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Brazil, Land and Resources

Brazilian Highlands, semiarid region, smallest region, sertao, landscape of Brazil

Brazil occupies an immense area along the eastern coast of South America and includes much of the continent’s interior region. The factors of size, relief, climate, and natural resources make Brazil geographically diverse. Planners divide the country into five macro-regions. The North includes most of the Amazon Basin and covers 45 percent of the national territory, but only 7 percent of the population lives there. The Northeast is the eastward bulge of the country. It was the first area to be settled by Europeans. Its semiarid interior, the sertao, is largely given over to low-density livestock ranching. Much of the population of the Northeast lives in poverty. The mainly upland area of the Southeast is the demographic and economic core of the nation. Brazil’s two largest cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are located here. The Southeast contains only 11 percent of Brazil’s land, but 43 percent of the population lives there. The South is the smallest region. It is distinct not only because of its temperate climate, but also because it was primarily settled by European immigrants in the late 19th century, giving the region a culture that is more European than other areas of the nation. The Center-west is a landlocked, thinly populated region that includes Brasilia, the national capital.

Two geographic features dominate the landscape of Brazil: the vast Amazon Basin, which spans the width of northern Brazil, and an extensive highland plateau, known as the Brazilian Highlands, which covers most of the South and Southeast. The Amazon Basin consists of a huge drainage area that contains the world’s largest river and the world’s largest tropical rain forest. The population remains sparse in this region due to thick vegetation and an oppressively hot and humid climate. In the South and Southeast, the Brazilian Highlands—an eroded plateau dotted with irregular mountains and crossed by river valleys—forms the major feature of the landscape. The highlands separate Brazil’s inland regions from a narrow coastal plain that stretches from Ceara in the Northeast to the Uruguayan border in the south.

In spite of Brazil’s size, the broad pattern of climate is less varied than might be expected. The equator passes through northern Brazil, running adjacent to the Amazon River. Because of its equatorial location and low elevation, the extensive Amazon region has a climate with high temperatures and substantial rainfall. Farther to the south, temperatures become slightly more moderate. The state of Rio Grande do Sul in the extreme south exhibits a more temperate climate, with seasonal weather patterns resembling those of the southern United States. Rainfall is plentiful in Brazil, except in the sertao, a semiarid region of the Northeast that is subject to occasional droughts.

Brazil contains a wealth of mineral and plant resources that have not yet been fully explored. It possesses some of the world’s largest deposits of iron ore and contains rich deposits of many other minerals, including gold and copper. Brazil’s fossil fuel resources are modest, but this limitation is offset by the considerable hydroelectric potential of the nation’s many rivers. Although Brazil is an important producer of tropical crops, areas of highly fertile land are limited, and only a small proportion of the land is actually under cultivation. There is substantial livestock ranching, and the forests are important sources of timber, rubber, and palm oil.

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