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The Natural Environment

Mineral Resources

South America has diverse mineral resources, many of which have not been extensively exploited. Mineral deposits are widely distributed, but certain areas of the continent are particularly renowned for their wealth. In the Andes placer gold has been worked in various areas since before the colonial era. The mountains between central Peru and southern Bolivia produced silver and mercury in the colonial era, and industrial minerals such as copper, tin, lead, and zinc today. Copper is worked at large deposits in northern and central Chile and in central and southern Peru. A highly mineralized area containing bauxite, iron ore, and gold lies between Ciudad Bolivar and northern Suriname, near the northern margin of the Guiana Highlands. In east central Brazil rich gold and diamond strikes occurred in the colonial era, some of these mines are still producing. Although South America is a major producer of rare metals, the large reserves of high-grade iron ore and smaller reserves of bauxite are more important to the emerging industrial power of the continent.

South America is lacking in large coal reserves. Coal is found in scattered and relatively small deposits in the Andes and in southern Brazil. Coal has been an important fuel for industry and transportation primarily in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil. Petroleum, however, is widely distributed. Most of the continent's reserves of petroleum and natural gas lie in structural basins located mostly along the eastern margins of and in the Andes, from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego. The largest known fields are in the Lake Maracaibo area of Venezuela. Other deposits occur in northern Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, south of the Andes in eastern and central Venezuela, and just east of the mountains in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.

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