Florida ranks 23rd among the states in size, covering 170,305 sq km (65,755 sq mi), including 12,100 sq km (4,672 sq mi) of inland water and 3,395 sq km (1,311 sq mi) of coastal water over which it has jurisdiction. The major part of the state is a peninsula that extends southward for some 610 km (380 mi) to Cape Sable, which at latitude 25°7’ north is the southernmost point of the United States mainland. The peninsula has an average width of about 200 km (about 125 mi). At the southern end of the peninsula the Florida Keys, a chain of small islands, or keys, curve southwestward from Biscayne Bay to the Dry Tortugas. Northern Florida includes a narrow panhandle stretching for about 300 km (about 200 mi) along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The state’s irregular shape gives it a large maximum extent: From north to south the state’s greatest distance is 724 km (450 mi); from east to west it is 758 km (471 mi).
Florida is a low-lying area with an average elevation of only 30 m (100 ft) above sea level. It ranks with Louisiana as the second lowest state in the Union, after Delaware. The highest point in Florida, a hill in the panhandle, is 105 m (345 ft) above sea level.
Florida lies wholly within two major natural regions: The Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Gulf Coastal Plain.
The Atlantic Coastal Plain, in Florida, occupies most of the state and can be subdivided into two sections. The so-called Floridian section, or Florida peninsula, covers all of the region except the extreme northeast, where the Sea Island section extends into Florida from Georgia and the Carolinas.
The Floridian section lies south of a line joining the mouth of the Saint Johns River on the Atlantic Coast and Deadman Bay on the Gulf Coast. It is an extensive region of low, rolling hills and large swamps and marshes. South of Lake Okeechobee, much of the land is covered by the Everglades, a watery expanse of saw-grass prairie—which the Seminole termed Pay-hai-o-kee (“grassy water”)—dotted with cypress trees and Sabal palms, the state tree. To preserve the plant and animal life of the swamps, part of the Everglades has been set aside as the Everglades National Park.
To the east of the Everglades a low ridge of land several miles wide separates the freshwater swamps from the Atlantic Coast. Although the ridge is less than 3 m (10 ft) higher than the swamps, it is well drained and is the site of such south Florida cities as West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. A series of barrier islands, separated from the mainland by lagoons, rim the state’s Atlantic Coast. Miami Beach occupies one of these barrier islands. There is no continuous strip of higher land west of the Everglades, and the Everglades merge with a belt of saltwater mangrove swamps along the Gulf Coast. North of Lake Okeechobee the interior of the peninsula is generally hilly and is pitted by numerous lakes. The highest hills are a little more than 90 m (300 ft) above sea level, but the area is sometimes called the Central Highlands or the Backbone of Florida. The hills are covered by grass and patches of palmettos, but extensive areas from Orlando and farther south have been cleared and planted with citrus groves. Part of the region is also sometimes called the lake district because of its numerous lakes.
West of the lake district is an area known as the lime-sink district because of the many sinks, or natural basins, that occur in its limestone surface or subsurface. Small lakes have formed in some of the sinks.
The small part of the Sea Islands section in northeastern Florida is a flat, low-lying area. Okefenokee Swamp, a huge wilderness area on the Florida-Georgia state line, occupies much of the interior of the region. A wide belt of swamps and sandy ridges occupies the coastal regions. The largest area of well-drained land is a strip behind the mainland coastal beaches. A continuation of the ridge to the south, it rises up to 3 m (10 ft) above sea level and is mainly pine covered.
The Gulf Coastal Plain, in northwestern Florida, rises to 105 m (345 ft) above sea level, which is the highest point in the state, near the Alabama state line. From the low hills in the northern part of the panhandle the land slopes southward at the Cody Escarpment to extensive stretches of swamps, salt marshes, and pine forests that are found along the Gulf Coast. "Florida" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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