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Geographical and Cultural Overview of the US

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Stephanie Cheah

Introduction:

The USA plays a very big role in our daily lives. Everything that we do is somehow connected to the United States, from our smartphones, to the value of money in our wallets, and even the laptop this project is being typed on.

In this paper, all aspects of the United States will be explored. Its physical geography, population, industry, role as a superpower, and issues that they are facing. The USA is a very prominent country not only in the areas mentioned above, but in its physical size and population.

Being the third largest country in the world in land mass and the third largest country in population, the USA has a very diverse society. They are also the leaders in many aspects of our lives, practically controlling our lives across the globe.

1. The physical features of the USA

The USA covers 3.806 million sq miles (9.857 million km²). It is the third largest country in the world, after Russia and its neighbours Canada.

Relief

The eastern part of the USA is low and flat, excluding the Appalachian Mountains, which are low rounded highlands. The western half is much higher, with more mountain ranges running down from Alaska to Mexico. The Central Plains are gently rolling plains, and the Great Plains are slightly higher. Both combined form an important farming region for cattle and crops such as wheat, corn and soyabean.

Mountains

There are four major mountains in the United States: the Rocky Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Cascade Range, and the Sierra Nevada.

The Rocky Mountains:

They run 3000 miles from western Canada to the state of New Mexico. They also include numerous sub ranges, such as the Wasatch, Bitterroots, Big Horn, and Front Ranges.

The Appalachian Mountains:

Situated in the eastern United States, they stretch from Alabama northeast across New England, and extending up to Canada.

The Cascades:

The Cascade Range along the West Coast of the United States extend from Canada into the US states of Washington, Oregon, and California. These mountains were formed as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and have volcanoes, including Mount St. Helens and Lassen.

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada mountains, located in the states of California and Nevada, are about 400 miles long. The name Sierra Nevada is Spanish for "snowy mountains," because of the snow-capped peaks of the range. Many of the mountains are formed of granite, and shaped by glaciers. The tallest mountain in the United States in Mt McKinley, at 20,320 feet, in the Alaska range.

Rivers

There are approximately 250,000 rivers, adding up to about 3,500,000 miles (or 5,632,704km) of rivers. The Missouri (a tributary of the Mississippi River) is the longest river in the USA which is 2540 miles (4088km) long. In terms of volume, the Mississippi River is largest. Together they form the fourth longest river in the world, which is almost 7000km long. The longest undammed river is the Yellowstone river, which is 692 miles (1113km) long.

Lakes

The Great Lakes are the largest group of lakes in the world. Four of them are shared with Canada.

2. USA’s climate

As USA has a large land mass, it has a wide range of climates. In Alaska, much of the land is tundra, and where it is not, it is cold and drier. At the south as well as Hawaii, there is tropical climate, meaning that it has warm summers and mild winters. In the south west, it is mostly desert, which are made out of stony soil and low shrubs. The Sonoran is the hottest, but it has cool winters.

Large land masses heat up fast in summer and cool fast in winter. The further inland you go, the more drastic the temperature difference will be between summer and winter.

Climate Regions

There are nine climate regions in the USA: Central, East North Central, Northeast, Northwest, South, Southeast, Southwest, West and West North Central.

Below is a diagram of the average temperatures:

The west side of the country is the coldest, while the south is much warmer. The hottest states are in the South and East North Central.

2. Population of USA

The USA has a population of approximately 324,490,000 people.

There has been a fast but steady increase in the population of the USA over 25 years. This is comprised out of many diverse ethnicities which are shown in the diagrams below. Racial/Ethnic Mix

Over 25 years, there has been an increase of approximately 53,000 people in the total population. The USA has seen a rise the general non-white population, with the exception of the Indian population, which has remained constant throughout the 25 years, and the “Other” category, which saw a decrease from 2005 to 2015. White remains the ethnicity with the largest population, while the Hispanic population is the second largest.

For the convenience of the reader, a pie chart has been created to illustrate the above statistics.

3. Population Distribution

The Eastern side of the USA is more densely populated compared to the west. However, it is rather densely populated along the west coast, as shown in the diagram above.

The most densely populated cities are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.

Possible reasons to why these cities are more densely populated are:

Their geographic locations make it a suitable place to trade and live comfortably. The most populous cities in the US are located near a body of water, have a (preferably) mild climate and easy access to natural resources.

Water was the easiest way to transport goods before the Industrial Revolution, and it also allowed the movement of ideas. It also made it easier for immigrants to arrive there, considering their mode of transport was also water.

4. The automotive industry

Henry Ford was the man who started up America’s automotive industry. Although he did not invent the motor car, he was the first to set up a factory producing low-cost cars that virtually anyone could afford. His first fatory was in Detroit, Michigan.

He picked a good pace to set up his first factory. Detroit is located in an area known as the ‘manufacturing belt’. This place had lots of steel works, an abundance of workers, and a large number of nearby customers.

He started with the Ford Model T, which was launched on 1 October 1908. It soon gained popularity, and sold 15 million Model Ts across the world.

Mr Henry Ford was keen on globalisation as well. Within 20 years of opening his first factory, he set up plants in the UK, Canada, France, India, Germany and Australia.

However, the American car industry is not experiencing the same success it did years ago. The Big Three American companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, are selling less and less cars, mostly due to competition from other foreign car companies.

The downfall started in the 1970s, when there were too many cars and the USA’s oil deposits were being used up and oil had to be imported. US car companies continues to lose money when Japan began to export smaller and cheaper cars to the USA.

Now with even more cars on the road, it increases the air pollution and there is pressure to come up with cars that limit carbon emissions, by creating cars that run on fuel other than petrol.

5. Agriculture industry

The USA is the world’s top exporter and the most productive in the history of the world. Thanks to the USA’s large land mass and range of climates, many crops are able to grow there. The two main crops grown there are wheat and corn, and rearing livestock also brings a lot of business.

What makes the American farmers so productive is the fact that they have plenty of fertile flat land, which is suitable for growing crops and the usage of large machinery. Apart from this, there are large mechanised farms which often specialise in only one type of crop. They also use chemicals such as fertilisers to aid the plant’s growth. increase the yield and pesticides to protect the crops.

They also lead in crop research. Through genetic modification, scientists have developed plants that can grow in a hostile environment. Lastly, the US government pays subsidies to farmers to encourage them.

California is also famous for farming. It produces all types of fruit and vegetables, including grapes. Rearing cattle and selling milk is also big business, as well as growing rice and cotton.

However, there is a huge debate going on about what America’s limited water should be used for. As 11% of America’s cropland depends on irrigation, it means that it takes up a lot of water. In fact, it takes up half of the USA’s water consumption.

6. The American Dream

The American Dream is a belief that everyone in the USA has an equal chance to succeed regardless of their ethnicity or their background. This is what has led thousands of people over to the USA.

Many people are drawn to the USA as there is not only the belief of the American Dream, but there is opportunity there. They go there for better education for their children. Most go there to find work, whether they are highly-skilled, or if they lack education and are willing to work hard and build a better life.

Here is an example of an American Dream that did come true:

“Ursula Burns The CEO ofXeroxfaced numerous struggles to arrive atop that company.

Raised by a single mother -- a Panamanian immigrant -- in a New York City housing project, she attended parochial school and discovered an aptitude for math and figures. While she was pointed by teachers toward a traditional woman's career such as nursing, she made another calculation: What high-paying work was available with the degree she knew she could get in math or science? She attended Polytechnic Institute of New York and Columbia University with that in mind.”

Unfortunately, while the American Dream does come true for some, others aren’t as lucky. Thousands who arrive from their native countries migrate in the hopes of getting a better education or occupation, but the only thing they are met with is homelessness.

To quote the New York Times:

“Oscar was a shy 15-year-old when his parents hired a local ‘coyote’ in July 2008 to help him leave Veracruz, Mexico, and cross the border to seek work in the United States. Jorge, gregarious, bright-eyed and also 15, gathered up his 6-year-old cousin six months later and left Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the middle of the night, to escape abuse that he said had escalated into fistfights with his father. He also planned to work and send money back to his mother.

Without knowing it, both were headed toward homelessness. In that, they joined thousands of other immigrant children who have left their native country — for work, family reunification or refuge — crossed into the United States and wound up alone.”

Is the American Dream just a fantasy? Or is it something that is real, and we know will definitely come to us?

I find that both statements are wrong. The Dream is very much alive, but like it is, after all, still a dream. Not all dreams will come true.

7. Physical Geography of California

The state of California covers a land area of 163,973 square miles and 7,734 square miles of water. California is the third largest state in the US and has over 1,200 miles of coastline. There are three major mountain ranges in California: the Klamath Mountains, Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

To the south-east extreme of California is the Mojave Desert which covers over 25,000 square miles of Californian territory. Vegetation is sparse and most of the region is at an elevation of more than 2,000 feet above sea level.

The Central Valley is long, flat and sheltered, and the Death Valley is the hottest part of the Mojave Desert, which can reach temperatures up to 50°C in the summer.

Most of California enjoys mild climate and equitable rainfall. The coastal regions can get rather cold in winter months. The desert regions are low on rainfall and the temperature soars up to 130°F (54°C). The cities of Los Angeles and San Diego have average temperatures ranging between 50°F (10°C)and 60°F (15°C) and are very pleasant.

This area is also affected by the presence of many earthquake causing fault lines. The San Andreas Fault, running through California, is a major fault line.

8. Issues the USA is facing

Environmental Issues

Due to the USA being located where two plates meet, the west coast is prone to earthquakes and volcano eruptions. On the south east side, hurricanes often occur, as it is near to the Atlantic Ocean.

Tornadoes are also a frequent occurrence, especially in spring and summer. In addition to this, droughts are common throughout the whole of the USA. This is caused by low rainfall, which also leads to wildfires. To make matters worse, people have been pumping too much water from rivers and aquifers.

Social issues

While the American Dream is based on the idea that everyone has an equal chance, one aspect is certainly false. According to the statistics, far more non-whites have been arrested and persecuted.

Studies have shown that a non-white person (eg. Black, Hispanic) was more likely to be stopped and frisked. In New York City, 80% of the stops made were blacks and Latinos, and 85% of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8% of white people stopped.

In the year 2010, it was reported by the US Sentencing Commission that whites faced a 10% shorter sentence compared to their black counterparts.

While these numbers could possibly be justified as the non-white community happening to commit more crime, it should not be that a survey in 2011 revealed that 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes.

Although one may argue that the first black president, Barack Obama, was elected in 2009, this does nothing to disguise the fact that coloured people are still facing discrimination against them.

Economic Issues

The US no longer produce what we need to sustain themselves. Instead, they import much more than they export. As they are not making enough profit, they take on colossal debts to maintain their high standard of living.

The US does not acknowledge that other countries are undermining them. For example, China’s currency manipulation has cost the U.S. millions of jobs. Instead we encourage U.S. manufacturers to design, engineer, and produce in third world markets like Mexico and China, making the problem even worse.

9. The USA as a superpower

Why is it a superpower?

The United States of America is not only a powerful nation economically; it is also one in the fields of science and technology. The USA receives the highest number of immigrants per year (approximately 1 million), a leader in technology, business, movies and tertiary education.

It has the highest GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in the entire world, almost twice that of the next highest. However, the United States of America is a huge spender, particularly on their military. They also spend the most of the world’s military spending, almost half of the total.

The USA’s powerful military contributes largely to them being a superpower. During the two World Wars, there was a struggle for power, initially with the European “great powers” such as the United Kingdom, Russians, Austria-Hungary to name a few, then to one global empire (Great Britain), Japan, and currently the United States.

After World War II, two superpowers emerged: the United States and the Soviet Union. They were both so heavily armed that engaging in direct war with each other could possibly destroy our civilisation.

They also have a huge influence on our modern culture. They are the leaders for entertainment such as television shows, movies, music, food, fashion and plenty other things. Almost everything we do today, from what clothes we wear, to what music we listen to, or what digital device we use is all influenced by the US.

References:

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