Oceania consists of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and many coral and volcanic islands that lie across the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to Australia and New Zealand, Oceania includes the island groups of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.
Melanesia, which includes New Guinea, Fiji, New Caledonia, the Solomon islands and Vanuatu, lies in the southwest Pacific, northeast of Australia. Most of the larger islands of Melanesia are volcanic, while most of the smaller islands are uninhabited coral atolls.
Micronesia lies in the west Pacific and includes the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Wake Island, Nauru and Palau. There are over 600 atolls and volcanic islands in the Federated States of Micronesia.
Polynesia is in the South Pacific, to the east of Australia. It contains many different island groups that are made up of underwater volcanoes and coral atolls. Polynesia includes French Polynesia, American Samoa, Samoa, Easter Island, the Cook Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue, Tokelau, Futuna and Wallis. The Hawaiian islands, part of the United States of America, are located in Polynesia.
The climate in most parts of Oceania is tempered by the moderating effects of the oceans.
In Australia, however, where the interior of the continent is far from the ocean, temperatures are very high during the day. Drought conditions are common.
Along the Australian coasts, the climate is wetter and cooler.
The many islands across the Pacific are usually hot and humid. Their climates are affected by the many ocean and air currents in the area.
During the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which takes place every three to seven years, the trade winds in the tropical Pacific become weaker or change direction, causing the surface air pressure over the eastern part of the tropical Pacific to switch with the surface air pressure over the western part. This phenomenon leads to extremely dry conditions.
Many of the low-lying islands of Oceania are threatened by the possibility of rising sea levels caused by climate change.
In general, Oceania is sparsely populated. Australia has one of the lowest population densities of all the countries in the world. More than four fifths of the people in Australia live within 25 miles (40km) of the cost.
English is the official language of Australia. Many aboriginal languages are also spoken there.
In New Zealand, both English and Maori, the indigenous language, are official languages.
Several hundred indigenous languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea. Melanesian Pidgin has taken on the role of lingua franca.
Australia has one of the highest standards of living in the world, while Papua New Guinea has one of the lowest.
Sheep farming is an important industry in Australia and New Zealand
Mining is practiced in Australia and in Papua New Guinea.
Throughout the Pacific Islands, fishing plays an important role in the economy.
Manufacturing is concentrated in the large coastal cities of Australia and New Zealand.
Tourism is an important source of revenue.
Because the countries of Oceania are spread across vast areas of the Pacific, they are not unified politically. Australia and New Zealand are members of the Commonwealth of Nations and have traditional ties to the United Kingdom.
However, these countries, as well as other countries in the region, are now attempting to build better relationships with their Asian neighbors, such as Japan.
Foreign influences have paid a large part in the politics of Oceania. The United States controlled most of the Micronesian islands until the 1980s. Some territories in Polynesia are still colonies of the United States, the United Kingdom or France.
Total Area: 3,285,048 square miles ( 8,508,238 square kilometers)
Highest Point: Mount Wilhelm in Papua New Guinea - 17,794 feet (4,509 meters)
Largest Lake and Lowest Point: Lake Eyre in Australia - 3,430 square miles (8,884 square kilometers), 53 feet (16 meters) below sea level
Longest River: Murray-Darling River in Australia - 2,300 miles (3,750 kilometers)
Largest Drainage Basin: Murray-Darling River Basin in Australia - 409,835 square miles (1, 061, 469 square kilometers)
Largest Island (Excluding Australia): New Guinea -312,167 square miles (808,510 square kilometers)
New Guinea (1)
New Zealand (1)