The surface of North America is clear and relatively simple. It essentially
consists of the following large landscapes (Figure 3): Three parallel high
mountain ranges of the North American Cordilleras run through the entire west of
The main chains of the Cordilleras are the Rocky Mountains in central North
The mountain ranges include large basin landscapes and highlands or plateaus.
The Cordilleras belong to the system of young fold mountains, which stretches
across the entire double continent America between Alaska in the north and
Tierra del Fuego in the south. The mountain system, also known as the
Cordillera, is by far the longest on earth. See
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The North American Cordilleras reach their highest elevation with Mount McKinley
(6194 m) in Alaska, which is also the highest mountain in North America. The
ongoing crustal movement in the area of the young fold mountains testify to
many volcanic phenomena, such as geysers, thermal springs and mud volcanoes, as
well as some still active volcanoes. In 1980, Mount Saint Helens exploded and
hurled ashes, dust and rock up to 19 km high, reducing the height of the
mountain by around 400 m. Furthermore, the more than 1100 km long San
Andreas column runs west of the Sierra Nevada. The Pacific and North
American plates drift past each other. The area in which the big cities of Los
Angeles and San Francisco are located is therefore one of the most active
earthquake zones on earth. Basins and plateaus lie between the
mountain ranges of the Rocky Mountains in the central part of
the Cordillera and the Pacific mountain ranges (Fig. 7). The Great Basin is a
desertless desert-like area the size of Spain, which is an average of 1400 m
high. In the eastern part is the Great Salt Lake, the area of which takes up
an average of about 4000 kmē. In the southwest, it descends to Death
Valley (Valley of Death). In this more than 200 km long inhospitable
inhospitable valley is also the deepest point in the USA, which is 86 m below
sea level. Rivers have cut deep valleys into the Colorado Plateau, which is made
up of almost horizontal layers of rock from several geological eras.
The best known of these so-called canyons is the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado has created one of the most massive gorges on earth over 350 km
in length, which is between 6 km and 29 km wide and up to 1870 m deep. Many
formations of earth's history emerge on the steep slopes. Depending on their
durability, the cut layer sequences form steep slopes or flat terraces. The
Columbia plateau north of the Great Basin is dominated by volcanic rocks. Since
the Tertiary, lava flows have created the largest ceiling effusion on earth in
an area of over 600,000 kmē. In the east, the approximately 600 km wide
Appalachian Mountains cross the continent over 3000 km between the coastal plain
on the Gulf of Mexico in the south and Newfoundland in the north.
The Appalachian Mountains are an old, already heavily worn mountain range. The
low mountain range is divided into several mountain ranges up to 2000 m high.
To the west, it descends to the Inner Plains. At the foot of the mountain in the
east is the flat-hilly Piedmont plateau at the transition to the coastal plain,
on which the rivers coming from the Appalachian Mountains form waterfalls and
rapids. Because on this “fall line” the settlers who once flowed into the
interior of the continent had to reload their goods from inland waterway vessels
to land vehicles, many settlements sprang up here. Some of them later grew to
major cities on the east coast, such as Boston, Philadelphia or Washington. The
Canadian shield in the northern part is the geologically oldest part of the
continent. The hull surface made of rocks from ancient times is sunk like a
bowl. It extends in a semicircle around the Hudson Bay, its lowest point.
The relief is predominantly flat-wave with altitudes between 200 and 600 m.
The face of the landscape today was created by glacial over-shaping. Evidence of
this a. the numerous lakes, the round humps carved out of the ice into the rock
and the fjords on the Atlantic coast of Labrador.
The inner plains stretch between the Cordilleras and the Appalachians in the
central part of the continent with a width of between 700 and 1200 km. The Inner
Plains of North America include three landscape areas:
- The Central Lowland largely covers the area south and west of the Great
Lakes. The rocks of the Canadian shield continue in its underground.
However, they are overlaid here by ice age deposits, including mighty
fertile loess blankets. The areas belonging to the Central Lowlands are
usually no higher than 200 m above sea level. d. M. and are traversed by
only slightly higher glacial end moraines.
- To the south, the Mississippi Lowland connects to the
Central Lowlands to the Gulf of Mexico. Mississippi and Missouri have heaped
up one of the largest alluvial lands in the world, which grows further into
the Gulf of Mexico along the mighty delta of the Mississippi.
- Further in the interior of the continent are the Great Plains,
a wide, flat-wave steppe area that rises relatively evenly towards the Rocky
Mountains at an altitude of 1600 m.