Maps of South America. Fact file about South America geography
Detailed maps of South America. The region includes countries Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, Suriname, Gyuana, French Guiana. The region of South America is very important for the world and we have devoted many pages to its description.
South America geography facts
Regions of the World - South America
South America has a land area of 17.6 million sq km (6.9 million sq miles). To its east lies the Atlantic Ocean and to its west is the Pacific. South America is triangular in shape, tapering southward.
The countries that make up the continent had their boundaries determined by the colonial powers that engulfed the entire continent from the sixteenth century onwards. Most of the continent was divided between Spain and Portugal. Portugal established the largest South American colony, Brazil, while Spain claimed most of the remaining area. The Spanish colonies were Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. In the north, three comparatively small countries were created by Britain, France, and the Netherlands: Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname respectively.
Physical features South America
The Andes Mountains, which arose when the South American and Pacific plates collided, form an elongated zone along the continent's western margin. The range, which is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, is narrow in the north, broadens out into a high plateau at 4,000 m (13,000 ft) in the center, where Lake Titicaca is situated, and narrows again toward the south.
The basin of the Amazon River, which is 6,570 km (4,080 miles) long, covers 8 million sq km (3 million sq miles) in equatorial South America. It is bordered to the south by the Mato Grosso Plateau and the highlands of Brazil, and to the north by the Guyana Highlands. Angel Falls, which at 979 m (3,212 ft) is the world's highest waterfall, is in Venezuela.
Climate and vegetation South America
The continent stretches from the tropics to the sub-polar zones and is climatically diverse. The tropics cover a large area in the north, with the southern part being more temperate.
The broad humid tropical zone is characterized by extensive forests in Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela, and includes the world's largest remaining rainforest, the Amazon. Vast areas of this zone have been cleared for agriculture— mainly sugarcane plantations and cattle ranches. Currently, the Amazon forests are under threat from logging and from the spread of agriculture and settlement, and are rapidly diminishing in size. The Amazon is rich in wildlife and contains a large number of plant species unique to the area.
In the north of the continent, where wet and dry seasons alternate, the forest trees are deciduous. In areas where there is little rainfall shrubs and thorny vegetation prevail. The subtropical and temperate areas in the south of the continent are marked by extensive grasslands, with dispersed trees, as in the pampas of Argentina and in Patagonia. Toward the west lie desert areas, where vegetation is sparse.
In the central Andes rainfall is concentrated on the eastern slopes, which are forested, though much deforestation has occurred. Along the arid western side, the sparse vegetation is generally thorny shrubs and animal life is limited. The driest region of all is the Atacama Desert in Chile. There are cool temperate rainforests in southern Chile.
South America has abundant wildlife, including llamas, anteaters, armadillos, and iguanas. The giant anteater and giant armadillo are endangered species. Several unique species inhabit the Galapagos Islands, including the giant tortoise and the marine iguana. The seas off the west coast of temperate South America are rich in marine life due to the nutrient-rich cold waters of the Peru Current.
Population South America
South America's population is about 347 million (2000). Its relatively high living standards are
reflected by life expectancies of 66.5 years for males and 73-9 years for females. The current population growth rate is 1.4 percent per year.
The original inhabitants of the continent were Amerindians who, it is believed, migrated from Asia across the Bering Straits. From the seventeenth century, settlers from Portugal and Spain immigrated in considerable numbers, bringing in Africans to work as agricultural labor. In the twentieth century, while migration from Europe was predominant, migrants also came from Asia. People of Italian descent are significant in Argentina, and Japanese people form locally important groups in Brazil and Peru.
The continent is highly urbanized—79.6 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Within the last fifty years, large numbers of people have moved to cities such as Sao Paulo (population 18 million), Buenos Aires (12.7 million), Rio de Janeiro (10.6 million), and Lima (6 million). The result is urban congestion and the spread of shanty towns amid modern cities.
Agriculture South America
Several agricultural products, including maize, cashews, peanuts, avocadoes, and cacao, were grown in South America before the coming of the Europeans. Rubber-producing plants also grew there. Agriculture was extensively established when the continent was colonized, with crops including introduced species such as rice, wheat, sugarcane, coffee, bananas, and citrus fruits.
The tropical north of the continent produces sugar, bananas, mangoes, and rubber; wheat and temperate fruits are grown in the temperate south. Introduced animals provide the bulk of livestock; cattle are raised in a range of climate areas, and sheep are raised in the temperate grasslands. Among the indigenous animals reared are llamas and alpacas; alpacas are prized for their wool.
Irrigation is important in certain regions, particularly in the west—Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. It is also of significance in Argentina.
Much of the forested areas of South America are logged for their timber. This is particularly the case in the Amazon, and conservationists worldwide are voicing their concern about the rate at which the forest is being lost. Tropical hardwoods are exported.
Illegal cultivation of narcotic drugs, particularly in Colombia, is also a matter of world concern.
Industrialization South America
South America is endowed with significant mineral deposits, such as tin in Bolivia, iron ore in Brazil, and petroleum in Venezuela. Large quantities of metallic ores are exported, though iron ore is used in Brazil for steel manufacture.
Industrialization has accelerated in South America since the 1950s, as a result of increased electricity generation much of the continent's hydroelectric potential has been harnessed.
Manufacturing ranges from food processing to metal and chemical industries. Consumer items such as textiles, clothing, and footwear, as well as more expensive items such as automobiles, are manufactured both for the domestic market and for export.
A view of the Lake District in Chile (above), and fishing boats of the minority Uru people, in Peru (left). The blue-footed booby (below), from the Galapagos Islands, and the statue carving site on Easter Island, off Ecuador (below, right).
Languages South America
The original inhabitants, the Amerindians, belong to various groups and have several languages. Although many no longer speak those languages, in some areas large numbers still do—Guarani is widespread in Paraguay, for example. The official languages in South America are now those introduced by the colonial powers: Portuguese in Brazil, Spanish in most other countries, English in Guyana, Dutch in Suriname, and French in Guiana. In Guyana and Suriname, South Asian languages— principally Hindi—are also significant. Government, education, and the media predominantly use introduced European languages.
Boundary disputes and wars South America
There are currently no major boundary disputes or wars in South America; there was little conflict between the continent's countries during the twentieth century. However, there was considerable civil strife between guerilla groups and governments in several countries—Uruguay, Colombia, and Peru, for example. Armed drug cartels in Colombia also remain a major problem.
In some countries, notably Chile and Argentina, there have been periods of dictatorship during which the military have played a large role in government. During these periods there has been considerable loss of civilian lives.
In 1982 Argentina invaded the United Kingdom-ruled Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). After more than 1,000 people lost their lives in the ensuing war, and after international pressure, the islands were returned to United Kingdom rule.