The islands have a tropical marine climate moderated by northeast trade winds. There is little seasonal temperature variation; the dry season runs from December to June, the rainy season from July to October can include typhoons. The southern islands are limestone with level terraces and fringing coral reefs; the northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on Anatahan, Pagan and Agrihan. (The volcano on Agrihan is the highest elevation in the islands at 965 meters). About one-fifth of the land is arable, another tenth is permanent pasture. The primary natural resource is fish, which causes conflict with the protection of endangered species. Past development has created landfills that must be cleaned up and has caused contamination of groundwater on Saipan, which may contribute to disease.
The islands were administered by the United States of America as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the US. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US. Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.
The islands have over 350 kilometers of highways, three airports with paved runways (one some 3000 meters long, two around 2000 meters), three airports with unpaved runways (one about 3000 meters long, two under 1000 meters), and one heliport.
Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island located 120 km (80 miles) north of Saipan Island and 320 km (200 miles) north of Guam. The island is about 9 km (5.6 miles) long and 3 km (2 miles) wide. Anatahan began erupting suddenly from its east crater at about 5:00 p.m. on May 10, 2003
From the CIA World Factbook 2000. Not Wikified.