Exploring Our World: People, Places, and Cultures

Chapter 28: Physical Geography of Australia, Oceania, and Antarctica

Chapter Overviews

Australia is a country and a continent. The Great Barrier Reef, a chain of colorful coral formations, lies off Australia's northeastern coast. This dry continent is covered by plains, plateaus, and a few low mountain ranges. Because the area has been separated from other continents for millions of years, unique plants and animals have developed there and in the neighboring island of New Zealand. New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,200 miles southeast of Australia. It includes two main islands and many smaller islands. Because it lies where two tectonic plates meet, it has active volcanoes and geysers. New Zealand is part of Oceania, a culture region that includes about thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The three types of islands are high, low, and continental. The continent of Antarctica sits at the southern end of the Earth. A thick ice cap covers a landscape of mountains, valleys, and plateaus. Although it is the coldest place on Earth, it is considered to have a desert climate due to the lack of precipitation. Even with its harsh environment, Antarctica can still support life. Penguins, fish, whales, and many kinds of birds live in or near the rich seas surrounding Antarctica, and many eat a tiny, shrimplike creature called krill. Scientists believe that Antarctica contains a wealth of minerals. A treaty among several countries allows scientific research in Antarctica—such as study of the ozone layer—but not the removal of its minerals.

Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica have many resources, but the islands of Oceania have relatively few. Australia has rich mineral resources, such as bauxite, copper, nickel, and gold, and New Zealand has deposits of gold, coal, and natural gas. Some larger islands in Oceania have deposits of oil, gold, nickel, and copper, but the smaller islands have few resources. Antarctica is rich in mineral resources such as coal and iron ore. Many nations of the world, however, have agreed not to mine Antarctica in order to protect its environment.

The region includes a variety of climates. Australia is generally a dry continent: about one-third is desert and another third is steppe. Its coastal areas received plentiful rainfall, Few people inhabit the desert regions; most of Australia’s people live near the southeastern coast, which has a marine west coast climate. New Zealand has a mild climate throughout the year, and the rest of Oceania is mostly tropical and very warm. In contrast, Antarctica is a cold desert climate where no humans live permanently. Despite its temperatures, penguins and marine mammals survive in Antarctica.

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