Canadian History/The Geography of the Lands
- 1 Geography of the Lands
- 2 Coastal Plains
- 3 Interior Plains
- 4 Canadian Shield
- 5 The Arctic Islands
- 6 Western Mountain Region
- 7 The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowland
- 8 The Appalachian Highlands of Canada
Geography of the Lands
Canada is the second largest country in the world, encompassing 9,970,610 km² of land. It is surrounded by three oceans, the Arctic, the Pacific, and the Atlantic. Canada is comprised of ten provinces and three territories, the provinces all lying in the South, and the territories in the North. Canada’s climate is fairly moderate, with temperate weather to Arctic conditions in the North. It also has a mild terrain, generally having flatlands, with mountainous areas in the West, and lowlands in the East. There are eight physical regions in Canada, the Appalachian Region, the Coastal Plains, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands, the Interior Plains, the Canadian Shield, the Western Cordillera, the Intermountain Region, and the Arctic. When Europeans came to Canada, they altered the physical environment, changing the wilderness to a more urban setting.
The Coastal Plains are a low-land area along the East coast. It is separated from the inland by other features (mountains, rivers). It is roughly 3200 km long, and 50 to 100 km wide.
Consists of flat or gently rolling hills. As well, swamps and marshes are common because most of the land is between 30 and 200 m above sea level. The Mississippi Delta is found in the gulf of the Coastal Plains. It creates a great stretch of fertile land. Rivers carry sediment across the plains. This sediment is either; left behind in places and eventually forms floodplains, or carried to and left in river mouths/shallow water and form deltas.
The climate in the coastal plain region varies greatly. In the North there are long and snowy winters, and hot, humid summers. In the South, there is a sub-tropical climate, with mild- warm winters. There are also hurricanes from late summer to early winter, violent storms with winds between 120 and 240 km/h, formed over large bodies of water.
The soils in the Coastal Plains region are extremely sandy; therefore the plants that grow there adapt to that environment.There are a variety of species in the Coastal Plains The land was originally pine forests, but in some places, such as Mexico, lush rainforests have grown.
The Interior Plains are very diverse, and one of the biggest regions. It also includes the "Tornado Alley", in the central area of North America. It extends northwards to the Arctic, and goes south to Mexico.
Elevations are separated by escarpments (a sharp change in elevation). The elevation gently rolls downward from west to east. The height of the land changes from 600 to 1500 meters above sea level.
The climate of the Interior Plains is very diverse. Weather is very extreme; up north, long winters and summers are short and cool, and down south, summers are long and hot and winters are cold, however there is very little precipitation. Air from the Gulf of Mexico flows north, colliding into air from Canada, creating sudden and violent weather, such as tornadoes,and blizzards.
Much diversity as with climate; up North is Tundra, which is treeless area where the ground is always frozen, and down south there are deciduous and evergreen trees. In the Prairies there are tall grasses and even some that can grow to the height of a person.
The Canadian Shield is more than 2 billion years old. It contains volcanic mountains levelled by erosion. The Canadian Shield covers Labrador, the Great Lakes, and the Interior Plains of Canada, and surrounds Hudson Bay and James Bay. It has valuable mineral deposits easily found due to glaciers stripping the top layer of the land.
There is barren rock left behind by glaciers in the Ice Age. Glacier debris dammed up rivers and forced changes in the direction of their flow, resulting in a chaotic pattern of rivers, lakes, swamps, and muskegs, also known as bogs. Elevation ranges from 100 to 500 metres above sea level. The elevation is low in the centre and north, but higher in the south. Hudson’s Bay and James Bay are clay-covered lowlands, with rivers flowing in.
In the North there are long, cold winters, and short, hot summers.
Boreal forest is the common vegetation. Flora in the Canadian Shield is more suited to the thin, sandy soil. There are some deciduous trees, which benefit the pulp and paper industry due to being small and weak. There are no trees above tree-line due to; the growing season being too short, lack of precipitation, and permafrost.
The Arctic Islands
The Arctic Islands is the northernmost region of earth and generally considered to be all areas above the Arctic Circle (66° 33’N). It encompasses parts of Canada, the US, Russia, Scandinavia and the whole of Greenland.
The Arctic Islands is a formidable place of bitter cold and barren lands. During the winter, its landscape is dominated by 15 million square kilometres of polar sea ice, extending between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. This is reduced to six million square kilometres during the summer. Massive glaciers, such as the 2.8 million cubic kilometres of the Greenland Ice Cap, inhabit the Arctic’s northern mountains and surround the Arctic Ocean.
Arctic Islands climate and vegetation varies greatly between regions. The Innuitian Region, a triangular shaped area mainly comprised by the Queen Elizabeth Islands, is mountainous and presently covered by glaciers. It contains the great Innuitian Mountains, composed of three ranges. In contrast, the Arctic Region consists largely of tundra (very flat lowlands). Trees cannot withstand the tundra’s low precipitation, harsh temperatures, and nutrient-poor soil, frozen with permafrost. Instead, short plants such shrubs, lichens, grasses, and 400 flower varieties sprout during this area’s 50- to 60-day growing season. Arctic plants are adapted to cold temperatures and a very short growing season. They grow rapidly in spring and remain short and clustered, sheltering each other, to survive harsh winds.
Because of the Arctic Islands' distance from the equator, the climate is very cold and there are large differences between both solstices. For part of the year, the sun either never rises or never sets. During the 10-month winter, the average Arctic temperature is – 40° C. This rises to an average of 3 to 12° C in the summer. Most areas in the Arctic receive less than 50 cm of rain per year, making this region a desert.
Western Mountain Region
The Canadian Western Mountain Region is one of Canada's most ecologically diverse regions.
The Western Mountain Region is an area that lies between the Rocky and Coast Mountains. This region is thinly populated. It consists of some deserts, high plateaus, and mountains. Many of the rivers in this area flow into somewhat salty lakes. There are only a few areas suitable for agriculture.The habitat ranges from moist coniferous forests to desert. This diversity supports a strong resource economy and abundance of wildlife. The forestry, agriculture, and mining industries, as well as the energy sector and tourism, have created a high quality of life for the region, and provide benefits elsewhere. This prosperity, however, has come with considerable land development and conversion. The Canadian Intermountain is a landscape of varying elevation and climate that has resulted in a tremendous diversity of habitat types, including desert, grasslands, shrub-steppe, riparian, wetlands, dry and moist coniferous forests, and alpine tundra. Since there are enormous variations in climate and vegetation, there are many different kinds of animals, ones that can survive in dry, desert areas, others that can live in wet, rain forests and other that habituate high mountain altitudes.
Eastern Border: The Rocky Mountains
The high jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains are due to that they are not very eroded down yet, for they are still young -- for mountain ranges. They are twice as high as the Appalachian Mountains. Signs of alpine glaciations are widely evident and in many places valley glaciers remain active. The alpine tundra is too harsh for trees, yet plants and animals nestle near the ground. Although harsh in climate, there are hot springs occasionally dotting the mountains. In the subalpine area, trees are small and stunted, mostly fire and cold tolerant conifers. The bent and gnarled bodies of spruce and fir trees tell the story of hard summers and harder winters near the mountain tops.
The lower region has three mountain ranges (the Columbias, the Selkirks and the Purcells) and is bordered by two others (the Monashees and the Rockies), making it a land of peaks and valleys connected by rivers and lakes. Climate conditions vary according to the nearness to water. The geography creates rain shadows where one side of a mountain may get a lot of rain or snowfall and the other side gets little or none. It also creates micro-climates, where temperatures may be warmer in valleys than at higher elevations. The winters are snowy and summers warm. The average temperature in winter is -10 °Celsius, and in summer it is 20 °C. In the southern part of the region summers are warmer and drier, with temperatures climbing to 30 °C. The average snowfall in the southern part of the region is about 170 centimetres, or 67 inches, and in the northern part it is about 200 cm, or 80 inches. The valleys to the west Grand Forks and to the east Cranbrook are considered semi-arid, because they get less precipitation than the mountains and other valleys in the region.
In the higher region, the climate consists of light precipitation, freezing winters and cool summers with long days. In the northern reaches of this region temperatures range from -13 degrees Celsius in winter to 19 °C in summer.
Mid-Interior: Wet forests and high plateaus
There are forests of both coniferous and deciduous trees thriving in the moderate climate. Trees such as Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, yellow cedar, white spruce, lodgepole and Ponderosa pine, birch grow in great variety because of the long growing seasons and temperate climate. Geographically positioned in the centre of the province on a high plateau and surrounded by mountains,the summers are dry and warm and there is much snowfall in the winter. Temperatures range from -15 degrees Celsius in winter to 22 ° Celsius in summer. While some areas are sheltered and do not receive much rain and snow, the mountains will receive high amounts, especially at higher elevations.
South Interior: Desert
The rain shadow effect greatly reduces the rain fall of the in the leeward slopes: the deserts. The rain shadow means the moist air (heavy cloud) wrings itself out on the windward side of the mountain because of condensation, and when the moist air gets to the leeward side, the opposite happens because the warmer air on that side can hold more moisture before having to dump it. The leeward side is warmer, therefore able to hold more moisture. The Thompson Okanagan Region has a plateau in the centre, and is bordered by the Cascade mountains to the west, the Cariboo mountains to the north and the Monashee and Selkirk mountains to the east. The south is dry, but the climate cools and becomes wetter heading north. This region has a four-season climate with less precipitation and more moderate winters than many other areas of the province. The summers in this region are warm, reaching 30 degrees Celsius or higher. Rainfall amounts vary from one part of the region to another, but the average annual precipitation in the valleys is about 280 millimetres. Winters are snowy, with cool temperatures that average -7 °C. Spring and fall are with warm days and cool nights because of the desert area. This region enjoys warm days and cool nights from May to September, and mild winter temperatures from November until April. The mountain ranges receive abundant snow in winter. The dry conditions in the southern part of the region create a true desert in the area around the city of Osoyoos.
Wildlife and Vegetation of this Region:
Plants in the ecozone are as varied as the landforms they grow on. Vegetation that may be common in one area are often completely absent from another. Trees in the area include Engelmann spruce, alpine fir, interior Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, western white pine, Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, trembling aspen, western hemlock, Rocky Mountain red cedar, balsam poplar, paper birch, black spruce, white spruce, and western larch. Some of the other species found here are sagebrush, rabbitbrush, antelope-bush, mountain avens, bunchgrass, pine grass, and bluebunch wheat grass.
The large herbivores include caribou, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, mountain goat, California bighorn sheep, and American elk. The large carnivores are the black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, lynx, bobcat, and cougar. Some of the small herbivores here are hoary marmot, yellowbelly marmot, Columbian ground squirrel, beaver, golden-mantled squirrel, yellow pine chipmunk, redtail chipmunk, beaver, northern bog lemming, and pika. Small carnivores that are found here include coyote, red fox, marten, wolverine, muskrat, badger, marten, mink, pallid bat, and striped skunk.
Birds of prey such as northern saw-whet owl, short-eared owl, long-eared owl, burrowing owl, cooper's hawk, red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, northern goshawk, and turkey vulture are found here. The shorebirds and seabirds of the area include long-billed curlew, spotted sandpiper, American bittern, common snipe, killdeer, and black tern. Songbirds of the Montane Cordillera include Stellar’s jay, black-billed magpie, sage thrasher, white-throated swift, red-winged blackbird, cedar waxwing, cassin's finch, house finch, purple finch, brown creeper, and American dipper. Waterfowl that are found here include sandhill crane, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, redhead, ring-necked duck, canvasback, and Canada goose. The birds of the forest include blue grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, spruce grouse, chukar, California quail, Lewis' woodpecker, and downy woodpecker.
Some of the characteristic frogs and toads of the area are the wood frog, spotted frog, and western toad. One of the salamander species present here is the long-toed salamander. Snakes found in the region include rubber boa, common garter snake, racer, western rattlesnake, night snake, and western terrestrial garter snake. One of the lizards found here is the western skink.
Fish species that live in the ecozone include lake whitefish, chiselmouth, lake chub, peamouth, leopard dace, and redside shiner. White sturgeon and sockeye salmon both come to freshwater to spawn.
Molluscs found here include pig-toe, western-river pearl mussel, western floater, and arctic-alpine fingernail clam.
A few of the insects that live here are red turpentine beetle, boreal spittlebug, spring azure, mourning cloak, and migratory grasshopper.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Lowland
The great lakes and the St. Lawrence Lowland are a small region in eastern Canada spanning the provinces of Ontario and Quebec. They were created by glacial movement during the last Ice Age. This region is the smallest in North America, only 180,000 km².
The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Lowland have a rolling landscape created when the glaciers retreated and corroded the landscape. Elevation varies from 100 to 400 metres above sea level.
The St Lawrence Lowland has flat plains on either side of the St. Lawrence river. These flat plains rise into the Canadian Shield and the Appalachians Although it is small, it is the home of Canada's most populated cities/area, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. The Great Lakes are Canada's biggest source of fresh water, however, it is contaminated from surrounding cities.
The Great Lakes region is very humid because of the Great Lakes. They store heat in the winter and cold in the summer. This climate allows for good growing season for crops. On average, around 100cm of rain or snow is received every year. Winters get down to -30 degrees and up to 35 degrees in the summer.
The long growing season and fertile lands left over from the glacier allow for lots of crops and fruit to be grown. Some of the crops grown in Western Ontario and Southern Quebec are tobacco, peaches, cherries, grapes, apples, hay, vegetables, such as carrots, corn, onions, beets, peas and beans. St Lawrence Lowland has lots of ranching which supply butter, cheese and meat for the region. The Great Lakes are home to a broad leaf forest, and the Lowland has a mixed forest of conifers and deciduous. Grass is also plentiful. Although not vegetation, fresh water is also a huge resource to the Great Lakes region.
The Appalachian Highlands of Canada
The Appalachian Highlands of Canada is a vast, mountainous area along the east coast. Some of the oldest fold mountains in the world (created by colliding plates) traverse the land in an almost unbroken line. The region extends through Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
The Appalachian Highlands climate is controlled by two major ocean currents. The Arctic sends cold water south through the Labrador Current, bringing freezing winter temperatures to the Northern areas. Warm Caribbean water is propelled through the Gulf Stream to the coast of North America by before diverging towards Europe. The meeting of these two water bodies – warm and cold- offers an abundance of plankton and microscopic organisms, encouraging the growth of fish populations. In colonial days, the multitude of fish found in the Appalachian Region was a chief attraction for colonization. Although chronic over fishing has virtually eliminated many of these stocks, the Appalachians still boast a diversity of species sustained by the converging currents and climates.
The stunning Appalachian Highlands scenery is diverse, containing mountains, river valleys, parallel ridges, and volcanic rock. Many years of erosion have reduced the once jagged and steep mountains to low, rolling hills. Early colonization was slowed by this natural barrier. Rivers crisscross the hillsides, providing easy transportation. This network of waterways was once a beckon for settlement. Agriculture flourishes in the fertile plateaus and valleys. Deep in the sedimentary layers of the rock, vast reserves of oil, gas, and coal can be found. These reserves continue to be discovered and exploited.
Flora and Fauna
A wide range of vegetation and animals can be sighted in the Appalachian Highlands of Canada. Mixed forests include deciduous and coniferous trees. Star flowers, violets, aspens, mountain ashes, red spruces, white pines, hemlocks, apple trees and sugar maples dot the rocky land. Hidden among the forests and waters, many species such as bears, moose, beavers, red wing black birds, white tailed deer, blue jays, raccoons, and eastern bluebirds peek out in existence. Rich in flora and fauna, the Appalachian Highlands are a largely fertile and productive region.