Geography of Micronesia

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Micronesia is composed of four major island groups totaling 607 islands. It is located in Oceania, island group in the North Pacific Ocean, about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to Indonesia. Its geographic coordinates are 6 55 N, 158 15 E.

Area: total: 702 square kilometers; land: 702 square kilometers; water: 0 square kilometers (fresh water only). note: includes Pohnpei (Ponape), Chuuk (Truk) Islands, Yap Islands, and Kosrae (Kosaie); ranking compared to other countries in the world: 191. It is about four times the size of Washington, DC (land area only). [Source: CIA World Factbook 2023]

Land Boundaries: total: 0 kilometers; Coastline: 6,112 kilometers; Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nautical miles; exclusive economic zone: 200 nautical miles.

Land Use: agricultural land: 25.5 percent (2018 estimate). Arable Land: 2.3 percent (2018 estimate); permanent crops: 19.7 percent (2018 estimate); permanent pasture: 3.5 percent (2018 estimate); forest: 74.5 percent (2018 estimate); other: 0 percent (2018 estimate). Irrigated Land: 0 square kilometers (2022). [Source: CIA World Factbook 2023]

Population Distribution: the majority of the populaton lives in the coastal areas of the high islands; the mountainous interior is largely uninhabited; less than half of the population lives in urban areas

Climate: tropical; heavy year-round rainfall, especially in the eastern islands; located on southern edge of the typhoon belt with occasionally severe damage. Natural Hazards: typhoons (June to December).

Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Marianas and Caroline Islands

The region known as Micronesia ("small islands") is divided geographically into three archipelagoes: the Marshall Islands, the Marianas (including Guam and Saipan) and the Caroline Islands. The four states of the Federated States of Micronesia—Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap— are all part of the Caroline Islands, which in turn are divided into the Western Caroline Islands (Palau, Yap and Chuck) and the Eastern Caroline Islands (Pohnpei and Kosrae).

Each group of islands has a "district center," with an international airport, and the majority of the government offices, medical facilities and tourist facilities. The main district centers are Majuro (Marshall Islands), Koror (Palau), Saipan (Northern Marianas), Pohnpei, Weno Island (Chuuk), Yap Proper (Yap) and Kosrae.

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is the name of a new country created in 1979 from former Japanese Pacific territories taken over by the U.S. after World War II. It includes the island states of Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, and numerous atolls in the area of these island states. The term Micronesia is also used to describe the islands in a region that stretch from Hawaii to the Philippines and also includes Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The islands of the region of Micronesia are scattered across an area larger than the United States, but the total land area of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands is two thirds that of Rhode Island. In 1965, 96 of the 2,100 islands were inhabited. The entire population of all these islands some say could be squeezed into the Rose Bowl.

William A. Lessa wrote: In 1838, the French explorer Dumont D'Urville divided up the Pacific into Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Scholars since then have debated whether or not these three terms do justice to the diversity of cultures in these areas, especially in Micronesia, where the first settlers arrived at various times and brought with them different cultures and languages. The Micronesians' exposure to Western influences also varied. The people of the Marianas, for example, were Christianized by the Spanish by 1700 ce. The Caroline island of Ifalik, on the other hand, became Christian only after World War II. [Source: William A. Lessa (1987), Encyclopedia of Religion, Lessa (1908-1997) taught at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and is regarded as "one of the pillars of anthropology in Micronesia", Lessa is best known for his work on Ulithi Atoll in Micronesia.]


Ocean islands are basically divided into three types: 1) "low" coral and sand islands; 2) "high" islands (usually exposed peaks and ridge-tops of submerged mountains and volcanos); and 3) parts of the continental shelf. Some continental islands were mountains and hills along the coast during last Ice Age when ocean levels were lower.

Low islands or cays were formed on coral shoals from reef sediments. Atoll islands are low islands (See Below). Seabird dropping fertilize the soils of some of these islands, which allow scrubby forest to take root. Others are battered regularly by storms and are little more than shifting piles of sand. Some patches of sand are so low they disappear during low tide and lose their status as islands.

High islands generally have better soil and a better supply of water than low islands. Low islands support only a few species of plant because there little topsoil and this soil has a high salt content. Although they often have no visible water sources they often are positioned over water lenses that trap rain water and can provide fresh water through wells.

Geographical Features of Micronesia

Topography: islands vary geologically from high mountainous islands to low, coral atolls; volcanic outcroppings on Pohnpei, Kosrae, and Chuuk. Elevation: highest point: Nanlaud on Pohnpei 782 meters; lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 meters.

William A. Lessa wrote: The geology of the islands varies greatly. Some, like Pohnpei, one of what are called the high islands, are volcanic with lush vegetation. Others are coral atolls of a few acres only a few feet above sea level. The Marshall Islands, for example, are made up of coral atolls and islands with a total dry land area of 74 square miles spread over 375,000 square miles of ocean. Kosrae, on the other hand, is a single high island of 42 square miles with its highest point, Mount Finkol, at 2,064 feet above sea level. [Source: William A. Lessa (1987), Encyclopedia of Religion,]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: CIA World Factbook, 2023; “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 2: Oceania,” edited by Terence E. Hays, 1991, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated August 2023

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