Australia is a large, comparatively dry, and sparsely inhabited continent, almost as large as the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Australia, the only continent that consists of a single nation, is also the only inhabited continent that is isolated from all others (total coastline exceeds 22,000 miles). The average elevation is about 985 feet, which makes it the flattest continent on earth. This is among the prime reasons for sparse annual rainfall--16.5 inches, which is less than two-thirds of the world average (26 inches). Further, the rain falls mainly on coastal regions: forty percent of the surface gets less than 10 inches per year, and annual evaporation exceeds annual rainfall on about three-quarters of the land. Overall runoff is less than half that of the Mississippi basin; Australia has no navigable rivers of any commercial significance.
In general, the country is warmer than the U.S. (the northern one-third is in the Tropics, the rest in the Temperate Zone). Temperature extremes are much less pronounced. Sydney's average daytime temperature in the coldest month (July) is 59°F; in the warmest month (January), 81°F.
Mostly low plateau with deserts; fertile plain in southeast
Bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, tin, gold, silver, uranium, nickel, tungsten, mineral sands, lead, zinc, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum
Cyclones along the coast; severe droughts; forest fires
9,830 Square Miles
25,460 Square Kilometers
Soil erosion from overgrazing, industrial development, urbanization, and poor farming practices; soil salinity rising due to the use of poor quality water; desertification; clearing for agricultural purposes threatens the natural habitat of many unique animal and plant species; the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast, the largest coral reef in the world, is threatened by increased shipping and its popularity as a tourist site; limited natural fresh water resources
Environment - International Agreements:
Party To: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements