Mapping the Physical & Human Characteristics of Australia & the Pacific Islands

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  • 0:00 Geographical Features
  • 0:55 Human Characteristics
  • 2:50 Physical Characteristics
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to describe the physical and human characteristics of Australia and the Pacific Islands and indicate where the places are located. A short quiz will follow.

Geographical Features

The physical characteristics of an area are the natural landforms of that area. A landform is any natural feature of the Earth's surface. There are lots of features that count as landforms, including valleys, canyons, mountains, rivers, lakes, and coastlines. Topographical, or physical, maps are a way of displaying these features. Human characteristics, on the other hand, are the features of a geography caused by humans, including cities, towns, dams, roads, and communication links.

Australia and the Pacific Islands are an area that includes Australia, Polynesia, including New Zealand, Easter Island, Hawaii, and everything in between, Melanesia, and Micronesia. While Hawaii is part of the United States, it still counts as a Pacific Island since it's located in the Pacific Ocean. Today, we're going to talk about some of the most important physical and human characteristics of Australia and the Pacific.

Human Characteristics

The biggest impact that humans have on a landscape are the cities. Humans build villages, that grow into towns, that grow into cities. The natural landscape is often sacrificed to build them. In Australia, the biggest cities are Sydney at 4.4 million as of 2013, Melbourne at 4.2 million, and Brisbane at 2.1 million. These are also the three biggest cities in the whole of Oceania, including New Zealand. Perth and Adelaide are also home to a million people each. The largest cities in New Zealand are Auckland at 1.4 million people and Christchurch at 341,000 people.

Among the Pacific Islands, the largest city is Honolulu, Hawaii at 348,000 people, followed by Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea at 364,000 people as of 2011. While Indonesia isn't generally considered to be a Pacific Island, it's worth noting that there is a much larger population there: the biggest city in Indonesia is Makassar at 1.3 million people in 2010.

Geographically, the biggest factor that affects the location of these cities is the sea: even in the larger landmasses, like Australia, the presence of water is vital. When the cities were first set up, the ocean would have been important for bringing in supplies, and it is important for trade to this day.

The coastal areas of Australia also have more pleasant climates: the center of Australia is dry with large areas of desert. The location of freshwater was also a factor in the position of cities, and a lot of the mentioned cities were also along rivers. In Australia, the Murray and Darling rivers are hugely important, for example. There are also dozens of rivers in New Zealand, including the Waikato and the Wairoa near Auckland and the Hutt and Ruamahanga near Wellington.

Physical Characteristics

Australia contains multiple mountain ranges. The southwest is home to the Darling Range, and the northwest has the Hamersley Range. But the biggest mountain range by far is the Great Dividing Range that runs along the east coast, reaching a height of 7,310 feet. When it comes to mountains, New Zealand wins the prize for impressiveness. New Zealand contains dozens of mountain ranges, and the highest mountain is Mount Cook at 12,218 feet. The highest mountain in the Pacific as a whole is in Hawaii: Mauna Kea is 13,796 feet.

Australia also contains several famous canyons, including Kings Canyon and the much larger Bungonia Gorge at 400 meters deep. Once again, though, Hawaii wins bragging rights with the Pacific's largest canyon: Waimea Canyon on Kauai. Waimea is 1 mile wide, 10 miles long, and over 3,000 feet deep.

The longest river in Australia and the Pacific Islands is Murray River, which has its source in the Australian Alps and flows a total of 1,200 miles. The Darling River is the second longest at 1,160 miles. Given the size of Australia, no other rivers really compare to these Australian giants. The Waikato River is the largest in New Zealand at 264 miles. Lake Eyre is the largest Australian lake at 3,668 square miles, and just like the rivers, it has little competition in the Pacific.

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