricultural
production is low by world standards; Africa produces three quarters of the world's cocoa beans and
about one third of its peanuts. Rare and precious minerals (including much of the world's diamonds) are
abundant in the continent's ancient crystalline rocks, which are found mostly to the south and east of a
line from the Gulf of Guinea to the Sinai Peninsula; extensive oil, gas, and phosphate deposits occur in
sedimentary rocks to the north and west of this general line. Manufacturing is concentrated in the
Republic of South Africa and in N Africa (especially Egypt and Algeria). Despite Africa's enormous
potential for hydroelectric power production, only a small percentage of it has been developed. Africa's
fairly regular coastline affords few natural harbors, and the shallowness of coastal waters makes it
difficult for large ships to approach the shore; deepwater ports, protected by breakwaters, have been
built offshore to facilitate commerce and trade. Major fishing grounds are found over the wider sections
of the continental shelf as off NW, SW, and S Africa and NW Madagascar.

Europe yoor´əp [key], 6th largest continent, c.4,000,000 sq mi (10,360,000 sq km) including adjacent
islands (1992 est. pop. 512,000,000). It is actually a vast peninsula of the great Eurasian land mass. By
convention, it is separated from Asia by the Urals and the Ural River in the east; by the Caspian Sea and
the Caucasus in the southeast; and by the Black Sea, the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the
Dardanelles in the south. The Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar separate it from Africa.
Europe is washed in the north by the Arctic Ocean, and in the west by the Atlantic Ocean, with which the
North Sea and the Baltic Sea are connected.

Europe: Physical Geography

The huge Alpine mountain chain, of which the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Carpathians, the Balkans, and the
Caucasus are the principal links, traverses the continent from west to east. The highest points are Mt.
Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m) in the Caucasus and Mont Blanc (15,771 ft/4,807 m) in the Alps. Europe's
lowest point (92 ft/28 m below sea level) is the surface of the Caspian Sea. Between the mountainous
Scandinavian peninsula in the north and the Alpine chain in the south lie the Central European Uplands
surrounded by the great European plain, stretching from the Atlantic coast of France to the Urals.
A large part of this plain (which is interrupted by minor mountain groups and hills) has fertile agricultural
soil; in the east and north there are vast steppe, forest, lake, and tundra regions. South of the Alpine
chain extend the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas, which are largely mountainous. The Po plain,
between the Alps and the Apennines, and the Alföld plain, between the Carpathians and the Alps, are
fertile and much-developed regions. Among the chief river systems of Europe are, from east to west,
those of the Volga, the Don, the Dnieper, the Danube, the Vistula, the Oder, the Elbe, the Rhine, the
Rhône, the Loire, the Garonne, and the Tagus.

The climate of Europe varies from subtropical to polar. The Mediterranean climate of the south is dry
and warm. The western and northwestern parts have a mild, generally humid climate, influenced by the
North Atlantic Drift. In central and eastern Europe the climate is of the humid continental-type with cool
summers. In the northeast subarctic and tundra climates are found. All of Europe is subject to the
moderating influence of prevailing westerly winds from the Atlantic Ocean and, consequently, its
climates are found at higher latitudes than similar climates on other continents.

Europe can be divided into seven geographic regions: Scandinavia (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland,
and Denmark); the British Isles (the United Kingdom and Ireland); W Europe (France, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Monaco); S Europe (Portugal, Spain, Andorra, Italy, Malta, San Marino,
and Vatican City); Central Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Poland, the Czech
Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary); SE Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia,
Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and the European part of Turkey); and E
Europe (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, the European portion of Russia, and by
convention the Transcaucasian countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan).

Europe: People
Indo-European languages (see The Indo-European Family of Languages , table) predominate in Europe;
others spoken include Basque, Maltese, and the languages classified as Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic,
Bulgaric, and Turkic. Roman Catholicism is the chief religion of S and W Europe and the southern part of
central Europe; Protestantism is dominant in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the northern part of
Europe; the Orthodox Eastern Church predominates in E and SE Europe; and there are pockets of of
Muslim predominance in the Balkan Peninsula and Transcaucasia. With the exception of the northern
third of the continent, Europe is densely populated. Eleven cities have populations exceeding two
million inhabitants; London, Moscow, and Paris are the largest cities.

Europe: Economy and Transportation

Europe is highly industrialized; the largest industrial areas are found in W central Europe, England, N
Italy, Ukraine, and European Russia. Agriculture, forestry (in N Europe), and fishing (along the Atlantic
coast) are also important. Europe has a large variety of minerals; coal, iron ore, and salt are abundant.
Oil and gas are found in E Europe and beneath the North Sea. Coal is used to produce a significant, but
declining amount of Europe's electricity; in Norway and Sweden and in the Alps hydroelectric plants
supply a large percentage of the power. More than 25% of Europe's electricity is generated from nuclear
The transportation system in Europe is highly developed; interconnecting rivers and canals provide
excellent inland water transportation in central and W Europe. The Channel Tunnel connects Great
Britain to France. The countries of Europe engage heavily in foreign trade, and some of the world's
greatest ports are found there. Rotterdam with the huge new Europort complex, London, Le Havre,
Hamburg, Genoa, and Marseilles are the chief ports.

Australia ôstrāl´yə [key], smallest continent, between the Indian and Pacific oceans. With the island state
of Tasmania to the south, the continent makes up the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal
parliamentary state (2005 est. pop. 20,090,000), 2,967,877 sq mi (7,686,810 sq km). Australia's capital is
Canberra . Its largest city is Sydney , closely followed in population by Melbourne . There are five
continental states ( Queensland , New South Wales , Victoria , South Australia , and Western Australia ,
in addition to the aforementioned Tasmania) as well as the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital
Territory (an enclave within New South Wales, containing Canberra). Australia's external territories
include Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and the Australian Antarctic
Australia: Land
The Australian continent extends from east to west some 2,400 mi (3,860 km) and from north to south
nearly 2,000 mi (3,220 km). It is on the whole exceedingly flat and dry. Less than 20 in. (50.8 cm) of
precipitation falls annually over 70% of the land area. From the narrow coastal plain in the west the land
rises abruptly in what, from the sea, appear to be mountain ranges but are actually the escarpments of a
rough plateau that occupies the western half of the continent. It is generally from 1,000 to 2,000 ft (305–
610 m) high but several mountain ranges rise to nearly 5,000 ft (1,520 m); there are no permanent rivers
or lakes in the region. In the southwest corner of the continent there is a small moist and fertile area, but
the rest of Western Australia is arid, with large desert areas.

The northern region fronts partly on the Timor Sea, separating Australia from Indonesia; it also belongs to
the plateau, with tropical temperatures and a winter dry season. Its northernmost section, Arnhem Land
(much of which is an aboriginal reserve), faces the Arafura Sea in the north and the huge Gulf of
Carpentaria on the east. On the eastern side of the gulf is the Cape York Peninsula, which is largely
covered by woodland. Off the coast of NE Queensland is the Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral

In E Australia are the mountains of the Eastern Highlands, which run down the entire east and southeast
coasts. The rivers on the eastern and southeastern slopes run to the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea
through narrow but rich coastal plains; the rivers on the western slopes flow either N to the Gulf of
Carpentaria or W and SW to the Indian Ocean. The longest of all Australian river systems, the Murray
River and its tributaries, drains the southern part of the interior basin that lies between the mountains and
the great plateau. The rivers of this area are used extensively for irrigation and hydroelectric power.
Australia, remote from any other continent, has many distinctive forms of plant life—notably species of
giant eucalyptus—and of animal life, including the kangaroo, the koala, the flying opossum, the wallaby,
the wombat, the platypus, and the spiny anteater; it also has many unusual birds. Foreign animals, when
introduced, have frequently done well. Rabbits, brought over in 1788, have done entirely too well,
multiplying until by the middle of the 19th cent. they became a distinct menace to sheep raising. In 1907 a
fence (still maintained) 1,000 mi (1,610 km) long was built from the north coast to the south to prevent the
rabbits from invading Western Australia. Introduced red foxes and feral house cats have reduced many
native land mammals through predation.

Australia: People
Most Australians are of British and Irish ancestry and the majority of the country lives in urban areas. The
population has more than doubled since the end of World War II, spurred by an ambitious postwar
immigration program. In the postwar years, immigration from Greece, Turkey, Italy, and other countries
began to increase Australia's cultural diversity. When Australia officially ended (1973) discriminatory
policies dating to the 19th cent. that were designed to prevent immigration by nonwhites, substantial
Asian immigration followed. By 1988 about 40% of immigration to Australia was from Asia, and by 2005
Asians constituted 7% of the population. Also by 2005 roughly one fourth of all Australians had been born
outside the country.

The indigenous population, the Australian aborigines , estimated to number as little as 300,000 and as
many as 800,000at the time of the Europeans' arrival, was numbered at 366,429 in 2001. Although still
more rural than the general population, the aboriginal population has become more urbanized, with some
two thirds living in cities. New South Wales and Queensland account for just over half of the Australian
aboriginal population. In Tasmania the aboriginal population was virtually wiped out in the 19th cent.
There is no state religion in Australia. The largest religions are the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other
Christian groups. Although education is not a federal concern, government grants have aided in the
establishment of state universities including the Univ. of Sydney (1852), the Univ. of Melbourne (1854),
the Univ. of Adelaide (1874), and the Univ. of Queensland (in Brisbane, 1909).

Australia: Economy
Most of the rich farmland and good ports are in the east and particularly the southeast, except for the
area around Perth in Western Australia. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane , and Adelaide are the leading
industrial and commercial cities. There was considerable industrial development in the last two decades
of the 20th cent. While the Australian economy fell into a severe recession in the late 1980s, it
experienced an extended period of growth beginning in the 1990s. It then suffered somewhat from the
Asian economic slump of the 1990s and from the Big Dry drought of the early 21st cent., while also
benefiting from increased mineral exports to China during the same period.

Australia is highly industrialized, and manufactured goods account for most of the gross domestic
product. Its chief industries include mining, food processing, and the manufacture of industrial and
transportation equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, machinery, and motor vehicles. Australia has
valuable mineral resources, including coal, iron, bauxite, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel,
tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, natural gas, and petroleum; the country is an important producer of
opals and diamonds.

The country is self-sufficient in food, and the raising of sheep and cattle and the production of grain have
long been staple occupations. Tropical and subtropical produce—citrus fruits, sugarcane, and tropical
fruits—are also important, and there are numerous vineyards and dairy and tobacco farms.
Australia maintains a favorable balance of trade. Its chief export commodities are coal, iron ore, gold,
meat, wool, alumina, cereals, and machinery and transport equipment. The leading imports are
machinery, transportation and telecommunications equipment, computers and office machines, crude oil,
and petroleum products. Australia's economic ties with Asia and the Pacific Rim have become
increasingly important, with China, Japan, and the United States being its main trading partners.
North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq
km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. North America includes all of the
mainland and related offshore islands lying N of the Isthmus of Panama (which connects it with South
America). The term Anglo-America is frequently used in reference to Canada and the United States
combined, while the term Middle America is used to describe the region including Mexico , the republics
of Central America, and the Caribbean.

North America: Geology and Geography

The continent is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the
Bering Sea, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Its coastline is long and
irregular. With the exception of the Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay is by far the largest body of water
indenting the continent; others include the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortès).
There are numerous islands off the continent's coasts; Greenland and the Arctic Archipelago, the Greater
and Lesser Antilles, the Alexander Archipelago, and the Aleutian Islands are the principal groups. Denali
(Mt. McKinley; 20,310 ft/6,190 m), Alaska, is the highest point on the continent; the lowest point (282 ft/86
m below sea level) is in Death Valley, Calif.

The Missouri-Mississippi river system (c.3,740 mi/6,020 km long) is the longest of North America.
Together with the Ohio River and numerous other tributaries, it drains most of S central North America
and forms the world's greatest inland waterway system. Other major rivers include the Colorado,
Columbia, Delaware, Mackenzie, Nelson, Rio Grande, St. Lawrence, Susquehanna, and Yukon. Lake
Superior (31,820 sq mi/82,414 sq km), the westernmost of the Great Lakes , is the continent's largest
lake. The Saint Lawrence Seaway , which utilizes the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, enables
oceangoing vessels to penetrate into the heart of North America.

the Anglo-American section of the continent may be divided into five major regions: the Canadian Shield ,
a geologically stable area of ancient rock that occupies most of the northeastern quadrant, including
Greenland; the Appalachian Mountains , a geologically old and eroded system that extends from the
Gaspé Peninsula to Alabama; the Atlantic-Gulf Coastal Plain, a belt of lowlands widening to the south that
extends from S New England to Mexico; the Interior Lowlands, which extend down the middle of the
continent from the Mackenzie valley to the Gulf Coastal Plain and includes the Great Plains on the west
and the agriculturally productive Interior Plains on the east; and the North American Cordillera, a complex
belt of geologically young mountains and associated plateaus and basins, which extend from Alaska into
Mexico and include two orogenic belts—the Pacific Margin on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the
east—separated by a system of intermontane plateaus and basins. The Coastal Plain and the main belts
of the North American Cordillera continue south into Mexico (where the Mexican Plateau, bordered by the
Sierra Madre Oriental and the Sierra Madre Occidental, is considered a continuation of the intermontane
system) to join the Transverse Volcanic Range, a zone of high and active volcanic peaks S of Mexico

During the Ice Age of the late Cenozoic era, a continental ice sheet, centered west of Hudson Bay (the
floor of which is slowly rebounding after being depressed by the great weight of the ice), covered most of
N North America; glaciers descended the slopes of the Rocky Mts. and those of the Pacific Margin.
Extensive glacial lakes, such as Bonneville (see under Bonneville Salt Flats ), Lahontan , Agassiz , and
Algonquin, were formed by glacial meltwater; their remnants are still visible in the Great Basin and along
the edge of the Canadian Shield in the form of the Great Salt Lake , the Great Lakes, and the large lakes
of W central Canada.

North America: Climate

North America, extending to within 10° of latitude of both the equator and the North Pole, embraces every
climatic zone, from tropical rain forest and savanna on the lowlands of Central America to areas of
permanent ice cap in central Greenland. Subarctic and tundra climates prevail in N Canada and N
Alaska, and desert and semiarid conditions are found in interior regions cut off by high mountains from
rain-bearing westerly winds. However, a high proportion of the continent has temperate climates very
favorable to settlement and agriculture.
North America: People
The first human inhabitants of North America are believed to be of Asian origin; they crossed over to
Alaska from NE Asia roughly 20,000 years ago, and then moved southward through the Mackenzie River
valley. European discovery and settlement of North America dates from the 10th cent., when Norsemen
settled (986) in Greenland. Although evidence is fragmentary, they probably reached E Canada c.1000 at
the latest. Of greater impact on the subsequent history of the continent were Christopher Columbus's
exploration of the Bahamas in 1492 and later landings in the West Indies and Central America, and John
Cabot's explorations of E Canada (1497), which established English claims to the continent. Spanish and
French expeditions also explored much of North America.
Although the population of Canada and the United States is still largely of European origin, it is growing
increasingly diverse with substantial immigration from Asia, Latin America, and Africa; it is also highly
urbanized (about 74% live in urban areas); much of the population is centered in large conurbations and
coalescing urban belts along the southern margin of Canada and in the northeastern quadrant of the
United States around the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic coast. Mexico's population, about 60%
mestizo (of European and Native American descent), is increasingly urbanized (about 72%). People of
European descent are a minority in most Central American and Caribbean countries, and the population
outside the major cities is largely rural. The largest urban agglomerations on the continent are Mexico
City, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

North America: Resources and Economy

North America's extensive agricultural lands (especially in Canada and the United States) are a result of
the interrelationship of favorable climatic conditions, fertile soils, and technology. Irrigation has turned
certain arid and semiarid regions into productive oases. North America produces most of the world's corn,
meat, cotton, soybeans, tobacco, and wheat, along with a variety of other food and industrial raw material
crops. Mineral resources are also abundant; the large variety includes coal, iron ore, bauxite, copper,
natural gas, petroleum, mercury, nickel, potash, and silver. The manufacturing that provided a high
standard of living for the people of Canada and the United States has significantly declined, and formerly
abundant factory jobs are increasingly replaced by those in the service sector. Much of this manufacturing
has moved to Mexico (especially in the border zone adjoining the United States), which offers a large and
inexpensive labor force.
South America, fourth largest continent (1991 est. pop. 299,150,000), c.6,880,000 sq mi (17,819,000 sq
km), the southern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. It is divided politically into 12
independent countries— Argentina , Bolivia , Brazil , Chile , Colombia , Ecuador , Guyana , Paraguay ,
Peru , Suriname , Uruguay , and Venezuela —and the overseas department of French Guiana . The
continent extends c.4,750 mi (7,640 km) from Punta Gallinas, Colombia, in the north to Cape Horn, Chile,
in the south. At its broadest point, near where it is crossed by the equator, the continent extends c.3,300
mi (5,300 km) from east to west. South America is connected to North America by the Isthmus of
Panama; it is washed on the N by the Caribbean Sea, on the E by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the W by
the Pacific Ocean.

South America: Topography and Geology

Topographically the continent is divided into three sections—the South American cordillera, the interior
lowlands, and the continental shield. The continental shield, in the east, which is separated into two
unequal sections (the Guiana Highlands and the Brazilian Highlands) by the Amazon geosyncline,
contains the continent's oldest rocks. Geologic studies in South America have supported the theory of
continental drift and have shown that until 135 million years ago South America was joined to Africa; a
Brazil-Gabon link has been established on the basis of tectonic matching. Extending down the middle of
the continent is a series of lowlands running southward from the llanos of the north, through the selva of
the great Amazon basin and the Gran Chaco, to the Pampa of Argentina.
Paralleling the Pacific shore is the great cordillera composed of the Andes ranges and high intermontane
valleys and plateaus. The Andes rise to numerous snowcapped peaks; Mt. Aconcagua (22,835 ft/6,960
m) in Argentina is the highest point in the Western Hemisphere. The Andes region is seismically active
and prone to earthquakes. Volcanoes are present but mostly inactive. Patagonia, a windy, semiarid
plateau region, lies to the E of the Andes in S Argentina. On the Pacific coast, the land between the
Andes and the sea widens northward from the islands of S Chile. In N Chile lies the barren Atacama
There are few good natural harbors along the South American coast. The continent's great river systems
empty into the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea; from north to south they are the Magdalena,
Orinoco, Amazon, and Paraguay-Paraná systems. Only short streams flow into the Pacific Ocean.
Excluding Lake Maracaibo, which is actually an arm of the Caribbean Sea, Lake Titicaca, on the Peru-
Bolivia border, is the largest of the continent's lakes. South America embraces every climatic zone—
tropical rainy, desert, high alpine—and vegetation varies accordingly.

South America: People

Native peoples constitute a significant portion of the continent's Andean population, especially in Bolivia,
Ecuador, Peru, and Paraguay. Elsewhere in South America the population is generally mestizo, although
Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and S Brazil have primarily European populations. There are sizable
populations of African descent in NE Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, and
Colombia. Immigration since 1800 has brought European, Middle Eastern, and Asian (especially
Japanese) peoples to the continent, particularly to Argentina and Brazil.
With the exception of Brazil and Ecuador, the national capitals have the largest populations and are the
economic, cultural, and political centers of the countries. Since World War II, the urban population has
rapidly expanded. São Paulo, Brazil, whose population is nearly 10,000,000, is the largest city of South
America and one of the fastest growing cities of its size in the world. Squatter settlements have multiplied
around urban areas as the poor and unskilled flock to the cities; widespread unemployment is common.
Outside the cities the population density of the continent is very low, with vast portions of the interior
virtually uninhabited; most of the people live within 200 mi (320 km) of the coast.

South America: Economy

Beginning in the 17th cent., the exploitation of the continent's resources and the development of its
industries were the result of foreign investment and initiative, especially that of Spain, Great Britain, and
the United States, but since World War II the nations of South America have sought greater economic
independence. An increasing number of South American industrial centers have developed heavy
industries to supplement the light industries on which they had previously concentrated.
An early obstacle to industrial growth in South America was the scarcity of coal. The continent has
therefore relied on its petroleum reserves, most notably in Venezuela and also in Argentina, Colombia,
Chile, Peru, and Ecuador, as a source of fuel. South Americans also have gradually developed their
natural-gas reserves; hydroelectric plants produce most of the continent's electricity. Iron-ore deposits are
plentiful in the Guiana and Brazilian highlands, and copper is abundant in the central Andes mountain
region of Chile and Peru. Other important mineral resources include tin in Bolivia, manganese and gold in
Brazil, and bauxite in Guyana and Suriname.
Subsistence farming is widespread, with about 30% of the people working about 15% of the land. Dense
forests, steep slopes, and unfavorable climatic conditions, along with crude agricultural methods, limit the
amount of cultivable land. Commercial agriculture, especially of the plantation type, fares better in terms
of production because of the large scale and the opportunity to use modern, mechanized methods.
Among the agricultural exports are coffee, bananas, sugarcane, tobacco, and grains. Meat is also an
important export. In the interior, hunting and gathering of forest products are the chief economic activities
of the indigenous peoples. Fishing is also a central industry. In the more accessible areas, forest products
are removed for export.

Antarctica ăntärk´tĭkə, –är´tĭkə [key], the fifth largest continent, c.5,500,000 sq mi (14,245,000 sq km),
asymmetrically centered on the South Pole and almost entirely within the Antarctic Circle.

Antarctica: Geology and Geography

Antarctica consists of two major regions: W Antarctica (c.2,500,000 sq mi/6,475,000 sq km), a

mountainous archipelago that includes the Antarctic Peninsula , and E Antarctica (c.3,000,000 sq
mi/7,770,000 sq km), geologically a continental shield. They are joined into a single continental mass by
an ice sheet thousands of feet thick. At the seaward margins of the ice sheet masses of ice break off and
float away as icebergs, leaving ice cliffs. Where the outward creep of the ice is channeled into ice
streams (zones of more rapid flow), great floating ice tongues project into the sea; where mountains
retard outward movement, the flow is channeled into great valley glaciers.

Less than 5% of Antarctica is free of ice; these areas include mountain peaks, arid “ dry valleys, ” small
coastal areas, and islands. Except for mountain ranges (some buried beneath the ice), much of E
Antarctica's rock surface is near sea level; however, the continent's domed, snow-covered glacial surface
rises to about 13,000 ft (4,000 m). In W Antarctica there is great variation in the subglacial relief,
suggesting mountainous islands or submerged ranges separated by deep sounds beneath the ice cover.
Since the 1970s more than 100 lakes of liquid water have been identified underneath the continental
ice; the largest known of these is Lake Vostok , which lies 2.5 mi (4 km) beneath the Russian Vostok
research station in E Antarctica. Many of the lakes are connected by subglacial rivers.

The two major coastal indentations are the Ross Sea, facing the Pacific Ocean, and the Weddell Sea,
facing the Atlantic Ocean. At the head of each sea are great ice shelves, the Ross ice shelves in the Ross
Sea and the Ronne and the Filchner ice shelves in the Weddell Sea. Partly aground but mostly afloat,
these nearly level ice shelves are from 600 to 4,000 ft (180–1,220 m) thick. They move steadily toward
the sea and are fed by valley glaciers, ice streams, and surface snow accumulations. Smaller ice shelves
are found all along the coast.

The Transantarctic Mts (c.3,500–14,300 ft/1,100–4,400 m high), which extend from the east side of the
Filchner Ice Shelf to the western portal of the Ross Sea, form the inner margin of E Antarctica. Primarily
formed by block faulting (see mountains ), the lower slopes have a complex structure of late
Precambrian and early Paleozoic metamorphic rocks. These are overlaid by essentially horizontal
sedimentary rock, mainly of continental or near-shore origin and ranging in age from the Devonian
period to the early Jurassic, which are similar to rocks found in Australia, S Africa, and E South America;
coal-bearing Permian strata are also found there. Distinctive plant, insect, fish, and animal fossils in the
Triassic and Jurassic strata strongly indicate that the continents of the Southern Hemisphere are parts of
an ancient supercontinent, Gondwanaland, which broke up in the late Mesozoic era. The continents
have since drifted to their present positions.

The ice-drowned, mountainous archipelago of W Antarctica is related to the Andes Mts. of South
America and is structurally connected to them by way of the Antarctic Peninsula and the Scotia Arc
(South Georgia and the South Orkney and South Sandwich islands). The complex structure consists of
highly folded metasedimentary strata from Paleozoic to Pliocene epochs. There has been much
volcanism down to the present. Mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula rise to c.11,000 ft (3,350 m); the
mountains of Marie Byrd Land have comparable heights. The Ellsworth Mts., at the head of Ronne Ice
Shelf, are the highest in Antarctica; Vinson Massif (16,860 ft/5,140 m) is the continent's highest peak. A
variety of mineral deposits have been discovered in Antarctica, but the extent of the deposits is largely
unknown and their relative inaccessibility makes their utility doubtful.

Antarctica is surrounded by the world's stormiest seas. A belt of pack ice surrounds the continent; only a
few areas are ice-free at the end of most summers. The physical boundary most widely accepted today
for the antarctic region is the Antarctic Convergence, a zone c.25 mi (40 km) wide encircling the earth
along a fluctuating, zigzagging line between 48°S and 61°S,. Within this zone the colder and denser
north-flowing antarctic surface waters sink beneath warmer and saltier subantarctic waters; the
difference in temperature and chemical content of the water on the two sides of the zone is reflected in
noticeable differences in air temperature and in marine life. These differences and other characteristics
have led oceanographers to regard the waters around Antarctica as a fifth ocean, the Southern Ocean
(also known as the Antarctic Ocean).

Antarctica: Climate
antarctic climate is characterized by low temperature, high wind velocities, and frequent blizzards.
Rapidly changing weather is typical of coastal locations, where temperatures for the warmest month
average around freezing. Winter minimums drop as low as −40°C (−40°C). High altitude and continuous
darkness in winter combine to make the interior of Antarctica the coldest place on earth. Summer
temperatures are unlikely to be warmer than 0°C (−18°C); winter mean temperatures are −70°C (−57°C)
and lower. The lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was −128.6°C (−89.2°C) at Vostok, a Russian
station. (Satellite sensors have recorded an even lower but unofficial −135.8 [−93.2] in central East
Antarctica.) Precipitation is in the form of snow; the annual water equivalent in the interior is c.2 in. (5
cm) and c.10 in. (25 cm) in coastal areas. In the dry, dust-free air one can see for tens of miles in clear
weather; distances are deceptive, and mirages are common. Scattering of light by blowing snow or low
clouds causes whiteouts, in which the sky blends with the snow-covered surface, eliminating the
horizon; no condition is more feared by aviators.

Antarctica: Antarctic Life

There is no native human population in Antarctica, nor are there any large land animals. Few species are
adapted to the antarctic environment, but individuals of these few species are numberless. Life that
depends completely on the land is limited to microscopic life in summer meltwater ponds, tiny wingless
insects living in patches of moss and lichens, and two types of flowering plants (both in the Antarctic
Peninsula). Birds and seals that spend part of their time on land (e.g., emperor and Adélie penguins and
the brown skua—the most southerly bird and a notorious predator—and Weddell, crabeater, and Ross
seals) are dependent on the surrounding sea for food. Antarctic waters are rich in plankton, which
serves as food for krill, small shrimplike crustaceans that are the principal food of baleen whales,
crabeater seals, Adélie penguins, and several kinds of fish.

Fur and elephant seals, which spend the summers on islands north of lat. 65°S were the basis for 19th-
century commercial activity in Antarctica. In the 20th cent., commercial interest shifted to baleen
whales. Fur seals are recovering from the slaughter of the 19th cent., as are the elephant seals. Whaling
has been declining since the peak year of 1930–31. In 1986 the International Whaling Commission
imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling; the moratorium, however, has not been adhered to by
all nations.