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World Geography: Oceans and Continents

Written By: Peter Whiting

Geography is the study of the surface of the Earth. Natural formations like oceans, mountains, rivers, deserts, lakes, islands, and continents are all part of geography. However, geography also includes learning to use maps, globes, and other geographic tools.


Oceans are one of the most significant parts of geography. The surface of the Earth is more than 70% salt water, and that water is in the five oceans on Earth. Each ocean is separate, but all of them are connected. What keeps the oceans separated are the seven continents spread across the globe. The five oceans are the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, and Southern. The average depth at any point of any ocean is more than 12,000 feet. Almost 97% of all the water on Earth is in one of the five oceans. These large bodies of water are so important to humans that more than two-thirds of all people on Earth live within sixty miles of an ocean.


The five oceans of Earth are divided by seven continents. Continents are large landmasses. Just like continents divide oceans from each other, oceans also provide borders for continents. The seven continents are Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and South America. The continents are a wide range of sizes, and each one contains a different number of people. Asia is the largest continent in terms of both land size and population! More people live in Asia than in any other continent. Africa, however, has the most countries. Africa is also where archeologists discovered the oldest artifacts of civilization. Oceania is the smallest continent and is sometimes called Australia. Though, Australia is just the name of the largest country on the continent.

World Rivers

Moving streams of water are known as rivers. A river typically ends in another body of water, such as an ocean or sea. Some are very small, while others are quite large. Smaller rivers are sometimes called streams, but they are still rivers. There's no minimum size for a stream of water to be classified as a river. The water in rivers comes from various places like melting snow, lakes, rain, ponds, or even other rivers, and it always flows downstream from the initial source. The largest rivers in the world are the Nile, Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi, and Yenisei. Regardless of their size, all rivers are considered part of Earth's freshwater biome.


Areas of land surrounded by water and not connected to another landmass, like a continent, are known as islands. However, islands can go by several different names depending on certain factors. Groups of islands are sometimes known as archipelagos. Smaller islands, on the other hand, are commonly referred to as islets, keys, or cays. There are two types of islands. One is continental islands. Great Britain is an example of a continental island because it's part of Europe's continental shelf. The other type of island is those that aren't part of a larger continental shelf and are usually the result of an explosion by an underwater volcano. Hawaii is an example of this type of island.

Mountain Ranges

A series of individual mountains that form a line is known as a mountain range. Some of the large mountain ranges even have subranges. Subranges are a type of small mountain range contained within a large one. The Appalachian Mountain Range, for example, has subranges called the Smokey Mountains, Catskills, and Blue Ridge Mountains. The longest mountain range on Earth is the Andes Mountain Range in South America. The mountain range with the tallest peaks is the Himalayas in Asia.

Great Lakes

Five large lakes located in North America make up the Great Lakes. Some of these lakes are almost as big as an ocean! These five lakes are the Erie, the Huron, the Michigan, the Ontario, and the Superior. The Great Lakes are so big that they cover almost 95,000 square miles of the surface of the Earth. Four of the lakes lie in both Canada and the United States. Lake Michigan is entirely inside the borders of the U.S. Lake Superior is both the deepest and largest of the lakes, but Lake Huron has more miles of coastline than any other Great Lake.


Deserts are defined in geographic terms by a lack of moisture. Most deserts get less than ten inches of rain each year. People visiting deserts usually experience extreme dry heat during the day and colder weather once the sun goes down because there's no blanket of humidity holding the warm air in. Africa is home to the Sahara, the largest desert in the world. Other large deserts include the Kalahari, also in Africa, and the Arabian Desert, located in the Middle East.

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