USA: A Varied Land

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USA: A Varied Land

So vast a land is the United States that dawn comes eight hours later to its citizens who live on the westernmost islands of ALASKA than to those in eastern MAINE; even California is three hours behind the east coast. In the north there are Americans to whom the possibility of frostbite is an annual hazard, while in the south many of their fellow citizens grow palms and hedgerows of hibiscus.

The variety of the USA
USA: A Varied Land

In between these outriders stretches the great continent, embracing almost every kind of climate and terrain that the planet has to offer: polar tundra in northern Alaska and hot, sandy deserts in southern California. OREGON and WASHINGTON have vast coniferous forests, Florida has mangrove swamps, and in the central and western states there are seemingly endless grasslands where the buffalo used to roam. There are ranges of snowcapped peaks such as the lovely, majestic ROCKY MOUNTAINS and the SIERRA NEVADA.

The climate is as varied as the features and vegetation. Around the Gulf of Mexico it is humid and subtropical, while Arctic Alaska is intensely cold and arid. The western coast's rainfall decreases from north to south; much of it falls on the coastal ranges, resulting in deserts, such as the MOJAVE, farther inland. In direct contrast there is coastal California's Mediterranean climate, the cool, maritime region around New England and the continental extremes of climate of the central plains and western plateaus.

In the brief 200-odd years of the nation's existence, most of these domains have been exploited to the full, largely to support an ever-growing population, but also for the production of exports. The Atlantic coastlands are market gardens for the eastern cities; the ploughed grasslands to the southwest of the GREAT LAKES produce maize - 'corn' to the Americans - and soya beans to feed the continent and support huge numbers of cattle and pigs.

Farther west there is the Wheat Belt, and then more cattle and sheep roaming the open ranges that run up to the Rocky Mountains. The northern Pacific coast produces about half the nation's timber requirements as well as apples and berry fruits, while California's Central Valley grows soft and citrus fruits, grapes and rice. Florida and the southeastern states also produce citrus fruits, cotton and rice, and add to them sugar cane, peanuts (groundnuts) and tobacco. Among the agricultural products in which the United States leads are maize and soya beans - about half and two-thirds respectively of the world's total crops - tomatoes one-seventh, oranges a quarter, peaches one-fifth and nuts (excluding groundnuts) about a quarter of the world's annual harvest. The United States is also the foremost producer of industrial timber, poultry, beef and cheese and is by far the biggest exporter of wheat, though second in actual production to the USSR.

Despite this amazing output, the USA is not primarily an agricultural nation. A century ago, about 15 per cent of the population worked on the land. Now no more than 1.5 per cent do so. The high yields produced by such a small work force are due to the 20th-century American. genius for technology, which also turned most of the rest of the population into urban workers.

Raw materials are plentiful, for the continent was as amply provided with minerals as it was with the means of growing things. The United States leads the world in the production of copper, gypsum, kaolin, mica, salt, phosphates and sulphur, and is close to being the premier producer of lead and pig iron. Another American 'first' is aluminium, though bauxite, the mineral from which it is made, is largely imported from countries that do not possess the cheap energy resources required in the refining process.

Next: The Energy In The USA

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