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Land and Resources, Natural Regions

Mantiqueira, Chapada Diamantina, Guiana Highlands, Espinhaco, Neblina

Much of Brazil lies between 200 and 800 m (700 and 2,600 ft) in elevation. The main upland area occupies most of the southern half of the country. It is an enormous block of geologically ancient rocks that rises from the northwest towards the southeast. As a consequence it has a steep edge near the Atlantic coast and in places drops in a single escarpment of up to 800 m (2,600 ft). The northwestern parts of the plateau consist of broad, rolling terrain broken by low, rounded hills. The southeastern section is more rugged, with a complex mass of ridges and mountain ranges reaching elevations of up to 1,200 m (3,900 ft). These ranges include the Serra da Mantiqueira, the Serra do Espinhaco, the Chapada Diamantina, and the Serra do Mar. The Serra do Mar forms a sharp edge along the coast from Rio de Janeiro south for about 1,000 km (about 600 mi) into Santa Catarina. Behind the Serra do Mar, an extensive plateau reaches through the state of Sao Paulo and into the southern states. The highest points in southern Brazil are the Pico da Bandeira (2,890 m/9,482 ft) and Pico do Cristal (2,798 m/9,180 ft), both in the Serra da Mantiqueira.

In the far north the Guiana Highlands cover only 2 percent of the country. These highlands form a major drainage divide, separating rivers that flow south into the Amazon Basin from rivers that empty into the Orinoco river system of Venezuela to the north. The highest point in Brazil—the Pico da Neblina (3,014 m/9,888 ft)—is in the mountains of the Guiana Highlands.

The most extensive lowland is the Amazon Basin. Most of its terrain is gently undulating, rarely rising more than 150 m (490 ft) above sea level. Seasonal flooding occurs along the Amazon River and its tributaries in stretches of flat, swampy land called varzeas. A second major lowland is the Pantanal in western Mato Grosso near the border with Bolivia and Paraguay. Seasonal flooding occurs in this region along the headwaters of the Parana and Paraguay river system. It is a significant area for ranching, but has recently come to be recognized as an important wetland environment that needs to be conserved.

The third lowland area is the coastal plain. In the Northeast it may be up to 60 km (40 mi) wide, but in some places it is very narrow, and between Rio de Janeiro and Santos it disappears entirely. This coastal plain has been a major area of settlement and economic activity since colonial times, and 12 of the country’s state capitals are located along it. The plain widens in southern Rio Grande do Sul and extends into Argentina.

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