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The Natural Environment


South America is dominated by relatively warm climatic regimes. Spanning nearly the entire continent along the equator is a belt of humid tropical climate that grades to the north and south into broad zones where the length of the rainy season and the amount of rainfall diminish. These zones have wet summers and dry winters and are subject to prolonged droughts. Droughts are a particularly serious problem in northeastern Brazil and along the northern coast of Venezuela and Colombia. The areas of rainy tropical and tropical wet-dry climate extend along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador but are marked by a sharp southern transition into the arid climate of coastal Peru and northern Chile. In the northern half of South America only the Andes region has a cool climate. Temperatures decrease with increasing elevation, so that the tropical climate of the lowlands and lower slopes changes to subtropical and temperate climates at intermediate elevations, and finally to cold alpine climate at the mountain crests.

South of the tropic of Capricorn, South America has cool to cold winters and cool to warm summers. Southern Chile receives heavy precipitation, because of the cyclonic storms that move off the Pacific Ocean from the west. The storm frequency, greatest in winter, diminishes northward through Chile, resulting in a zone of Mediterranean-like climate, with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers. This zone is bordered by desert, which extends along the coast as far north as Ecuador. Included in this region is the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the world. Subhumid and arid conditions prevail to the east of the southern Andes. In the Pampas and southern Brazilian Highlands, however, summers tend to be humid, and in the winter cyclonic storms may penetrate, bringing rain and chilly weather. Snow occasionally falls over the highlands, and frosts may spread north toward the tropic of Capricorn, causing extensive damage to crops.

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