The author is professor of biology, University of California, Santa Barbara. This article is based on a presidential address presented before the meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at Utah State University, Logan, 25 June
See Article History Alternative Titles: Besides the 48 conterminous states that occupy the middle latitudes of the continent, the United States includes the state of Alaskaat the northwestern extreme of North America, and the island state of Hawaiiin the mid-Pacific Ocean.
The conterminous states are bounded on the north by Canadaon the east by the Atlantic Oceanon the south by the Gulf of Mexico and Mexicoand on the west by the Pacific Ocean.
The United States is the fourth largest country in the world in area after RussiaCanada, and China. The national capital is Washingtonwhich is coextensive with the District of Columbiathe federal capital region created in Fishing boat at the harbour at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Its physical environment ranges from the Arctic to the subtropical, from the moist rain forest to the arid desert, from the rugged mountain peak to the flat prairie.
Although the total population of the United States is large by world standards, its overall population density is relatively low. United StatesThe United States. The United States contains a highly diverse population.
Unlike a country such as China that largely incorporated indigenous peoples, the United States has a diversity that to a great degree has come from an immense and sustained global immigration.
Probably no other country has a wider range of racial, ethnic, and cultural types than does the United States. In addition to the presence of surviving Native Americans including American Indians, Aleutsand Eskimos and the descendants of Africans taken as slaves to the New World, the national character has been enriched, tested, and constantly redefined by the tens of millions of immigrants who by and large have come to America hoping for greater social, political, and economic opportunities than they had in the places they left.
Despite its relative economic self-sufficiency in many areas, the United States is the most important single factor in world trade by virtue of the sheer size of its economy.
Its exports and imports represent major proportions of the world total. The United States also impinges on the global economy as a source of and as a destination for investment capital. The United States is relatively young by world standards, being less than years old; it achieved its current size only in the midth century.
America was the first of the European colonies to separate successfully from its motherland, and it was the first nation to be established on the premise that sovereignty rests with its citizens and not with the government. In its first century and a half, the country was mainly preoccupied with its own territorial expansion and economic growth and with social debates that ultimately led to civil war and a healing period that is still not complete.
In the 20th century the United States emerged as a world power, and since World War II it has been one of the preeminent powers. It has not accepted this mantle easily nor always carried it willingly; the principles and ideals of its founders have been tested by the pressures and exigencies of its dominant status.
The United States still offers its residents opportunities for unparalleled personal advancement and wealth. However, the depletion of its resources, the contamination of its environment, and the continuing social and economic inequality that perpetuates areas of poverty and blight all threaten the fabric of the country.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Land The two great sets of elements that mold the physical environment of the United States are, first, the geologic, which determines the main patterns of landforms, drainage, and mineral resources and influences soils to a lesser degree, and, second, the atmospheric, which dictates not only climate and weather but also in large part the distribution of soils, plants, and animals.
Although these elements are not entirely independent of one another, each produces on a map patterns that are so profoundly different that essentially they remain two separate geographies. Since this article covers only the conterminous United States, see also the articles Alaska and Hawaii.
To east and west this lowland rises, first gradually and then abruptly, to mountain ranges that divide it from the sea on both sides. The two mountain systems differ drastically.
The Appalachian Mountains on the east are low, almost unbroken, and in the main set well back from the Atlantic. From New York to the Mexican border stretches the low Coastal Plain, which faces the ocean along a swampy, convoluted coast.
The gently sloping surface of the plain extends out beneath the sea, where it forms the continental shelfwhich, although submerged beneath shallow ocean water, is geologically identical to the Coastal Plain.
Southward the plain grows wider, swinging westward in Georgia and Alabama to truncate the Appalachians along their southern extremity and separate the interior lowland from the Gulf.
West of the Central Lowland is the mighty Cordillera, part of a global mountain system that rings the Pacific basin.Steven P. Wallace, Ph.D., is the chair of and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and associate director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in Los Angeles, California.
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