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Geography

Australia is located in Oceania, in the southern hemisphere, occupying the entirety of the continent situated between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean as well as numerous islands, most notably the island state of Tasmania. Neighboring nations include Indonesia to the northwest, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to the northeast, and New Zealand to the southeast. Antarctica lies to the distant south.

Australia is slightly smaller than the 48 contiguous states of the United States. Its total area is 7,686,850 square kilometers, of which 68,920 square kilometers are water. Australian territory and dependencies include thousands of islands that vary greatly in size and proximity. The continent "Down Under", Australia, has five deserts and, together, they cover more than one-third of the land mass or 890,000 sq. mi. (2.3 million km). The Great Sandy, Victoria, and Simpson Deserts are sandy with a high barometric pressure system; while the Gibson and Stuart are stony and are in the mountain's rain shadow.

As of 2005, Australia and East Timor had failed to reach an agreement over how to delimit a permanent maritime boundary. In addition, the two nations disagree about how to share unexploited petroleum resources not covered by the 2002 Timor Sea Treaty. This bilateral dispute in turn has hampered revision of the maritime boundary between Australia and Indonesia; Indonesian groups dispute Australian claims over the Ashmore Reef. Australia also asserts land and maritime claims in Antarctica.

Australia's coastline totals 25,760 kilometers along the Timor Sea in the northwest, the Arfura Sea in the north, the Coral Sea in the northeast, the Tasman Sea in the southeast, and the Indian Ocean in the south and west. Australia claims a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, a 24-nautical-mile contiguous zone, a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and a 200-nautical-mile continental shelf or the distance to the edge of the continental shelf. In 2004 Australia claimed a 1,000-nautical mile-wide maritime identification zone, an act that has caused concern among other states in the region.

Australia separated from Antarctica about 40 million years ago and consequently its plants and animals evolved in isolation, developing into unique flora and fauna. Among the plants are: acacia, eucalyptus, saltbush, spinifex grass, and bottlebrush, which the natives soaked in water for a sugary drink. The animal species include: blue-tongued lizard, dingo, kangaroo, rabbit-eared bandicoot, koalas, wombats, cockatoos, galahs; and the primitive and very unique egg laying mammals, the platypus and echidna.

The worldwide symbol for Australia is Uluru, or Ayers Rock. A geological upheaval occurred 600 million years ago when the world's southern continents collided, forming "Gondwana" and causing a thousand-mile range of mountains to rise. Over the eons, the mountains wore down into piles of rubble. Some of the heaps fused to form three geological features: Mount Connor, the Olgas, and Uluru. Brick red in color, Uluru is shaped like a loaf of bread, being round at the ends and slightly humped in the middle. this giant is a monolith 348 meters (1,142 feet) high, 3.6 kilometers (2.2 miles) long, and 9.4 kilometers (5.8 miles) around. It is the largest single rock known in the world. Tourists come from all over the country and the world to watch sunrise and sunset bring the colors of the rock to life. Some also make the challenging ascent to the top, despite the disapproval of the local Aboriginal people, to whom Uluru is a sacred site.

Many groups of indigenous Aborigines came to the rock for more than 20,000 years for its freshwater springs. In the Aborigine folklore, the creation of Uluru is told in the story of the Mulga Seed Men, the Carpet Snakes, and the Marsupial Rats. According to the folktale, the horrific fighting among these created the ridges and gullies on the face of the Rock. To this day, the native people tell this story to their children to remind them of the importance of social commitments and the danger of breaking them.

Topography consists of plateaus with areas of desert dominate the western two-thirds of Australia. The lowland plains of the east-central region gradually rise into a highland belt along the east coast. Mainland Australia's highest point, at 2,228 meters, is Mount Kosciuszko; the lowest point, at 15 meters below sea level, is Lake Eyre. The highest point in Australian territory is Mawson Peak (2,745 meters high), located on Heard Island north of Antarctica.

Its low average elevation (300 meters, or less than 1000 feet) is caused by its position near the center of a tectonic plate, where there are no volcanic or other geologic forces of the type that raise the topography of other continents. In fact, Australia is the only continent without any current volcanic activity at all-the last eruption took place 1,400 years ago at Mt. Gambier.

Prominent features of Australia include the Lake Eyre basin, the darker green region visible in the center-right. At 16 meters (52 feet) below sea level, this depression is one of the largest inland drainage systems in the world, covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles). The mountain range near the east coast is called the Great Dividing Range, forming a watershed between east- and west-flowing rivers. Erosion has created deep valleys, gorges and waterfalls in this range where rivers tumble over escarpments on their way to the sea.

The crescent-shaped, uniformly green region in the south is the Nullarbor Plain, a low-lying limestone plateau which is so flat that the Trans-Australian Railway runs through it in a straight line for more than 483 kilometers (300 miles).

The Australian continent is one of the oldest land masses, with some of its erosion-exposed bedrock dated at more than 3 billion years old. More than one-fifth of the land area is desert, with more than two-thirds being classified as arid or semi-arid and unsuitable for settlement. The coldest regions are in the highlands and tablelands of Tasmania (large island at bottom right) and the Australian Alps at the southeastern corner of the continent, which is the location of Australia's highest point, Mt. Kosciusko (2,228 meters, or 7,310 feet.)

Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent (only Antarctica is drier), and many of its rivers have highly variable flows. Australia's longest river is the Murray (2,520 kilometers); other major rivers are the Murrumbidgee (1,575 kilometers), the Darling (1,390 kilometers and a tributary of the Murray River), and the Lachlan (1,370 kilometers). The Murray-Darling River Basin covers more than 1 million square kilometers, or around 14 percent of Australia.

Australia's climate is subtropical arid. The north has hot, humid, and rainy summers and dry, warm winters. In the south, summers are dry and sunny, and winters are mild and rainy. Except on the eastern coast, rainfall is generally low. Average annual rainfall ranges from 325.6 millimeters in Alice Springs to 1,847.1 millimeters in Darwin. The average daily maximum temperature ranges from 17.2 C in Hobart to 32.1 C in Darwin. The average daily minimum temperature ranges from 6.7 C in Canberra to 23.4 C in Darwin.

Australia has significant deposits of coal, natural gas, petroleum, and various minerals, including bauxite, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, nickel, silver, tungsten, uranium, and zinc. Only 6 percent of the Australian landmass is arable, and less than 1 percent is dedicated to permanent crops. The remaining 93 percent of the land mass is arid and nutrient poor. As of 2002, 10 percent of Australia's environment was protected under various forms of legislation.

Australia faces a number of significant environmental concerns, including soil erosion as a result of overgrazing, industrial development, and poor farming practices; desertification; and limited natural freshwater sources. It is estimated that since European settlement, 50 percent of Australia's wetlands have been drained and put to other uses. Shrinking habitat due to increasing agriculture is a threat to the sustainability of a variety of native plant and animal species, and increased shipping and tourism threaten the Great Barrier Reef. Invasive non-native plant and animal species introduced onto the Australian continent in the past century have at times had a negative impact on the environment.

Australia is the world's smallest, flattest, and (after Antarctica) driest continent, but at 7.7 million square kilometers (3.0 million square miles), it is also the sixth largest country. Australia's population is largely concentrated along the East Coast with cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, although there are other significant pockets around such places as Adelaide and Perth. Its low average elevation (300 meters, or less than 1000 feet) is caused by its position near the center of a tectonic plate, where there are no volcanic or other geologic forces of the type that raise the topography of other continents. In fact, Australia is the only continent without any current volcanic activity at all-the last eruption took place 1,400 years ago at Mt. Gambier.

Prominent features of Australia include the Lake Eyre basin, the darker green region visible in the center. At 16 meters (52 feet) below sea level, this depression is one of the largest inland drainage systems in the world, covering more than 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles). The mountain range near the east coast is called the Great Dividing Range, forming a watershed between east- and west-flowing rivers. Erosion has created deep valleys, gorges and waterfalls in this range where rivers tumble over escarpments on their way to the sea.

The crescent-shaped, uniformly green region in the south-center, is the Nullarbor Plain, a low-lying limestone plateau which is so flat that the Trans-Australian Railway runs through it in a straight line for more than 483 kilometers (300 miles).

The Australian continent is one of the oldest land masses, with some of its erosion-exposed bedrock dated at more than 3 billion years old. More than one-fifth of the land area is desert, with more than two-thirds being classified as arid or semi-arid and unsuitable for settlement. The coldest regions are in the highlands and tablelands of Tasmania (large island at bottom right) and the Australian Alps at the southeastern corner of the continent, which is the location of Australia's highest point, Mt. Kosciusko (2,228 meters, or 7,310 feet.)



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