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North America

The Natural Environment

- Geological History -

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North America is roughly wedge shaped, with its broadest expanse in the north. Most of its bulk is in the middle latitudes, with a considerable northern section in the Arctic and a narrow part around the tropic of Cancer. The continent sprawls east-west across some 176 of longitude, from longitude 12 west at Nordost Rundingen (Northeast Foreland) in northeastern Greenland to longitude 172 east at the western extremity of Attu Island, Alaska. Its north-south extent is some 69, from latitude 83 north at Cape Morris Jesup in eastern Greenland to latitude 14 north in southern Mexico. North America is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean; on the east by the Atlantic Ocean; on the south by the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, and the Pacific Ocean; and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The area of the continent is 23.7 million sq km (9.2 million sq mi).

The outline of North America is exceedingly irregular; some extensive coastal reaches are relatively smooth, but by and large the coastline is broken and embayed, with many prominent offshore islands. The continent has three enormous coastal indentations: Hudson Bay in the northeast, the Gulf of Mexico in the southeast, and the Gulf of Alaska in the northwest. There are many small islands near the eastern and western coasts, but the most prominent islands are in the far north.

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