Is bordered in the north by the Caribbean Sea, to the West by the Pacific Ocean, and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Right at the tip South America is Drake Passage - a body of water that separates the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, is Fourth largest of the world’s continents. It is the southern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, or simply the Americas. The continent is compact and roughly triangular in shape, being broad in the north and taperig to a point Cape Horn, Chile, in the south. The large continent adjoining, Central America, South America consists of 12 independent countries and one Overseas Department of France ( French Guiana)
Relatively few islands rim the continent, except in the south. These include the glaciated coastal archipelagoes of Argentina and Chile. The Falkland (Malvinas) Islandsare east of southern Argentina. To the north, the West Indies stretch from Trinidad to Florida, but those islands usually are associated with North America. Of the remainder, most are small oceanic islands off the coasts of South America, including the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, in the Pacific Ocean.
South America’s geologic structure consists of two dissymmetric parts. In the larger, eastern portion are found a number of stable shields forming highland regions, separated by large basins (including the vast Amazon basin). The western portion is occupied almost entirely by the Andes Mountains. The Andes—formed as the South American Plate drifted westward and forced the oceanic plate to the west under it—constitute a gigantic backbone along the entire Pacific coast of the continent. The basins east of the Andes and between the eastern highlands have been filled with large quantities of sediment washed down by the continent’s great rivers and their tributaries.
No other continent—except Antarctica penetrates so far to the south. Although the northern part of South America extends north of the Equator and four-fifths of its landmass is located within the tropics, it also reaches subantarctic latitudes. Much of the high Andes lie within the tropics but include extensive zones of temperate or cold climate in the vicinity of the Equator, a circumstance that is unique. The great range in elevation produces an unrivaled diversity of climatic and ecological zones, which is probably the most prominent characteristic of South
It contains many of the treasures for our planets.
The Andes Mountains
The ranges of the Andes Mountains, about 5,500 miles (8,900 km) long and second only to the Himalayas in average elevation, constitute a formidable and continuous barrier, with many summits exceeding 20,000 feet (6,100 metres). The Venezuelan Andes, the northernmost range of the system, un parallel to the Caribbean Seacoast in Venezuela west of Caracas, before turning to the southwest and entering Colombia. In Colombia the Andes, which trend generally to the north and south form three distinct ranges: The Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental. The valley of the Magdalena River, between the Oriental and the Central ranges, and the valley of the Cauca River, between the Central and the Occidental ranges, are huge rift valleys formed by faulting rather than by erosion. An aerial view of the Andes in Colombia shows, within relatively short distances, a succession of hot lowlands interspersed with high ranges with snowcapped peaks.
In Ecuador the Andes form two parallel cordilleras, one facing the Pacific and the other descending abruptly eastward toward the Amazon basin, crowned by towering peaks. Between the ranges lies a series of high basins. Three cordilleras run through Peru and are known by Peruvians as the Eastern Cordillera; the Central, or Blanca (“White”), Cordillera, named for the glaciated summit of Mount Huascarán, the country’s highest peak, which rises to 22,025 feet (6,713 metres); and the Western, or Negra (“Black”), Cordillera, which has no snowcapped summits.
South of Lima, Peru, and extending through western Bolivia, the Andes branch into two distinct ranges. Between them lies the Altiplano, a vast complex of high plateaus between about 12,000 and 15,000 feet (3,700 and 4,600 metres) in elevation and as much as 125 miles (200 km) wide. The Altiplano forms a maze of depressions, hills, and vast plains without equivalent except in Tibet. Water accumulates in closed basins to form marshes and lakes, the largest of which is Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. That central region of the Andes has been dissected by several rivers, all of which have cut spectacular gorges down the eastern slopes.
Farther to the south, along the border between Chile and Argentina, the Andes form a single but lofty chain with many of the system’s highest peaks, including Mount Aconcagua, which, at 22,831 feet (6,959 metres), is the highest point on the continent and in the Western Hemisphere; south of Aconcagua, elevations gradually diminish. In southern Chile part of the cordillera descends beneath the sea, forming innumerable islands with steep slopes. The Andes have been deeply carved by glaciers, particularly in the south. Ice masses still occupy some 1,900 square miles (4,900 square km), constituting a huge ice cap with long terminal tongues running into piedmont lakes or into the sea.
The Andes are studded with numerous volcanoes that are part of the Circum-Pacific volcanic chain, often called the Ring of Fire. Earthquakes are frequent. Almost every major city has been devastated at least once by earthquake, even along the coastal plains, where clear signs of recent vertical movement are visible.
South America extends over a wide latitudinal range, thus encompassing a great variety of climates. South America’s broadest extent is in the equatorial zone, so that tropical conditions prevail over more than half of the continent. Elevation, particularly in the Andes, is another important climatic control.
Its landmass encompasses everything from Andean cordilleras to Earth’s largest tropical rainforest and Patagonian ice fields, but South America’s riches aren’t merely topographical, also offer a window into the food, dance and traditions of the continent’s native, European and African cultures.
Countries of South America: