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Notes on Continents
Source » Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


Africa is the SECOND LARGEST of the Earth’s seven continents, covering 30,244,000 sq km (11,677,000 sq mi), including its adjacent islands. It comprises 23 percent of the world’s total land area. In 2000 some 13 percent of the world’s population, an estimated 797 million people, lived in Africa, making it the world’s second most populous continent, after Asia.


Antarctica is the FIFTH LARGEST of the Earth’s seven continents. The southernmost, coldest, windiest, highest, most remote, and most recently discovered continent, it surrounds the South Pole, the point at the southern end of the Earth’s axis. Almost completely covered by ice, Antarctica has no permanent human population. The continent is ringed by the Southern, or Antarctic, Ocean, a body of water made up of the southern portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans but sometimes considered a separate ocean due to its lower temperature and salt concentration. The entire area south of the Antarctic Convergence, the zone where the Southern Ocean meets the other oceans, is referred to as the Antarctic region. Antarctica means “opposite to the Arctic,” the Earth’s northernmost region.


Asia is the LARGEST of the Earth’s seven continents, lying almost entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. With outlying islands, it covers an estimated 44,391,000 sq km (17,139,000 sq mi), or about 30 percent of the world’s total land area. Its peoples account for three-fifths of the world’s population.

Because of its vast size and diverse character, Asia is divided into five major realms: East Asia, including China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan; Southeast Asia, including Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines; South Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan; and Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Cyprus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Most of the countries of Southwest Asia are also considered part of the Middle East, a loosely defined region that includes Egypt. Afghanistan and Myanmar are sometimes considered part of South Asia, but most geographers place Afghanistan in Southwest Asia and Myanmar in Southeast Asia. The fifth realm consists of the area of Russia that lies east of the Ural Mountains (Russian Asia) and the states of Central Asia that were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). These states are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.


Australia is an island continent located southeast of Asia and forming, with the nearby island of Tasmania, the Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The continent is bounded on the north by the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea, and the Torres Strait; on the east by the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea; on the south by the Bass Strait and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Indian Ocean. The commonwealth extends for about 4,000 km (about 2,500 mi) from east to west and for about 3,700 km (about 2,300 mi) from north to south. Its coastline measures some 25,760 km (about 16,010 mi). The area of the commonwealth is 7,682,300 sq km (2,966,200 sq mi), and the area of the continent alone is 7,614,500 sq km (2,939,974 sq mi), making Australia the SMALLEST CONTINENT in the world, but the sixth largest country.


Europe is the SECOND SMALLEST continent (Australia is the smallest), Europe has an area of 10,355,000 sq km (3,998,000 sq mi), but it has the third largest population of all the continents, 726 million in 2000. The northernmost point of the European mainland is Cape Nordkinn, in Norway; the southernmost, Punta de Tarifa, in southern Spain near Gibraltar. From west to east the mainland ranges from Cabo da Roca, in Portugal, to the northeastern slopes of the Urals, in Russia.


North America is the THIRD LARGEST of the seven continents, including Canada (the 2nd largest country in area in the world), the United States (3rd largest), and Mexico (14th largest). The continent also includes Greenland, the largest island, as well as the small French overseas department of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and the British dependency of Bermuda (both made up of small islands in the Atlantic Ocean). With more than 405 million inhabitants estimate), North America is the 4th most populous continent; the United States ranks 3rd and Mexico 11th in population among the world's countries. Canada and the United States have technologically developed early modern economies, and Mexico, although less technologically developed than its neighbors, contains some of the world's greatest deposits of petroleum and natural gas.


South America is the FOURTH LARGEST of the Earth's seven continents (after Asia, Africa, and North America), occupying 17,820,900 sq km (6,880,700 sq mi), or 12 percent of the Earth's land surface. It lies astride the equator and tropic of Capricorn and is joined by the Isthmus of Panama, on the north, to Central and North America. The continent extends 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the Caribbean Sea on the north to Cape Horn on the south, and its maximum width, between Ponta do Seixas, on Brazil's Atlantic coast, and Punta Pariñas, on Peru's Pacific coast, is 5,160 km (3,210 mi).


Technically, NOT A CONTINENT. Central America region of the western hemisphere, made up of a long, tapering isthmus that forms a bridge between North and South America. Central America, which is defined by geographers as part of North America, has an area of about 521,500 sq km (about 201,300 sq mi) and includes the countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The region has a population of approximately 36.4 million (2000 estimate).



Technically, NOT A CONTINENT. Latin America, in the broadest sense, is the entire western hemisphere south of the United States. In a more restricted sense Latin America comprises those countries of the Americas that developed from the colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France. The physical characteristics involves some countries in Central America, North America, and South America.


Technically, NOT A CONTINENT. Middle East, geographic and cultural region located in southwestern Asia and northeastern Africa. The geopolitical term Middle East, first coined in 1902 by United States naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan, originally referred to the Asian region south of the Black Sea between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and India to the east. In modern scholarship, and for the purposes of this article, the term refers collectively to the Asian countries of Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel (and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, and the African country of Egypt. A broader, more cultural definition might include the Muslim countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


Technically, NOT A CONTINENT. West Indies, an archipelago, or group of islands, that extends in an arc from near southern Florida to the coast of Venezuela. The West Indies archipelago, which includes thousands of tiny islands, forms a breakwater 3,200-km (2,000-mi) long against the Atlantic Ocean, separating it from the Caribbean Sea.


Technically, NOT A CONTINENT. Pacific Islands or Oceania, the more than 25,000 islands and islets of 25 nations and territories spread over the western and central Pacific Ocean. Although the Pacific Islands are scattered across millions of square kilometers, their total land area is just 1,261,456 sq km (487,051 sq mi)—slightly larger than South Africa, slightly smaller than Peru, and four-fifths the size of Alaska. The islands of New Guinea, New Zealand, and Hawaii constitute 93 percent of the land area, while the remaining thousands of islands have a total land area of 89,339 sq km (34,494 sq mi), slightly less than the American state of Indiana. New Guinea, shared by the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya and the nation of Papua New Guinea, is the second largest island in the world, after Greenland. New Zealand’s South Island and North Island, Oceania’s next largest islands, are the world’s 12th and 14th largest islands, respectively.
The Pacific Islands are usually divided into three sub-regions: Melanesia (the prefix mela, meaning dark or black, refers to the dark complexion of many Melanesian people), Micronesia (the prefix micro, meaning small, refers to the small size of Micronesia’s islands and atolls), and Polynesia (the prefix poly, meaning many, refers to the many islands of Polynesia).

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