North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America, and to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean.
North America covers an area of about 24,709,000 square kilometers (9,540,000 square miles), about 4.8% of the planet's surface or about 16.5% of its land area. As of July 2008, its population was estimated at nearly 529 million people. It is the third-largest continent in area, following Asia and Africa, and the fourth in population after Asia, Africa, and Europe.
North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America. North America's only land connection to South America is at the Isthmus of Panama. The continent is delimited on the southeast by most geographers at the Darien watershed along the Colombia-Panama border, placing all of Panama within North America. Alternatively, less common views would end North America at the man-made Panama Canal, and some geologists physiographically locate its southern limit at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, with Central America extending southeastward to South America from this point. The Caribbean islands, or West Indies, are considered part of North America.
Before the Central American isthmus was raised, the region had been underwater. The islands of the West Indies delineate a submerged former land bridge which had connected North America and South America via what are now Florida and Venezuela. The continental coastline is long and irregular. The Gulf of Mexico is the largest body of water indenting the continent, followed by Hudson Bay. Others include the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Gulf of California.
There are numerous islands off the continent’s coasts, principally, the Artic Archipelago, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, the Aleutian Islands , the Alexander Archipelago, the many thousand islands of the British Columbia Coast, and Newfoundland. Greenland, a self-governing Danish island, and the world's largest, is on the same tectonic plate and is part of North America geographically. In a geologic sense, Bermuda is not part of the Americas, but an oceanic island which was formed on the fissure of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge over 100 million years ago. The nearest landmass to it is Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. However, Bermuda is often thought of as part of North America, especially given its historical, political and cultural ties to Virginia and other parts of the continent.
The vast majority of North America is on the North American Plate. Parts of California and western Mexico form the partial edge of the Pacific Plate, with the two plates meeting along the San Andreas fault. The southernmost portion of the continent and much of the West Indies lie on the Caribbean Plate, whereas the Juan de Fuca and Cocos plates border the North American Plate on its western frontier.
The continent can be divided into four great regions: the Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian Arctic; the mountainous west, including the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the eastern coastal plain does extend south along the Gulf.
The western mountains are split in the middle into the main range of the Rockies and the coast ranges in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, with the Great Basin—a lower area containing smaller ranges and low-lying deserts—in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska.
The United States Geographical Survey states that the geographic center of North America is "6 miles west of Balta, Pierce County, North Dakota" at approximately, approximately 15 miles from Rugby, North Dakota. The USGS further states that “No marked or monument point has been established by any government agency as the geographic center of either the 50 States, the conterminous United States, or the North American continent.” Nonetheless, there is a 15-foot field stone obelisk in Rugby claiming to mark the center. The North American continental pole of inaccessibility is located 1,030 miles from the nearest coastline, between Allen and Kyle, South Dakota.
The prevalent languages in North America are English, Spanish, and French. The term Anglo-America is used to refer to the anglophone countries of the Americas: namely Canada and the United States, but also sometimes Belize and parts of the Caribbean. Latin America refers to the other areas of the Americas where the Romance languages, derived from Latin, of Spanish and Portuguese predominate: the other republics of Central America, part of the Caribbean, Mexico, and most of South America.
The French language has historically played a significant role in North America and now retains a distinctive presence in some regions. Canada is officially bilingual. French is the official language of the Province of Quebec, where 95% of the people speak it as either their first or second language, and it is co-official with English in the Province of New Brunswick. Other French-speaking locales include the Province of Ontario, the Province of Manitoba, the French West Indies and Saint-Pierre et Minquelon, as well as the U.S. state of Louisiana, where French is also an official language. Haiti is included with this group based on historical association but Haitians speak both Creole and French. Similarly, French and French Antillean Creole is spoken in Saint Lucia and the Commonwealth of Dominica alongside English.
Economically, Canada and the United States are the wealthiest and most developed nations in the continent, followed by Mexico, a newly industrialized country. The countries of Central America and the Caribbean are at various levels of economic and human development. For example, small Caribbean island-nations such as Barbados, Trinidad and Tabago and Antiqua and Barbuda have a higher GDP per capita than Mexico due to their smaller populations. Panama and Costa Rica have a significantly higher Human Development Index and GDP than the rest of the Central American nations.
Demographically, North America is a racially and ethnically diverse continent. Its three main racial groups are Caucasians, Mestizos, and Blacks. There is a significant minority of Indigenous Americans and Asians among other less numerous groups.
Socially and culturally, North America presents a well-defined entity. Canada and the United States have a similar culture and similar traditions as a result of both countries being former British colonies. A common cultural and economic market has developed between the two nations because of the strong economic and historical ties. Spanish-speaking North America shares a common past as former Spanish colonies. In Mexico and the Central American countries where civilizations like the Maya developed, indigenous people preserve traditions across modern boundaries. Central American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations have historically had more in common due to geographical proximity and the fact that they won independence from Spain.
Northern Mexico, particularly in the cities of Monterrey, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and Mexicali, is strongly influenced by the culture and way of life of the United States. Of the a fore mentioned cities, Monterrey has been regarded as the most Americanized city in North America. Immigration to the United States and Canada remains a significant attribute of many nations close to the southern border of the U.S. The Anglophone Caribbean states have witnessed the decline of the British Empire and its influence on the region, and its replacement by the economic influence of Northern America. In the Anglophone Caribbean this influence is partly due to the relatively small populations (less than 200,000) of the majority of English-speaking Caribbean countries, and the fact that many of these countries now have diasporas living abroad that are larger than those remaining at home.
The most populous country in North America, over doubling the second largest country in population, is the United States with 303,606,020 persons. The second largest country, and only other country to maintain a populace above 100 million persons is Mexico with a population of 112,322,757. Canada is the third largest country with a population of 32,623,490. The majority of Caribbean island-nations have national populations under one million, though Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico - a territory of the United States, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago have populations higher than ten million.
While the United States, Canada, and Mexico maintain the largest populations, large city populations are not restricted to those nations. There are also large cities in the Caribbean. The largest cities in North America, by far, are Mexico City and New York. These cities are the only cities on the continent to exceed eight million, and two of three in the Americas. Next in size are Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Havana, Santo Domingo, and Montreal. Cities in the sunbelt regions of the United States, such as those in Southern California and Houston, Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, are experiencing rapid growth. These causes included warm temperatures, retirement of Baby Boomers, large industry, and the influx of immigrants. Cities near the United States border, particularly in Mexico, are also experiencing large amounts of growth. Most notable is Tijuana, a city bordering San Diego that receives immigrants from all over Latin America and parts of Europe and Asia. Yet as cities grow in these warmer regions of North America, they are increasingly forced to deal with the major issue of water shortages.
Eight of the top ten metropolitan areas are located in the United States. These metropolitan areas all have a population of above 5.5 million and include the New York City metropolitan area, Chicago metropolitan area and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Whilst the majority of the largest metropolitan areas are within the United States, Mexico is host to the largest metropolitan area by population in North America: Greater Mexico City. Canada also breaks into the top ten largest metropolitan areas with the Toronto metropolitan area having five and half million citizens. The proximity of cities to each other on the Canada - United States and Mexico - United States border has led to the rise of international metropolitan areas.
These urban agglomerations are observed at their largest and most productive in Detroit - Windsor and San Diego - Tijuana and experience large commercial, economic, and cultural activity. The metropolitan areas are responsible for millions of dollars of trade dependent on international freight. In Detroit-Windsor the Border Transportation Partnership study in 2004 concluded USD $13 billion was dependent on the Detroit–Windsor international border crossing while in San Diego-Tijuana freight at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry was valued at USD $20 billion.
The North America continent has also been witness to the growth of megapolitan areas. In the United States exists eleven megaregions that transcend international borders and comprise Canadian and Mexican metropolitan regions. Canada and Mexico are also the home of megaregions. Traditionally the largest megaregion has been considered the Boston - Washington, D.C. Corridor, or the Northeast, as the region is one massive contiguous area. Yet megaregion criterion have allowed the Great Lakes Megalopolis to maintain status as the most populated region, being home to 53,768,125 people in 2000.
The top ten largest North American metropolitan areas by population as of 2010, based on national census numbers from the United States of America, and census estimates from Canada and Mexico.