Geography 101

Earth

Most people know the world is made up of continents and ocean(s). Most know the difference between North America and Africa, but is the Middle East a separate continent? Is Eurasia one continent or two?

Geography is the science of place and space.

What do political pundits mean when they talk about East vs West, and what is the Global South? Let’s find out . . .

Land and Sea ˆ

Most of Earth’s surface is covered by the ocean, which is divided into the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic oceans. Nowadays, the southern extensions of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans is commonly recognized as the Southern Ocean. Portions of the world ocean that are partially delineated by islands or continental landforms are called seas.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of landmasses that protrude above sea level, continents and islands. Continents are large, continuous landmasses formed primarily from continental crust, whereas islands are smaller landmasses surrounded by water and can form through various geological processes. Islands can be formed from oceanic or continental crust and are located in both oceans and freshwater bodies.

The smallest continent is Australia, which is sometimes called “the island continent.” The only other continent completely surrounded by water is Antarctica, which is the southernmost continent as well as the coldest.

There are a total of six continents. North America and South America, together with the islands in the Caribbean Sea, make up the New World, located in the Western Hemisphere. Africa and Eurasia make up the Old World, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere. Many people describe Eurasia as two separate continents, Europe and Asia. However, this is primarily a cultural division; geographically, they are a single continent.

In summary, we might divide the continents into three groups: Old World, New World, and southern continents (Australia and Antarctica). However, South America and Africa also extend far to the south.

Global Grid ˆ

Global Grid

“Horizontal” lines of latitude and “vertical” lines of longitude form a grid that makes it easy to plot the locations of various places. For example, if you travel to 90° N, you would be standing at the North Pole. The highest summit on the planet, Mt. Everest, is located at the following geographic coordinates:

  • Latitude: 27.9881° N
  • Longitude: 86.9250° E
Longitude Latitude
Lines of longitude (left) and latitude.
Lines of Latitude and Longitude
Global Grid

Hemispheres ˆ

One special latitudinal line, the Equator, divides Earth into two halves, or hemispheres, Northern and Southern.

The Eastern and Western Hemispheres are primarily demarcated by two longitudinal lines:

  • The Prime Meridian: This is the zero-degree longitude line, which passes through Greenwich, London, United Kingdom. It is the starting point for measuring longitude and separates the Eastern Hemisphere from the Western Hemisphere.
  • The 180th Meridian: This is the line of longitude at 180 degrees, which lies opposite the Prime Meridian. It generally runs through the Pacific Ocean.

Together, the Prime Meridian (0° longitude) and the 180th Meridian (180° longitude) divide the Earth into the Eastern and Western hemispheres. The Eastern Hemisphere includes parts of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, while the Western Hemisphere includes the Americas, parts of western Europe, and parts of western Africa.

Western HemisphereThe Western Hemisphere includes the Americas (aka New World) and the western portions of the Old World.

A Closer Look ˆ

There are many ways of looking at Earth. Indeed, people have made a bewildering diversity of maps, including the following:

  • Topographic Maps—These maps show elevation and landforms using contour lines. They often include details such as roads, trails, and buildings, and are used for activities like hiking and planning construction projects.
  • Thematic Maps—These maps focus on a specific theme or subject area, such as population density, climate, or economic activities. They are used to visualize data related to a particular topic.
  • Road Maps—Also known as highway maps, these maps highlight major and minor roads, highways, and routes. They are commonly used for navigation and travel planning.
  • Geological Maps—These maps display the distribution of various types of rock and geological features. They are used in the study of Earth’s crust and for locating resources like minerals and fossil fuels.
  • Resource Maps—These maps show the distribution of natural resources such as minerals, oil, forests, and water. They are used in resource management and planning.
  • Weather Maps—These maps display meteorological data, such as temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns. They are used for weather forecasting and climate studies.
  • Cadastral Maps—These maps show property boundaries and land ownership. They are used in real estate, land management, and urban planning.
  • Navigational Charts—Used for maritime and aviation navigation, these maps include details like water depths, coastlines, hazards, and air routes.

Next, let’s focus on natural geography or human geography.


This video has lots to say about bananas and the banana wars. However, it doesn’t mention the fact that the banana barons who so ruthlessly exploited Latin America were primarily Jews.
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