GEOG101 Study Guide

Unit 4: North America

4a. Describe the physiographic regions of North America

  • What are the mountain landforms that separate North America's Atlantic Coastal Plain, Interior Plains, and Intermontane Plateaus?
  • Why does the east coast have a Coastal Plain but the west coast does not?
  • Explain why the Canadian Shield is sparsely populated.

The Appalachian Highlands separate the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Interior Plains, including the Great Plains and the Central Lowlands. The Rocky Mountains separate the Interior Plains and the Intermontane Plateaus, including the Basin and Range Province. The Pacific Mountains are the western border of the Intermontane Plateaus and North America. The west coast of North America lacks a coastal plain because it is an active tectonic plate boundary. The west coast is characterized by earthquakes and volcanic activity, whereas the east coast is not. The Atlantic Coastal Plain is in the interior of the North American Plate, about 2,000 miles from its eastern edge. The northern portion of North America is dominated by the Canadian Shield. During the Ice Age, continental glaciation removed the soil from this area and deposited it in southern Canada and the northern United States leaving the bedrock known as the Canadian Shield exposed.



4b. Explain the two dominant climate patterns in North America

  • What is the general temperature pattern of North America from north to south?
  • Why does the western United States experience a strong rain shadow effect?

In North America, temperatures generally get warmer from north to south. Recall that the Earth is a sphere so places closer to the Equator receive more direct sunlight than places that are farther away. In the United States, precipitation generally decreases from east to west. The Pacific Mountains create a rain shadow effect that limits precipitation in much of the western half of the United States, including eastern Washington and Oregon, the Great Plains, and the Desert Southwest. The east coast lacks a coastal mountain range that would prevent moisture-laden air from reaching the interior.



4c. Discuss the three European countries that significantly influenced the development of North America, which regions they dominated, and the long-term impact of their actions

  • What was the impact on the indigenous populations of North America when European colonists arrived?
  • Where, in North America, did the different colonial powers settle?
  • What is the current evidence of colonial influence in North America?

Britain, France, and Spain all altered the physical and cultural landscape of North America. It is estimated that the colonists reduced the indigenous populations of North America by 80 to 90% initially through the spread of disease and eventually violence as the colonists sought to seize land. The colonists arrived from different directions, dominating parts of North America accordingly.

  • The British arrived on the eastern seaboard, settling in areas from South Carolina to New England. They eventually turned their sights northward, entering Canada by way of Hudson Bay.
  • The French arrived from the north, entering the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They penetrated Canada, the Great Lakes, and made their way down the Mississippi River Valley.
  • The Spanish arrived from the South, establishing the oldest colonial city in North America, St. Augustine, Florida. They also made their way into the Desert Southwest, Texas, and California

The evidence of European colonialism exists today in the languages spoken, the names of places, and patterns of land use. In the case of Canada, it is also part of the British Commonwealth.

Review Introducing the Region.


4d. Examine the population distribution of the United States and Canada using thematic maps of population density

  • Where do most people in North America live?
  • How has the mobility of North America's population changed over time?

The population of North America is predominantly urban with vast expanses of sparsely populated land. The urban areas are generally coastal or along rivers and lakes. As populations increased on the east coast of North America, it became increasingly necessary to support that growth with agricultural production and natural resources. Thus, the urban areas in the interior of North America, such as Winnipeg and Denver, typically are gateways to these activities. Other interior cities grew up along the transcontinental railways of Canada and the United States including, for example, Saskatoon and Omaha.

The population of the U.S. has been more mobile than that of Canada. It is estimated that U.S. residents move once every seven years whereas Canadians move, on average, only about once every fifteen years. Initially, U.S. mobility was in the form of the rural-to-urban shift. More recently, the shift has been from urban to suburban locations. In both Canada and the United States, there has been a westward movement as people leave the densely populated core regions for job opportunities, a lower cost of living, and a more relaxed lifestyle.

Review Introducing the Realm, the section titled Population Distribution in North America.


4e. Explain the origin of the geographic boundaries of the United States

  • How did the United States acquire its territory?
  • Why are the boundaries between many states irregular?

The United States acquired territory through treaties, purchase, annexation, and outright seizure.

  • The Treaty of Paris in 1783, for example, included British cession of territory up to the Mississippi River to the United States. 
  • In 1803, the United States negotiated with France for the Louisiana Purchase. In today's currency, the price was about $309 million.
  • The United States annexed Texas in 1845 and it became the 28th state. Texas had applied to the U.S. for annexation when it declared its independence from Mexico in 1836. As a slave-holding region, it was originally denied.
  • Throughout this time period, Native Americans were often forcibly removed from their land. The Indian Removal Act forced Native Americans tribes from their land in Georgia in exchange for land in Oklahoma so whites could be settled there and grow cotton.

The boundaries resulting from these territorial acquisitions were often irregular because they followed the physical landscape. The Mississippi River, for example, provides the border for numerous states. Because features like these change over time, state boundaries change, too.



4f. Identify migration patterns of the United States during the period of westward settlement

  • What were the destinations for settlers from the New England culture hearth versus the destinations for settlers from the Mid-Atlantic culture hearth?
  • What did it take to get settlers to migrate farther west into the Great Plains and the west coast?

Both groups followed primarily westward paths, although those migrating from the Mid-Atlantic culture hearth deviated from that because of the terrain.

  • Some people migrating from the New England culture hearth settled in New York State, including the shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Others continued to the shores of other Great Lakes and the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • Some of the Mid-Atlantic settlers made their way to the interior of Pennsylvania and settled in the interior lowlands of the Appalachian Mountains. Others followed the Great Appalachian Valley south to Kentucky. Still others left the Great Valley behind, crossing the piedmont region of the Appalachians into western Pennsylvania to the Ohio River Valley.

Evidence of these migration patterns is seen today. Families in western New York on the Erie lakeshore can, for example, trace their ancestry to places like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Three events contributed to westward migration beyond the Missouri River.

  •  California's gold boom in 1849, the Homestead Act of 1862, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 all facilitated settlement of the western part of the United States.
  • Despite these inducements, much of the United States between the Missouri River and the Pacific Mountains remains sparsely populated.
  • Cities attract much of the population in these regions. 

The climatic conditions and terrain, among other factors, make the interior of the United States a relatively harsh environment for many to live. 



4g. Examine urban growth patterns of the United States and its connection to new forms of transportation

  • What allowed cities to increase in size beginning in the late 19th century?
  • Why did cities become increasingly decentralized in the 1920s?
  • Why have edge cities supplanted central business districts (CBDs)?

The pattern of urban growth often follows a radial pattern with transportation routes radiating from the original center of what was a walking city.

  • When the streetcar was invented in 1888, people were no longer limited by walking distance to navigate the cities in which they lived. They could live farther away and count on the streetcar to get them to jobs, goods, and services. Their only limitation was walking distance to streetcar stops.
  • The streetcar meant that the city was no longer confined to a small, densely populated area. It could now expand beyond the city center. This trend continued as transportation opportunities increased to the point that edge cities developed.
  • People with automobiles who could afford to leave old urban areas began migrating to areas even farther from the city center. 
  • These suburban developments grew to have their own job and shopping opportunities meaning residents no longer needed the old city's central business district (CBD).

The original city centers of the New England and Mid-Atlantic culture hearths, such as Boston and Philadelphia, are now connected by edge cities, suburbs, highways, and railways to form a densely populated corridor known as the Northeast megalopolis.

Review United States: Early Development and Globalization, the section titled Industrial Development and Urbanization.


4h. Describe the economic patterns that aided the United States in becoming the world's largest economy

  • What are the categories of economic activity that are indicative of a post-industrial economy like that of the United States?
  • How has the United States extended its influence around the world?

Although the United States engages in all four categories of economic activity, it is the increase in the tertiary and quaternary activities and the decrease in the primary and secondary activities that characterize it as a post-industrial economy. In 2010, about 77% of the GDP in the U.S. was in the service sector (tertiary and quaternary activities), whereas industry (a secondary activity) accounted for about 22% and agriculture (a primary activity) accounted for about 1%. That trend continues with an even higher percentage of tertiary and quaternary activities accounting for the total GDP.

The trend toward services and information and away from primary and secondary activities facilitates the ability of the United States to influence the economic and cultural landscapes of other countries. Brands from U.S. companies are now found all over the world. Media outlets carry advertisements for goods and services from these countries and the language to communicate their availability is in English. Although people from some countries around the world appreciate this increased access, others believe it threatens their identities.

Review United States: Early Development and Globalization, the sections titled Economic Changes and Americanism and Globalization.


4i. Define "cultural melting pot" and the "American Dream" and explain why they are significant

  • Why is the concept that anyone, regardless of background, can, through hard work, achieve financial success?
  • How is the concept of a cultural melting pot related to globalization?

Although it is possible to achieve financial success through hard work regardless of background in other countries, many people around the world associate it with the United States.

  • The concept of the "American Dream" is appealing because the potential for improving one's circumstances depend on factors beyond one's control.
  • The United States continues to attract immigrants because it offers the possibility of controlling one's destiny.
  • The push factors precipitating the decision to migrate include a lack of control over one's own safety, religious practices, access to education and health care, and job opportunities, among many others.

Unfortunately, achieving the American Dream even in the United States, is not always possible for many of the same reasons it is not in the countries migrants leave.

When immigrants arrive, they seek to blend in to avoid bringing attention to their differences. Some go so far as to abandon their traditions. Others seek to balance their cultural heritage with the practices of their new country.

  • The idea of a "cultural melting pot" is often a source of pride for the U.S. even if it does not appreciate the people themselves who are the source of that diversity.
  • Many U.S. citizens enjoy the cuisine of other countries and celebrate their holidays, including, for example, St. Patrick's Day parades, Cinco de Mayo events, Kwanzaa celebrations, and Lunar New Year festivities.

There is, however, concern that as more cultures are added to the melting pot the more diluted they will become. Instead of many cultures, there will be one global culture.



4j. Describe the current demographic profile of the United States

  • What factors explain the change in the racial and ethnic profile of the United States over the last several decades?
  • Where do most Hispanic immigrants to the United States come from?
  • What are remittances?

The United States continues to be more racially and ethnically diverse due primarily to immigration. It is also important to note that these groups are aging at different rates depending on fertility, mortality, and immigration within these groups.

  • According to 2019 Census Bureau estimates (accessed on 5 May 2021), the highest percentage of the population is White and non-Hispanic at about 60%, but it is declining due to low birth rates and increases in other populations.
  • The Hispanic or Latino population continues to grow due to immigration and higher birth rates. Currently, this group accounts for over 18% of the U.S. population. The push factors of countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador contributing to immigration are considerable. 
  • The Black and African-American population that is not Hispanic continues to make up about 13% of the U.S. population.
  • Asians are 5.6% of the population. In 2010, Asians were the fastest growing ethnic group in California.
  • The indigenous populations, including American Indians, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, make up about 1.5% of the population.

Many immigrants support their families in their countries of origin by sending them remittances. These are portions of the immigrants' paychecks that, in many cases, provide necessities like food and shelter. 

Review United States: Population and Religion


4k. Explain the regional distribution of religious affiliations in the United States

  • What is the dominant religion in the southeastern part of the United States?
  • What explains the dominance of the Catholic religion in 40% of U.S. counties?

The pattern of religious affiliations in the United States originally followed the pattern of settlement, Puritans in the New England culture hearth and Anglicans in the Mid-Atlantic culture hearth. Subsequent immigration has changed that pattern.

  • The Baptist religion dominates the southeastern United States. Known as the Bible Belt, the Baptist religion practiced in this region is an outgrowth of the Anglican religion brought by settlers to the Mid-Atlantic colonies in the 17th century.
  • Immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Poland, and Latin American countries such as Mexico have strongly influenced the dominance of the Catholic religion in many parts of the United States. The distribution of Catholics is similar to the pattern of settlement of immigrants from these Catholic countries.

Although there are distinct patterns in the distribution of major religious affiliations in the United States, there has always been an underlying diversity. There are, for example, numerous branches of these religions.

Review United States: Population and Religion.


4l. Identify the most densely populated regions of Canada

  • Where is Canada's ecumene?
  • What are the physical and economic factors that contribute to the pattern of settlement in Canada?

Geographers use the term ecumene to mean inhabited zone, the land where humans have settled. In Canada, that zone is primarily near the border with the United States. The climate, terrain, and proximity to its chief trading partner define Canada's ecumene.

Canada's geology and northern location limit the locations where agriculture is possible and human habitation desirable. Thus, most agricultural activity and human settlements are found in the southern parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, to the west of the Canadian Shield, and Ontario and Quebec, to the east of the Canadian Shield. Access to the United States for trade purposes also draws settlement to the southern part of Canada. Toronto, Canada's largest city, and Ottawa, its capital, are both located near the border with the United States. 



4m. Explain why there are English-speaking and French-speaking regions in Canada

  • Where in Canada do most French speakers currently live?
  • How did the British come to control New France?

French and British colonialism explains the English-speaking and French-speaking regions in Canada.

  • The French arrived in the 1500s, establishing permanent settlements along the St. Lawrence River in what is now the province of Quebec.
  • French influence in this region grew to the point that it was known as New France. The British eventually took control of New France following the Treaty of Paris, organizing it into a British colony called Quebec.
  • Given the substantial number of French settlers in the region, the British agreed, under the Quebec Act, to maintain French law, the French language, the Catholic religion, and the French agricultural system to keep the peace.

Although the French influence remains strong in Quebec, the British colonial influence is stronger throughout Canada.



4n. Identify cultural differences between French-speaking and English-speaking populations in Canada

  • Why does the province of Quebec want to separate from Canada and become an independent country?
  • What has the non-Francophone portion of Quebec threatened should Quebec leave Canada?

The majority of Quebec's citizens consider themselves more French than Canadian.

  • Almost 80% of Quebecers are Francophones.
  • Quebers also justify their need for sovereignty through their history as a people conquered by the British.
  • They fear their culture will be lost through assimilation with the English-speaking culture of the rest of Canada.
  • They resent that they must learn English but the rest of Canada is not required to learn French. They also perceive an anti-Quebec bias in the media.
  • Although religion is not as important as it once was, Quebec culture is still tied to the Catholic church.

Although they are in the minority, the Cree of northern Quebec have considerable influence because that is where the hydroelectric dams and the natural resources the Francophones depend on are located. They, along with other non-Francophones, would not join the rest of Quebec should it secede.

Review on Physical Geography of Canada.


4o.Discuss patterns of population growth and decline in various regions of the United States and Canada

  • Where have the economic cores of the United States and Canada traditionally been?
  • What regions have experienced the most growth since 2000?

The European settlement of North America partly explains the growth of the east coasts of Canada and the United States. The Northeast Megalopolis of the United States and the Quebec City - Windsor, Ontario Corridor represent the economic cores of both countries. In both cases, suburban growth and the development of edge cities away from those cores has been substantial. In the case of the United States, however, the population of that area has been declining in its Northeast Core, particularly in the Rust Belt cities.

The Mountain West and American Southwest have experienced the most growth in the United States since 2000. Las Vegas, Denver, and Salt Lake City are popular destinations for people leaving the Northeast Core. In Canada, British Columbia's Vancouver continues to grow although much of that growth is on the periphery. As the most densely populated city in Canada, it is very expensive to live there. The same phenomenon is occurring around Toronto, Canada's largest city and a key link in the Quebec City - Windsor, Ontario Corridor. Elsewhere in Canada, growth is occurring in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Prairie cities of Saskatoon, Calgary, and Edmonton



4p. Examine the environmental consequences of rapid population growth in the Mountain West region of the United States

  • Why is there a looming water crisis in Las Vegas?
  • Why are people moving to the Mountain West region of the United States?

The Mountain West includes arid states that have attracted extraordinary population growth. Cities in this region, including Las Vegas and Phoenix, rely on the Colorado River for their water. To provide ready access to water for the growth of these cities and farmland irrigation, the U.S. government built the Hoover Dam, creating a reservoir, Lake Mead, on the Colorado River.

People seeking job opportunities in the growing tertiary sector, a lower cost of living, and a more favorable climate have caused the increase in the growth of Mountain West cities like Las Vegas. Water resources have not, however, increased. Drought conditions have exacerbated the drop in Lake Mead water levels, requiring Las Vegas residents to reduce their per capita water usage.

Review the Mountain West section in Regions of the United States and Canada.


Unit 4 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course. 

  • active tectonic plate boundary
  • agriculture 
  • Alberta
  • American Dream
  • Appalachian Highlands
  • arid
  • Atlantic Coastal Plain
  • Baptist 
  • Basin and Range Province
  • Bible Belt
  • Britain 
  • British Commonwealth
  • Canadian Shield
  • Catholic 
  • Central Lowlands
  • coastal plain
  • colonists
  • Colorado River
  • cultural melting pot
  • drought 
  • earthquakes
  • ecumene
  • edge city
  • France
  • Francophones
  • Great Plains
  • Hoover Dam 
  • Indian Removal Act
  • indigenous populations 
  • industry 
  • Interior Plains
  • Intermontane Plateaus
  • Lake Mead
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Manitoba
  • Mid-Atlantic settlers
  • New England culture hearth
  • North American Plate
  • Northeast megalopolis
  • Ontario 
  • Ottawa 
  • Pacific Mountains
  • post-industrial economy
  • Quebec 
  • Quebec Act 
  • Quebec City - Windsor, Ontario Corridor
  • rain shadow effect
  • remittances
  • Rocky Mountains
  • rural-to-urban shift
  • Rust Belt
  • Saskatchewan
  • service sector 
  • Spain
  • Toronto 
  • Treaty of Paris
  • urban
  • volcanic activity
  • westward migration