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Canada Geography


Canada consists of all of the North American continent north of the United States except Alaska and the small French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Its total land area of 9,976,140 sq km (3,851,809 sq mi) makes it the second-largest country in the world (slightly larger than China and the US), extending 5,187 km (3,223 mi) east to west from Cape Spear, Newfoundland, to Mt. St. Elias in the Yukon Territory and 4,627 km (2,875 mi) north to south from Cape Columbia on Ellesmere Island to Pelee Island in Lake Erie. Canada is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by Kennedy Channel, Nares Strait, Baffin Bay, Davis Strait and the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the US, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the US state of Alaska. The coastal waters of Canada also include the Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay. The country's total land boundary length is 8,893 km (5,526 mi). Its total coastline length is 243,791 km (151,485 mi). Canada's capital city, Ottawa, is located in the southeastern part of the country.

Canada's topography is dominated by the Canadian Shield, an ice-scoured area of Precambrian rocks surrounding Hudson Bay and covering half the country. This vast region, with its store of forests, hydro-power, and mineral resources, is being increasingly developed. East of the Shield is the maritime area, separated from the rest of Canada by low mountain ranges pierced by plains and river valleys, and including the island of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. South and southeast of the Shield are the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence lowlands, a fertile plain in the triangle bounded by the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay. West of the Shield are the farmlands and ranching areas of the great central plains, some 1,300 km (800 mi) wide along the US border and tapering to about 160 km (100 mi) at the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Toward the north of this section is a series of rich mining areas, and still farther north is the Mackenzie lowland, traversed by many lakes and rivers. The westernmost region of Canada, extending from western Alberta to the Pacific Ocean, includes the Rocky Mountains, a plateau region, the coastal mountain range, and an inner sea passage separating the outer island groups from the fjord-lined coast. Mt. Logan, the highest peak in Canada, in the St. Elias Range near the Alaska border, is 5,959 m (19,551 ft) high. The Arctic islands constitute a large group extending north of the Canadian mainland to within 885 km (550 mi) of the North Pole. They vary greatly in size and topography, with mountains, plateaus, fjords and low coastal plains.

The central Canadian Shield area is drained by the Nelson-Saskatchewan, Churchill, Severn, and Albany rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. The 4,241-km (2,635-mi) Mackenzie River – with its tributaries and three large lakes (Great Bear, Great Slave and Athabasca) – drains an area of almost 2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi) into the Arctic Ocean. The Columbia, Fraser, and Yukon rivers are the principal drainage systems of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. The Great Lakes drain into the broad St. Lawrence River, which flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Other rivers flow laterally from the interior into Hudson Bay or the Atlantic or Pacific ocean.

Most of northern Canada has subarctic or arctic climates, with long cold winters lasting 8 to 11 months, short sunny summers, and little precipitation. In contrast, the populated south has a variety of climatological landscapes. The greatest temperature range is in the Northwest Territories, where the average temperature at Fort Good Hope ranges from -31°C (-24°F ) in January to 16°C (61°F ) in July.

Cool summers and mild winters prevail only along the Pacific coast of British Columbia. There the mean temperatures range from about 4°C (39°F ) in January to 16°C (61°F ) in July, the least range in the country. On the prairies there are extreme differences in temperature between day and night and summer and winter. In Ontario and Québec, especially near the Great Lakes and along the St. Lawrence River, the climate is less severe than in western Canada. This region has abundant precipitation that is highly uniform from season to season. The growing season is short, even in the south. Much of the interior plains area does not get enough rain for diversified crops.

East of the Rockies across the flat prairie lies the meeting ground for air from the Arctic, Pacific, and American interior. The mixing of air masses leads to a turbulent atmosphere and the emergence of cyclonic storms, producing most of the rain and snow in the country. The northwest and the prairies, having fewer or weaker storms, are the driest areas, although the prairies are the site of some heavy blizzards and dramatic thunderstorms. The windward mountain slopes are exceptionally wet; the protected slopes are very dry. Thus, the west coast gets about 150-300 cm (60-120 in) of rain annually; the central prairie area, less than 50 cm (20 in); the flat area east of Winnipeg, 50-100 cm (20-40 in); and the maritime provinces, 115-150 cm (45-60 in). The annual average number of days of precipitation ranges from 252 along coastal British Columbia to 100 in the interior of the province.

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