Environmental Science Week7 - Geology

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1 Environmental Science Week7 - Geology Module 3: Geology, Earth and the Lithosphere 27. The Seven Continents: The continents are the major land masses of the earth. According to tradition most people speak of seven continents on the planet. However, geologically there are actually six large distinct land masses on the earth so many geographers and scientists refer to six. In this course we will divide the earth's land masses into the traditional seven continents as follows: (1) Europe: Although referred to as a continent, Europe is actually just the western fifth of the Eurasian landmass, which is made up primarily of Asia. Modern geographers generally describe the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, part of the Caspian Sea, and the Caucasus Mountains as forming the main boundary between Europe and Asia. The second smallest continent (Australia is the smallest), but it has the third largest population of all the continents, 729 million in 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. The highest point of the continent is El brus (5,642 m/18,510 ft), in the Caucasus Mountains in southwestern Russia. The lowest point of Europe is located along the northern shore of the Caspian Sea, 28 m (92 ft) below sea level. (2) Asia: Asia, is the largest of the Earth s seven continents, lying almost entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. Its peoples account for three-fifths of the world s population; in 2004 Asia had an estimated 3.86 billion inhabitants. The lowest and highest points on the Earth s surface are in Asia, namely, the shore of the Dead Sea (408 m/1,340 ft below sea level in 1996) and Mount Everest (8,850 m/29,035 ft above sea level). (3) Africa: Africa is the second largest of Earth s seven continents, covering 23 percent of the world s total land area and containing 13 percent of the world s population. Africa straddles the equator and most of its area lies within the tropics. It is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Indian Ocean and Red Sea on the east, and the Mediterranean Sea on the north. In the northeastern corner of the continent, Africa is connected with Asia by the Sinai Peninsula. (4) Australia: Australia smallest and is called the island continent located southeast of Asia. (5) North America: 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 (6) South America: South America is the fourth largest of the Earth's seven continents The lowest point in South America (40 m/ 131 ft below sea level) is on Península Valdés in eastern Argentina, and the greatest elevation (6,960 m/22,834 ft) is atop Aconcagua in western Argentina, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. (7) Antarctica: 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. Antarctica s latitude (location in relation to the equator) and high elevations make it the coldest continent. Air temperatures of the high inland regions fall below 80 C (- 110 F) in winter and rise only to 30 C ( 20 F) in summer. The warmest coastal regions reach the freezing point in summer but drop well below in winter. 1

2 Figure. The seven continents. 28. Major Mountain Ranges There are several major mountain ranges around the earth. The following are the some of the most significant. (1) Europe: Pyrenees and Alps (2) Asia: Caucus and Pamirs (Parmir hub), Tien Shan and Himalayas (Mt Everest) (3) Africa: the Atlas (4) North America: Appalachian Mountains, Alaska Range, Coastal Ranges, Sierra Nevada and Sierra Madre (5) South America: the Andes (6) Australia: the Great Dividing Range (7) Antarctica:- Transantarctic Mountains, the West Antarctica Ranges, and the East Antarctica Ranges. 2

3 Figure. Mountain ranges of the world. 29. Other Major Topographical Features Beside mountains there are other significant features of the earth including islands, plains and deserts Islands In geology, the term island is used to describe an area of land completely surrounded by water when the land is too small to be called a continent. (1) Ocean islands are the tops of the mountains, may have been formed from volcanoes. (2) Island arcs form on an anticline fold that reaches the surface of the ocean. (3) Micronesia which means "small islands" is a nation that is composed of many small islands. These tropical islands are situated 5,150 km west-southwest of Honolulu in the North Pacific Ocean, and about three-quarters of the way between Hawaii and Indonesia. Micronesia is spread over 3 million square miles of the Pacific and includes over 2000 islands. The distance from one end of Micronesia to the other is 2,040 nautical miles. 3

4 29.2. Plains and Deserts (1) Plains: Plains are regions of generally level (flat) or gently rolling terrain. Plains are good for agriculture and easy transportation. A good example is the Great Plains of the United States. (2) Deserts: Deserts cover about one fifth of the Earth s surface and occur where rainfall is less than 50 cm (20 inches) per year. Deserts are technically not a landform, but they typically are located to the leeward (opposite side of the usual wind direction) of large mountain ranges. Most deserts, such as the Sahara of North Africa and the deserts of the southwestern U.S., Mexico, and Australia, occur at low latitudes (closer to the Equator than the Poles). But another kind of desert, cold deserts, occurs in the basin and range area of Utah and Nevada and in parts of western Asia. Most deserts have a considerable amount of specialized vegetation, as well as specialized animals. Soils often have abundant nutrients. They need only water to become very productive and have little or no organic matter. 30. Topography of the U.S. and New York Our nation and state is blessed with a diverse and wonderful assortment of geological features. The following describes just some of the more significant features United States The US can be divided up into the following 10 geological or topographical regions: (1) Southwest Coastal - California (2) Northwest Coastal - Oregon - Washington (3) Rocky Mountains (4) Southwest Desert (5) Great Plains (6) Midwest Prairie (7) Gulf States (8) Appalachian Mountain (9) East Coast (10) Great Lakes Region 4

5 29.2. New York New York State can be divided up into the following 7 geological or topographical regions: (1) Adirondacks (2) Lake Ontario - Lake Plains (includes Finger Lakes) and St Lawrence River Valley (3) Tug Hill Plateau (4) Hudson and Mohawk Valleys (5) Coastal Plain and Long Island (6) Southern Tier - Allegheny Plateau (7) Lake Erie - Western NY Figures. Major land features of New York State 5

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