Exploring the Physical Cultural and Political Landscape of Latin America
Latin America’s physical landscape consists of mountains, highlands and river basins, as well as vast stretches of desert and rain forest.
Latin American peoples have a complex history that encompasses indigenous cultures, European colonization and African slavery. This makes the region difficult to define or categorize into one ethnic category or identity.
The Andes Mountains, an expansive range that traverses South America from northern Colombia to Chile and Argentina, have had a profound effect on the region’s climate. Acting as a wall between the Pacific Ocean and continent, these peaks keep temperatures warmer than if they weren’t present.
During the Mesozoic Era, subduction-uplift caused these mountains to rise. This uplift is caused by Earth’s plates moving beneath each other and created subduction zones (dips in its crust).
Scientists have had to delve into the tectonic history of this region in order to explain how this could occur. The Andes Mountains were formed by the convergence between Nazca Plate and South American Plate, making them one of the oldest tectonic regions on Earth – their rise believed to have started around 25 million years ago.
These tectonic processes created the mountain system, which has since been transformed into a major source of valuable minerals such as copper, silver and lithium.
Many of today’s food crops, such as potatoes and tomatoes, originate from the Andes. Coca leaves can also be found here and used to make tea that helps alleviate symptoms associated with altitude sickness.
This landscape has been the site of multi-ethnic polities throughout its history, from Wari states to the Inca empire and contemporary central Andean republics. Furthermore, it serves as a major arena for political and economic transformations.
The Andes are home to an abundance of animals and plants. Vicunas and guanacos can be found natively on the high Altiplano, while domesticated camelids like llama or alpaca are commonly kept by Andean people as pack animals.
The Amazon is an immense region spanning 6.7 million km2, double the size of India. It contains the last remaining tropical rainforest and at least 10% of global biodiversity; as well as home to some of Earth’s most endangered species. Furthermore, its river releases more than a fifth of fresh water into the oceans each year – considered a crucial ‘tipping point’ in global climate change negotiations.
The forests of the Amazon play an essential role in regional hydrologic cycles, controlling temperature and humidity. Furthermore, they store 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, which if released could significantly exacerbate global warming.
However, the region is becoming a target for human exploitation. Its once-pristine environment is increasingly threatened by agro-pastoral expansion, land grabs and other developments – the so-called ‘Amazon Effect’. This has resulted in an uptick in environmental crimes like armed conflict or piracy.
The Amazon is home to some of the planet’s most biodiverse places, making it both ecologically valuable and economically significant. However, its future depends on how people interact with it; so it is essential to comprehend its history and how it came to be.
It is essential to comprehend the diversity of indigenous societies, who make up 28 percent of the population in this region. With more than 350 distinct ethnic groups living here, many remain relatively isolated.
The physical, cultural and political landscape of the region is intricate, shaped by long-term changes to human and natural environments as well as societal dynamics. It is essential to assess these shifts in light of how the Amazon came into being and has evolved over time in order to gain a better insight into how it can be conserved despite rapid development and deforestation.
The Parana River
The Parana River traverses Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to form the largest drainage basin in Latin America. Known as Alto (Upper) Parana from its source to its junction with Paraguay River, it is commonly referred to as Lower Parana when flowing through Argentinian territory.
The Parana River drains an area of over 2,800,000 square km across southern Brazil and northern Argentina, making it the second largest river in South America.
However, over the course of several decades, the Parana River has deteriorated due to deforestation and dry weather conditions. The drought has had a detrimental effect on shipping in the region as well as fishing and farming operations.
Government officials report a severe water shortage in the region, which is having an immense effect on people’s lives. The river has dried out and is running at its lowest level in decades, due to drought.
One of the most alarming effects of dry weather has been to cause thousands of wildfires across the region. These fires, fuelled by dead grass and spreading quickly due to low river levels, can spread quickly due to their fuel source.
Additionally, dry conditions have drained marshy areas along the Parana River that provide refuge to wildlife. As a result, some endangered animals have seen their numbers reduced drastically due to this loss of natural habitats.
In order to better comprehend the geomorphology of the Upper Parana River, a geomorphological study was conducted upstream of Porto Primavera dam (Sao Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul states). Four distinct geomorphologic units were identified: Unit 1, which is an extensive terrace plain (300-350 m altitude), Unit 2, an intermediate terrace level with small ponds and wet areas, Unit 3 is an extensive flat area of low relief and Unit 4, an elongated fluvial plain.
The Pampas, commonly referred to as La Pampa, are vast grasslands spanning South America from Argentina and Uruguay into Brazil. Primarily situated in Argentina, La Pampa borders Uruguay and Venezuela on its east and west edges respectively.
The pampas are known for their lush grasses and expansive skies that make them ideal grazing grounds for cattle. Furthermore, this region boasts some of the most fertile soils in Latin America, making it the backbone of an extensive agricultural economy.
These grasslands are home to an array of plant species that grows according to rainfall levels. There are three distinct ecoregions within the Pampas: Humid Pampas, Semiarid Pampas and Uruguayan Savanna.
Though the pampas are considered one of South America’s most picturesque regions, they also present a number of environmental problems. Runoff from cultivated fields can cause depletion of water and nutrients in natural waterways; additionally, intensive cattle raising has caused erosion as well as decreases in fish and marine life in many areas around the region.
In the Pampas region of Argentina, there are several endemic plants and animals such as “pampas grass” (Cortaderia selloana), an iconic symbol of this unique landscape. Other endemic species like Olrog’s Gull, Curve-billed Reedhaunter and Pampas Meadowlark are all threatened with extinction.
The Pampas provide a vital habitat for several native wildlife species, such as the pampas fox. This longtime resident of humid pampas has adapted to human changes by preying mainly on introduced predators like European hares. It’s one of the most common animals in this region and often seen roaming rural areas.
The Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is an expansive ocean basin located between the United States and Mexico, providing both countries with valuable natural and economic resources.
The Gulf of Mexico coastline is home to numerous barrier islands, shipwrecks, historic forts, white sand beaches and wilderness areas that support thousands of species of plants and wildlife. Furthermore, it supports an important fishing industry for countries like the U.S., Mexico and Cuba.
The Gulf of Mexico is one of the world’s most valuable natural resources, but it also faces threats due to pollution and oil drilling. Its waters are frequently polluted with agricultural runoff and industrial waste resulting in negative effects on fish, marine mammals, and humans alike.
Furthermore, the gulf is vulnerable to “red tide” algae blooms which cause mass die-offs of marine life and pose a serious health hazard. Furthermore, these blooms remove oxygen from the water, potentially leading to hypoxia.
Another pressing concern is the high concentration of nitrogen and phosphates in gulf water. These pollutants are transported there through runoff from sewage and industrial waste, as well as rivers draining into the gulf.
Phosphates and nitrogen levels in gulf water have more than doubled since 1950, with an estimated three times the amount of nitrogen than 30 years ago or any other time in history. This poses a greater threat to fish, dolphins, whales, and other marine animals by suffocation.
The Gulf of Mexico is a vast, dynamic body of water. It consists of several ecological and geologic provinces such as the coastal zone, continental shelf, continental slope, abyssal plain, and deepest part of the gulf known as Sigsbee Deep (Figure 16.1). This oil field is one of the densestly populated and productive worldwide.