Location, Distribution & Uses of Natural Resources Worldwide

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about natural resources as well as the location and distribution of some of them. Examine some of the uses humans have for natural resources. Explore their influence on human populations and some consequences of their use.

Natural Resources

Take a look around. The computer you are using, the electricity, the glass of the windows, the walls, even your clothes all contain elements from a natural resource. Natural resources are raw materials that exist naturally on the planet and were formed without requiring any human action. All life forms, including humans, depend on naturals resources to survive.

The Earth, our source of natural resources
The Earth

Natural resources are commonly divided into two groups:

  • Renewable resources are consistently available (like sunlight, water, and wind) or those that can be replaced in a relatively short time (like plants and animals). However, without proper care, these resources often degrade much faster than they recover, thus becoming non-renewable. There is a risk we might run out of drinkable water or even breathable air.
  • Non-renewable resources can't be replaced easily and it would take millions of years for the Earth to form them again. This group includes fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), minerals (like clay, metals, and precious stones), and soils.

Location and Distribution of Natural Resources

Not all areas of the world have the same natural resources. Some regions may enjoy fertile soils or plenty of vegetation while others have abundant precious stones. This uneven distribution has led to trade. One area can buy a resource scarce to them that is abundant somewhere else. Sometimes, the location of resources is a matter of conflict, as one group tries to take ownership of a given resource already under the control of someone else.

The distribution of fertile soils is a determinant for agriculture. Worldwide, the best soils are located in the southern part of Russia, in the South American pampas, and in the American prairies in the US. These regions are home to intensive agricultural activities. Regions of Southeast Asia, southern China, South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa also have productive soils.

Global soil regions; fertile soils are indicated in green and yellow
Global soil regions

Enormous reserves of oil are located in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. Venezuela, in South America, also holds huge amounts of it. In the United States, most oil and gas is located in Texas and along the Gulf Coast. Russia has the largest reserves of natural gas and is also the largest producer. Iran and Qatar have plenty of gas, but the United States is the second producer (although only has one-fifth of Russia's reserves).

Countries rich in precious metals include Australia and South Africa, which has abundant diamonds. China, Russia, United States, Canada, and Peru are the largest gold producers.

Fresh water is becoming more and more valuable. The Amazon Basin, especially Brazil and Colombia, are home to the largest amounts of fresh water, followed by North America. On the other side of the world, Russia and China both have large reserves as well.

There are plenty of other natural resources and they are distributed irregularly, causing some nations to be large producers and others to be dependent on imports.

Uses of Natural Resources

We depend on natural resources so much that most of our activities use a natural resource or derived products. Everyone consumes natural resources, directly or indirectly. Even our most fundamental needs rely on resources: we consume water and food.

Natural resources also supply energy for houses and industries. Transportation and the factories that make many different products need energy to work. Fossil fuels are still the main energy source of the world.

Many resources are used to make the different products that we use. Everything from construction materials, electronics, books, jewelry; anything you can think comes from a natural resource or a combination of them.

Deforestation for opening a coal mine
deforestation

Just as the resources aren't equally distributed, their use is also different from place to place. North America is probably the largest consumer of food and energy, while Africa uses significantly smaller amounts.

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