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January 272015


Earth, also called the world  and, less frequently, Gaia, (or Terra in science fiction) is the third planet from the Sun, the densest planet in the Solar System, the largest of the Solar System’s four terrestrial planets and the only astronomical object known to accommodate life. Earth’s biodiversity has evolved over hundreds of millions of years, expanding continually except when interrupted by mass extinctions. Although scholars estimate that over 99 percent of all species that ever lived on the planet are extinct, Earth is currently home to 10–14 million species of life, including over 7.2 billion humans who depend upon its biosphere and minerals. Earth’s human population is divided among about two hundred sovereign states which interact through diplomacy, conflict, travel, trade and communication media.

According to evidence from radiometric dating and other sources, Earth was formed around four and a half billion years ago. Within its first billion years, life appeared in its oceans and began to affect its atmosphere and surface, promoting the proliferation of aerobic as well as anaerobic organisms and causing the formation of the atmosphere’s ozone layer. This layer and the geomagnetic field block the most life-threatening parts of the Sun’s radiation so life was able to flourish on land as well as in water. Since then, the combination of Earth’s distance from the Sun, its physical properties and its geological history have allowed life to persist.

Earth’s lithosphere is divided into several rigid tectonic plates that migrate across the surface over periods ofmany millions of years. Seventy-one percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water, with the remainder consisting of continents and islands that together have many lakes and other sources of water that contribute to the hydrosphere. Earth’s poles are mostly covered with ice that includes the solid ice of the Antarctic ice sheet and the sea ice of the polar ice packs. Earth’s interior remains active with a solid iron inner core, a liquid outer core that generates the magnetic field, and a thick layer of relatively solid mantle.

Earth gravitationally interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. During one orbit around the Sun, Earth rotates about its own axis 366.26 times, creating 365.26 solar days or one sidereal year. Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted 23.4° away from the perpendicular of its orbital plane, producing seasonal variations on the planet’s surface with a period of one tropical year (365.24 solar days). The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite. It began orbiting Earth about 4.53 billion years ago. The Moon’s gravitational interaction with Earth stimulates ocean tides, stabilizes the axial tilt and gradually slows the planet’s rotation.

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South America is a continent located in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. It can also be considered as a subcontinent of the Americas.[1]

It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean; North America and theCaribbean Sea lie to the northwest. It includes twelve sovereign states – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia,Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela – and two non-sovereign areas – French Guiana, an overseas department of France, and the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory (though disputed by Argentina). In addition to this, the ABC islands of the Netherlands may also be considered part of South America.

South America has an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers (6,890,000 sq mi). Its population as of 2005 has been estimated at more than 371,090,000. South America ranks fourth in area (after Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population (after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).

Most of the population lives near the continent’s western or eastern coasts while the interior and the far south are sparsely populated. The geography of western South America is dominated by the Andes mountains; in contrast, the eastern part contains both highland regions and large lowlands where rivers such as the Amazon, Paraná and Orinocoflow. Most of the continent lies in the tropics.

The continent’s cultural and ethnic outlook has its origin with the interaction of indigenous peoples with European conquerors and immigrants and, more locally, with African slaves. Given a long history of colonialism, most South Americans speak Portuguese or Spanish, and societies and states commonly reflect Western traditions.

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North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, or simply the Americas. Mainland North America is shaped roughly like a triangle, with its base in the north and its apex in the south; associated with the continent is Greenland, the largest island in the world, and such offshore groups as the Arctic Archipelago, the West Indies,Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands), and the Aleutian Islands.

North America is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. To the northeast Greenland is separated from Iceland by the Denmark Strait, and to the northwest Alaska is separated from the Asian mainland by the much narrower Bering Strait; North America’s only land connection is toSouth America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. Mount McKinley in Alaska, at 20,320 feet (6,194 metres) above sea level, is the continent’s highest point; andDeath Valley in California, at 282 feet (86 metres) below sea level, is its lowest. North America’s coastline of some 37,000 miles (60,000 km)—the second longest of the continents after Asia—is notable for the great number of indentations, particularly in the northern half.

The name America is derived from that of the Italian merchant and navigator Amerigo Vespucci, one of the earliest European explorers to visit the New World. Although at first the term America was applied only to the southern half of the continent, the designation soon was applied to the entire landmass; those portions that widened out north of the Isthmus of Panama became known as North America, and those that broadened to the south became known as South America. According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the narrows of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America. Under such a definition, part of Mexico must be included in Central America, although that country lies mainly in North America proper. To overcome this anomaly, the whole of Mexico, together with Central and South American countries, also may be grouped under the name Latin America, with the United States and Canada referred to as Anglo-America. This cultural division is a very real one, yet Mexico and Central America (including the Caribbean) are bound to the rest of North America by strong ties of physical geography. Greenland also is culturally divided from, but physically close to, North America. Some geographers characterize the area roughly from the southern border of the United States to the northern border of Colombia as Middle America, which differs from Central America because it includes Mexico. Some definitions of Middle America also include the West Indies.

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Europe  is a continent that comprises the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia. It is generally divided from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting the Black and Aegean Seas.

Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Black Sea and connected waterways to the southeast. Yet the borders of Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are arbitrary, as the primarily physiographic term “continent” also incorporates cultural and political elements.

Europe is the world’s second-smallest continent by surface area, covering about 10,180,000 square kilometres (3,930,000 sq mi) or 2% of the Earth’s surface and about 6.8% of its land area. Of Europe’s approximately 50 countries,Russia is by far the largest by both area and population, taking up 40% of the continent (although the country has territory in both Europe and Asia), while Vatican City is the smallest. Europe is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of 739–743 million or about 11% of the world’s population.The most commonly used currency is the euro.

Europe, in particular ancient Greece, is the birthplace of Western culture. It played a predominant role in global affairs from the 15th century onwards, especially after the beginning of colonialism. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, European nations controlled at various times the Americas, most of Africa, Oceania, and the overwhelming majority ofAsia. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Great Britain around the end of the 18th century, gave rise to radical economic, cultural, and social change in Western Europe, and eventually the wider world. Demographic growth meant that, by 1900, Europe’s share of the world’s population was 25%.

Both world wars were largely focused upon Europe, greatly contributing to a decline in Western European dominance in world affairs by the mid-20th century as the United States and Soviet Union took prominence. During the Cold War, Europe was divided along the Iron Curtain between NATO in the west and the Warsaw Pact in the east. European integration led to the formation of the Council of Europe and the European Union in Western Europe, both of which have been expanding eastward since the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The European Union nowadays has growing influence over its member countries. Many European countries are members of the Schengen Area, which abolishes border and immigration controls among its members.

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For almost two centuries the majority of settlers, and later immigrants, came from the British Isles. As a result the people of Australia are primarily of British and/or Irish ethnic origin. The 2011 Census asked respondents to provide a maximum of two ancestries with which they most closely identify. The most commonly nominated ancestry was English (36.1%), followed by Australian (35.4%), Irish (10.4%), Scottish (8.9%), Italian (4.6%), German (4.5%), Chinese (4.3%), Indian (2.0%), Greek(1.9%), and Dutch (1.7%). Because Australia’s census doesn’t ask for racial background, it is unclear how many Australians are descendants of Europeans. Estimates vary from 85% – 92%. Asian Australians make up 12% of the population.

Australia’s population has quadrupled since the end of World War I. Nevertheless, its population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometre, remains among the lowest in the world. As such, Australians have more living space per person than the inhabitants of any other nation, with average dwelling sizes well over double those of Western Europe. Aside from natural increases, Australia’s population growth has also stemmed from over two centuries of immigration. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born in another country. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. By 2050, Australia’s population is currently projected to reach around 42 million.

In 2011, 24.6% of Australians were born elsewhere and 43.1% of people had at least one overseas-born parent; the largest immigrant groups were those from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, India, Italy, Vietnam, and Philippines.

Over 80 percent of Australia’s population is of European ancestry, and most of the rest are of Asian heritage, with a smaller minority of Indigenous background. Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania. The migration target for 2012–13 is 190,000, compared to 67,900 in 1998–99.

The rural population of Australia in 2012 was 2,420,731 (10.66% of the total population). The Indigenous population—Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 548,370 (2.5% of the total population) in 2011, a significant increase from 115,953 in the 1976 census. The increase is partly due to many people with Indigenous heritage previously having been overlooked by the census due to undercount and cases where their Indigenous status had not been recorded on the form.

Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are 11–17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians. Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having “failed state“-like conditions.

In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03;

1million or 5% of the total population in 2005) live outside their home country.

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Asia is the Earth’s largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. Though it covers only 8.7% of the Earth’s total surface area, it comprises 30% of earth’s land area, and has historically been home to the bulk of the planet’s human population (currently roughly 60%). Asia is notable for not only overall large size and population, but unusually dense and large settlements as well as vast barely populated regions within the continent of 4.4 billion people. Asia has exhibited economic dynamism (particularly East Asia) as well as robust population growth during the 20th century, but overall population growth has since fallen to world average levels.

The boundaries of Asia are culturally determined, as there is no clear geographical separation between it andEurope, which together form one continuous landmass called Eurasia. The most commonly accepted boundaries place Asia to the east of the Suez Canal, the Ural River, and the Ural Mountains, and south of the Caucasus Mountains (or the Kuma–Manych Depression) and the Caspian and Black Seas. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean and on the north by the Arctic Ocean.

Given its size and diversity, the concept of Asia – a name dating back to classical antiquity – may actually have more to do with human geography than physical geography. Asia varies greatly across and within its regions with regard to ethnic groups, cultures, environments, economics, historical ties and government systems.

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Antarctica has no government, although various countries claim sovereignty in certain regions. Although a few of these countries have mutually recognized each other’s claims, the validity of these claims is not recognized universally.

New claims on Antarctica have been suspended since 1959 and Antarctica is considered politically neutral. Its status is regulated by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and other related agreements, collectively called the Antarctic Treaty System. Antarctica is defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60° S for the purposes of the Treaty System. The treaty was signed by twelve countries including the Soviet Union (and later Russia), the United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the United States. It set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, established freedom of scientific investigation and environmental protection, and banned military activity on Antarctica. This was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.

In 1983, the Antarctic Treaty Parties began negotiations on a convention to regulate mining in Antarctica. A coalition of international organizations launched a public pressure campaign to prevent any minerals development in the region, led largely by Greenpeace International, which established its own scientific station–World Park Base–in the Ross Sea region and conducted annual expeditions to document environmental effects of humans on Antarctica. In 1988, the Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources (CRAMRA) was adopted. The following year, however, Australia and France announced that they would not ratify the convention, rendering it dead for all intents and purposes. They proposed instead that a comprehensive regime to protect the Antarctic environment be negotiated in its place. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (the ‘Madrid Protocol’) was negotiated as other countries followed suit and on 14 January 1998 it entered into force. The Madrid Protocol bans all mining in Antarctica, designating Antarctica a ‘natural reserve devoted to peace and science’.

The Antarctic Treaty prohibits any military activity in Antarctica, including the establishment of military bases and fortifications, military manoeuvers, and weapons testing. Military personnel or equipment are permitted only for scientific research or other peaceful purposes. The only documented military land manoeuvre was Operation NINETY by the Argentine military.

The United States military issues the Antarctica Service Medal to military members or civilians who perform research duty in Antarctica. The medal includes a “wintered over” bar issued to those who remain on Antarctica for two six-month seasons.

Antarctic territories

Date Country Territory Claim limits Map
1908  United Kingdom  British Antarctic Territory 20°W to 80°W Antarctica, United Kingdom territorial claim.svg
1923  New Zealand New Zealand Ross Dependency 150°W to 160°E Antarctica, New Zealand territorial claim.svg
1924  France French Southern and Antarctic Lands Adélie Land 142°2’E to 136°11’E Antarctica, France territorial claim.svg
1929  Norway Norway Peter I Island 68°50′S 90°35′W Antarctica Peter I Island.png
1933  Australia Australia Australian Antarctic Territory 160°E to 142°2’E and
136°11’E to 44°38’E
Antarctica, Australia territorial claim.svg
1939  Norway Norway Queen Maud Land 44°38’E to 20°W Antarctica, Norway territorial claim.svg
1940  Chile Antártica Chilena Province Antártica 53°W to 90°W Antarctica, Chile territorial claim.svg
1943  Argentina  Argentine Antarctica 25°W to 74°W Antarctica, Argentina territorial claim.svg
None Unclaimed territory
(Marie Byrd Land)
90°W to 150°W
(except Peter I Island)
Antarctica, unclaimed.svg

The Argentine, British, and Chilean claims all overlap, and have caused friction. On 18 December 2012, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office named a previously unnamed area Queen Elizabeth Land in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II‘s Diamond Jubilee. On 22 December 2012, the UK ambassador to Argentina, John Freeman, was summoned to the Argentine government as protest against the claim. Argentine–UK relations had previously been damaged throughout 2012 due to disputes over the sovereignty of the nearby Falkland Islands, and the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War.

The areas shown as Australia’s and New Zealand’s claims were British territory until they were handed over following the countries’ independence. Australia currently claims the largest area. The claims of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France and Norway are all recognized by each other.

Other countries participating as members of Antarctic Treaty have a territorial interest in Antarctica, but the provisions of the Treaty do not allow them to make their claims while it is in force.

  •  Brazil has a designated ‘zone of interest‘ that is not an actual claim.
  •  Peru has formally reserved its right to make a claim.
  •  Russia has inherited the Soviet Union’s right to claim territory under the original Antarctic Treaty.
  •  South Africa has formally reserved its right to make a claim.
  •  United States reserved its right to make a claim in the original Antarctic Treaty.

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Africa has 54 sovereign countries—the most on any continent—and is the second largest continent in terms of both land area and population. Africa is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, by the Red Sea to the northeast, and by the Indian Ocean to the southeast. Africa is a vast continent spanning over 8,000 km (5,000 mi) north to south and 7,500 km (4,800 mi) east to west (not including islands) and contains a wide array of peoples, skin colours, religions, and cultures. Africa contains the world’s longest river—the 6,650 km long (4,100 mi) Nile River running from Burundi to Egypt—while the Congo River in the DRC is the second largest in terms of discharge as well as the deepest with a depth of over 230 m (750 ft) in some spots. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain at 5,890 m (19,340 ft). Djibouti’s Lake Assal is the second lowest point on Earth, the saltiest lake outside Antarctica, and one of the hottest places on Earth. While the first activity most people associate with Africa is safaris, there are endless possibilities for adventure. You can purchase crafts in markets, venture into the Sahara with a Tuareg caravan, visit pygmy villages, hike through jungle to watch gorillas, relax on tropical islands in the Indian Ocean, snack on exotic treats, travel down a river in a dugout “pirogue”, travel across savanna on a colonial-era railway, and much more.

Africa is a very diverse continent, with each country, or even each part of a country having its own unique culture. While it is common for people in the West to refer to Africa as if it was a single country, one should remember the sheer size of the continent, and that Africa is not one country but 54 different countries, meaning that it is impossible to make generalisations of Africa as a whole.

Tragically misunderstood by many people as a land of poverty, corruption, war and famine, and simply as a land of suffering—a misconception only bolstered by the media and the numerous NGOs on the continent—Africa today is a vast continent with many bustling metropolises, friendly people, and amazingly diverse and beautiful landscapes. While there are plenty of places resembling the stereotypical Africa of war, famine, and poverty, much of the continent is peaceful, well-fed, and of working class.

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