North America is the third largest continent in the world, stretching from the tiny Aleutian Islands in the northwest to the Isthmus of Panama in the south.
The continent is rich in natural resources such as fertile soils, abundant supplies of fresh water, minerals, forests, etc., which have made North America one of the most developed regions in the world.
Freshwater resources are of great ecological and economic importance to North America, but their distribution is highly variable. Canada contains about 20% of the world's fresh water reserves. However, most are located in remote areas or conserved in lakes, aquifers and glaciers. Unlike Canada, Mexico is primarily an arid country, in which fresh water is concentrated in sufficient quantities only in some areas. Water resources are characterized not only by the amount of fresh water, but also by how quickly the reservoirs are replenished due to precipitation and wastewater. In many parts of North America, human needs for fresh water exceed the amount of water needed for the normal functioning of an aquatic ecosystem.
Around 85% of North America's freshwater resources are used in agriculture and industry, but uses are allocated by country (for example, household use in Canada is 19%, industry and agriculture use 69% and 12% of fresh water, respectively; agriculture in Mexico uses 77% of water, industry - 6%, and domestic use is 17%; in the United States, industrial and agricultural use is approximately the same - 46% and 41%, respectively, and domestic - 13 %).
Forest resources cover about a third of the land area of North America. There is a wide variety of forest types within this resource, of which about 45% are classified as boreal, mainly in Canada and Alaska. The rest of the forest area is temperate and tropical forests. Almost 20% of the world's forests and more than a third of the world's boreal forests are concentrated in North America. The extent of forested land is relatively stable in Canada, increasing slightly in the United States and decreasing in Mexico. In Mexico, between 3.5 and 5 million hectares of temperate and tropical forests have been lost over the past decade. Estimated annual rates of deforestation in Mexico range from 0.5% to 1.14%.
Changes in the structure of forest ecosystems caused by anthropogenic impact can make forests more susceptible to fires, droughts, invasive insects and air pollution. For example, in the United States, nearly half of all forests are considered highly saline, and fragmentation is widespread, disrupting ecological processes and making them unsuitable for many species of wildlife. In Mexico, the structure and composition of the remaining forest areas have been changed through selective extraction of some preferred tree species and extensive conversion of forests to grassland.
The direct human impact on land resources is highest in coastal and agricultural areas, along transport corridors, and near human settlements. Although the amount of land in North America is constant, its use is constantly changing. The relationship between land use and land cover is complex as a particular land cover can correspond to different land uses. For example, forest land can be used for timber production, recreation, catchment protection, or as habitat. Likewise, some land uses, such as agriculture, may require certain land cover to be preserved over time, such as cropland, fallow land, forest, or even burnt areas. Despite this complexity, attempts to classify land use and land cover can be useful for analyzing human impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. Land-use changes can affect the distribution and type of vegetation cover (for example, forests, cropland and urbanized areas), the ability of ecosystems to provide valuable services that support life, and even relief.
Almost a third of North America's surface is used for agriculture. Although it accounts for only 12% of the world's agricultural area, North America produces almost 20% of the world's cereals and the same amount of meat. Based on historical land-use changes, farming and ranches, as well as temperate North American grasslands, have undergone significant changes that have transformed the ecosystem and resulted in significant losses of biodiversity.
North America is characterized by a sharp contrast between wildlife and modern metropolitan areas. On the third largest continent of the planet, various natural zones harmoniously coexist, such as tundra, taiga, evergreen forests and deserts, which amaze with their pristine beauty even in the 21st century.
The mainland is located in the Northern and Western Hemispheres. The total length of the coastline is 75.5 thousand km. The area without islands is 20.3 million km². In the north, the continent stretches to the polar latitudes, and in the south - to the equator. The coastline is especially indented in the northern part. The coasts are washed by the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The extremes of the continent include:
In the south, the mainland is connected to South America by the Isthmus of Panama. The largest islands are Greenland, Baffin's Land, Cuba, Tahiti, Victoria and Ellesmere. The large peninsulas include Alaska, California, Florida, Labrador, and Yucatan.
There are 23 independent states in North America. The largest of these are the United States, Mexico and Canada. Most of the population is of European origin. Eskimos, Aleuts and Indians call themselves indigenous people. They managed to preserve their original culture. The population density is uneven. Most people live in Central America and the Caribbean.
The relief of the continent is rather complex. In its structure, it resembles Europe. North America is located on the North American and Caribbean lithospheric plate. Uplands occupy one third of the continent. The relief is dominated by plains. They are adjacent to the Appalachian Mountains in the east, and in the west with the Cordillera. Igneous rocks in the north form the Canadian Shield, most of which is occupied by the Laurentian Upland. This territory is the location of the Great and Central Plains.
The greatest mountain system is represented by the Cordillera chain. The highest point is 6193 m. The Cordillera end in South America. Wind and groundwater took an active part in the formation of the relief. The Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River through erosion. The Mammoth Cave was created by underground waters.
Faults continue to form in the Cordillera ridges. Because of this, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. The largest volcanoes are Popocatepetl and Oribasa.
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