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Term 3 Unit 1 | Geography | 7th Social Science - South America - Exploring Continents | 7th Social Science : Geography : Term 3 Unit 1 : Exploring Continents -North America and South America

Chapter: 7th Social Science : Geography : Term 3 Unit 1 : Exploring Continents -North America and South America

South America - Exploring Continents

Next to Asia, Africa and North America, South America is the fourth largest country in the World. Most of the South American continent lies within the Southern Hemisphere and hence called as the “Southern Continent”.

South America - Exploring Continents

Next to Asia, Africa and North America, South America is the fourth largest country in the World. Most of the South American continent lies within the Southern Hemisphere and hence called as the “Southern Continent”. The Isthmus of Panama in the North West connects South America with North America.

Together with the Central America, South America is alsoknown as Latin America, having been discovered and colonized mostly by the Latin’s, i.e., The Spanish and the Portuguese.



South Americalies between 12ºn and 55ºS latitudes and 35ºW and 81ºW longitudes. The Equator (0º latitude) passes through the mouth of the Amazon River. The Tropic of Capricorn (231/2º S longitude) passes through the Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. South America is inverted triangular shaped landmass. The area of the continent is 17, 840, 000 Sq. Km., which occupies 12 percent of the world's land area.



South America has marked resemblances in structure and relief of North America. South America has some of the oldest and the youngest rocks of the world. On the basis of topographical features, the continent may be divided into the following physiographic divisions:

* The Andes Mountains

* The River Basin or Central Plains

* The Eastern Highlands


The Andes Mountains

The Andes are Fold Mountains like the Himalayas. This is the longest mountain range in the world and extends for more than 6,440 km along the Pacific Coast. The highest peak in the Andes is Mount Aconcagua (an extinct volcano) in Argentina border which reaches at an elevation of 6,961m. In Chile, the mountains run very close to the coast. The slopes are steep on the western side and gentle on the eastern side like Rockies in North America. The Andes

being a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire these places are subject to great volcanic eruption and earthquake activities. There are some active volcanoes like Cotopaxi (5,991m) on the Andes range. The Andes are rich in minerals like Copper, Tin and Precious Gems including Emeralds.


The River Basins (or) the Central Plains

Nearly half of the Continent is covered by the plains. Three great rivers drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The biggest of them is the Amazon. The Amazon basin consisting mainly of the alluvial deposits is the thickly forested part of the world. It is widest near the Andes and narrowest near the mouth of the Amazon River. The Orinoco basin is separated from the Amazon basin by low interfluves. It is also one of the most productive parts of the continent. The Parana - Paraguay plain is an ancient rocky surface covered with alluvial deposits and is rich in petroleum deposits.


The Eastern Highlands

These are considerably older than the Andes and are mainly Plateau which is cut by many rivers. They lie to the north and south of the Amazon River. The Guiana Highland is located in the northern part of the continent which has a number of waterfalls including the Angel Falls. The Brazilian Highlands are found to the south of the Amazon basin. They are gently rolling plateaus with steep cliffs along the east coast.



The climate of the continent of South America has been closely influenced by the latitudes, attitudes and the proximity of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It is hot in the Amazon basin as the equator passes through it whereas Quito, situated almost on the same latitude on the Andes, has “Eternal Spring”. That is, it has a pleasant climate throughout the year because of its high altitude at 9,350 feet or2849.88 meter above the sea level. Most of South America regions have its summer from November to January. When it is quite hot in Brazil Argentina has a relatively cooler climate because of its location in more southerly latitudes.

The rainfall distribution is mainly controlled by the physical features and the distance from the sea. The trade winds bring a lot of rain to the east coast and the Westerlies to the west coast. However, the Amazon basin gets rainfall everyday because of its equatorial location. The regions around the Equator get what is called “4’o Clock Rains” which are convectional rains. Rainfall decreases towards the interior.

In equatorial regions convectional rain occurs almost daily in the afternoons. It generally occurs at 4pm that’s why it is known as4’ o Clock Rain.



Owing to the position of the Andes all the great rivers of the continent drain into the Atlantic. The Pacific streams are short and swift but along the coastlands of Peru their waters are used for irrigation and to some extent for hydro-electric power. Amazon is the longest river of South America (6,450km) and is the largest river system in the world. This river have over a thousand of tributaries. The rivers Rio Negro, Madeira and Tapajos are important tributaries. At the point where it enters the sea the river is so wide and powerful that it flows even at a distance of 80 km into the high seas. The Orinoco River originates in the Guiana Highlands and flows northwards into the Caribbean Sea. The river Paraguay has the Paraná and Uruguay rivers as the main tributaries which together form and known as the Platte River system. All the rivers are navigable for quite some distance in the interior.

Amazon is the greatestriver of South America and the largest drainage system in the world in terms of the volume of its flow and the area of its basin.


Natural Vegetation

There are four main natural vegetation areas of South America and are the Amazon basin (the Selvas), the Eastern Highlands, the Gran Chaco and the slopes of the Andes. The Selvas of the equatorial regions are called the “lungs of the world”. The Amazon rainforest are the largest of their kind in the world. They abound in hardwood trees such as mahogany and Ebony which are very valuable. The other common species are Rosewood Cinchona and a variety of Palm trees. The bark of the cinchona tree is used for making quininethe drug to cure Malaria. The Amazon rainforest are gradually getting depleted. Various developmental activities such as construction of transportation lines, human settlements and agriculture have led to widespread deforestation. Environmentalist fear that this might lead to serious ecological disturbance in future.

The Eastern Highlands have many varieties of trees which are of economic importance. The leaves of the Yerba Mate tree are used to make you tea - like drink. The Gran Chaco region has thick deciduous forests. An important hardwood tree found in these forests is the Quebracho Tree (axe breaker). Quebracho tree yields tannin which is used for tanning leather. The forests on the slopes of the Andes have coniferous such as pine, fir and spruce. These forests are also called Montana. They yield valuable softwood for the paper and pulp industry.



South America is blessed with a variety of wildlife. The dense forests, swamps and rivers of the Amazon basin are particularly rich in different species of animals, birds and reptiles. More than 1,500 types of birds are found in the continent. The Condor is the largest bird prey, Rhea is the flightless bird much like the ostrich of Africa. Toucans, Macaw, Hummingbirds, Flamingoes and different type of Parrots are also found here. The forest is home to a variety of monkeys. The spider monkeys, howler monkeys, owl monkeys and squirrel monkeys are very gentle. The Anaconda which is one of the largest snakes in the world is also found here. Ancient madammals such as anteaters and armadillos are found in South America. Llamas are animals typical found only in South America. The rivers of South America have a rich variety of fish. The Piranha found in the Amazon is a fierce flesh eating fish.



More than half of the people of South America live by farming. Subsistence farming is practiced in this continent. Most of areas are covered by forest like the Amazon basin. Only three countries, the Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil have well developed agriculture. Argentina is one of the leading agricultural countries of South America. The agricultural activities are mainly concentrated in the wet Pampas. The Geo climatic condition of Pampas are ideal for agriculture. Wheat and Maize are grown on extensive forms in the Argentine Pampas. In the piedmonts of Andes, where rivers descend and the climate is favourable, the farmers concentrate on the agricultural vineyards and other citrus fruits. Cash crops like coffee, cocoa, sugarcane, banana, cotton etc., are also grown in this continent.



The major wheat producers are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Chile. The Wheat is grown extensively on the Pampas of Argentina. Argentina is one of the largest producer and exporter of wheat in the world.



Sugarcane has been cultivated in the humid tropics of South America. Spanish and Portuguese introduced sugarcane to the West Indies and Brazil. Brazil is the largest producer of sugar in South America.



Maize is also known as corn. Maize is grown in the warmer part of the Pampas and coastal regions of Brazil and in some parts of the Amazon basin. It requires warm climate and frequent showers in summer. Argentina is one of the largest producer and exporter of maize in the world.


Coffee and Cocoa

Coffee and Cocoa are the most important crops of South America. These crops need a warm temperature with frequent heavy rainfall and well-drained soil. They grow well in the red soil of the Brazilian Highland. Brazil is essentially an agrarian country. Brazil stands first in the production of Coffee and third in Cocoa in the world. Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo are the important Coffee growing areas in Brazil. It is also known as the “coffee pot” of the world. Colombia and Venezuela also grow large quantities of coffee. Coco is also grown in Ecuador and Colombia.



Cotton is another important cash crop of South America. Warm climate with frequent rainfall provides suitable condition for growing cotton. Cotton is the second most important crop in Brazil. Sao Paulo State produces half of the Country’s total cotton. Equator, Venezuela and Peru are the other important cotton growing countries in South America.


Barley, Rye and Oats

These are grown extensively in the Pampas. Barley is a member of the grass family and is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates. Oats are grown in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Andean region, highlands of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. In most countries Oats are more important as fodder for livestock in the field.


Animal rearing

Animal rearing is an important activity in South America. The Llanos and Campos in South America are the extensive Tropical Grasslands. Beef cattle are raised in Pampas in Argentina. Here cattles are mainly raised for draught purposes and meat. Llano grassland are found in the basin of Orinoco of Venezuela, Brazil and Columbia. Here most of the cattle are of Criollo breed well suited to the climatic conditions. Cattles are fed on alfalfa and the breeds raised here on large pasturelands known as “Estancias”.

Sheep are reared in the drier parts of South America. The temperate grasslands of Tierra Del Fuego and Falkland Islands are well suited for Sheep grazing. Argentina and Uruguay are the important sheep rearing countries. Argentina is one of the largest exporters of beef in the world.


The Breeds raised on large pasture lands is known as Estancias. These are divided into several paddocks. Besides this, there are small yards known as corrals where animals are sorted and branded. The owner is the Estanciera who has a number of gauchos



Peru is one of the world's largest producers of tropical fish. Here the cool Humboldt Current helps to bring plankton, which is the main food for fishes. Commercial deep sea fishing off of Peru’s coastal belt of over 3000 km. Peruvian waters normally abound with sword fish, mackerel, yellow fin, pompano and shark. More than 50 species are caught commercially. There are over 40 fishing ports on the Peruvian coast. Paita and Callao are being the most important centers in Peru. Besides coastal fishing inland fishing are also carried out in South America. River Amazon is a great aquarium. As many as 750 varieties of fish inhabit this river.



South America is rich in minerals. These mineral deposits are unevenly distributed. South America has many valuable deposits of minerals particularly of iron ore, manganese, petroleum, copper and bauxite. There are some active mines producing silver and gold. The continent has little coal which is still one of the mainstays of industrial economies. Northern Chile has the world's only natural deposits of sodium nitrate an important ingredient of fertilizers.


Iron ore

South America contains about one fifth of the world's iron ore reserves. Brazil and Chile both have massive deposits of iron ore. Brazil has the second largest iron ore deposits in the world after Russia, Brazil is estimated to have about 15% of the world export of iron ore. High grade iron ore has long been mined at Itabira, Minas Gerais and new site in the Carajas.



Brazil also has large deposits of Manganese. Manganese ore is mined at Lafaiete, Minas Gerais and in the Northern State of Amapa.



Venezuela is rich in petroleum deposits. Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia are the other valuable oilfields. Petroleum is the only mineral produced in substantial quantity. Argentina is almost self-sufficient in petroleum. Venezuela is one of the world's leading producers of oil and largest oil exporter outside the Middle East.



Chile is the third largest producer of copper in the world. Copper provides over 40% of exports by value. Some of the biggest copper mines of the world are located in Peru. It is found in the Atacama Desert.



Brazil is the third largest bauxite producing country. An important bauxite mining centre is located near the mouth of the Amazon River. Bauxite is used for aluminum production.



Industries in South America have developed slowly Argentina, Brazil and Chile are the most highly developed industrial countries in this continent. Until World War I, the continent exported most of its mining production and large amount of minerals particularly Petroleum, Copper and iron are still exported. The continent lacks infrastructure (especially transport) which is an essential need for Industrialisation. Railways and the roads could not be developed sufficiently owing to a rugged terrain. The Amazon and the La Plata rivers, provide cheap water transport. In spite of having an abundance of natural resources, industrialisation started quite late in South America. Recently, new industries are being set up with locally available raw materials. Brazil is the most industrialized country in the continent followed by Argentina.



South America has significant role in the world trade. More than half of the South America’s trades are shared by Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and Chile. South America’s major exports are mostly primary commodities such as sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, beef, corn, wheat, petroleum, natural gas, linseed, cotton, iron ore, tin and copper. South America's products include mostly exported to North America and Europe. It’s imports are machinery, vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, paper are textiles. These are imported from North America and Europe.



Unlike North America, South America still does not have an adequately integrated transportation network. Significant efforts have been made to improve both the connection within the countries and the linkages between them.



South America has an extensive and rapidly expanding network of roads. In many countries, however only a relatively small percentage of roads are paved and the most remote areas, they may be barely wide enough for two Vehicles to pass easily. A Road linking Venezuela and Brazil allows north to south movement through the Amazon Basin. Brazil continues to have the largest network of roads belonging to the Pan American Highway System which extends throughout the America's.



In most South American countries, railways have lost their dominant position of the major mode of transportation and have been replaced by the road networks that have developed rapidly since the 1960’s. Moreover, rail transport is plagued by operational problems as well as by obsolete equipment. Almost all lines are single-tracked which makes traffic slow and discourages passenger service. Many countries have two or more track gauges which impedes the efficient integration of the rails system.



Seaways have long been a vital component of the transport systems of South American countries. Majority of imports and exports to and from the continent are moved by ship. South America has a number of outstanding natural harbours. They are Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Montevideo and Valparaiso. Several countries such as Chile and Brazil are making a determined effort to develop and enlarge their sea routes.

There are two inland waterways system of international importance. They are (i) The Paraguay - Uruguay basin which includes territory in four countries and (ii) The Amazon basin which includes six countries. Each has several thousand miles of navigable waterways.



Airways have developed rapidly since World War II. The increase is particularly significant with respect to passenger traffic and also handling of bulky freights. All the South America capitals and most of the large cities are linked by direct air services to the major traffic centres of the United States and Europe.



South America contains the world's most mixed population. Many people in South America are descended from European, especially the Spanish and Portuguese, who begin to arrive during the 15th century. The descendants of African slaves brought over by the Europeans. Native people still live in the mountain and the rainforests and keeping their own languages and traditions. There are three major races found in South America and are (i) American Indian,

European and (iii) Blacks. The mixed population of Native Indians and Europeans is known as ‘Mestizo’. The mixed population of European and the Blacks is called ‘Mulato’ and the mixture of Native Indians and Blacks is called ‘Zambo’. The current population of South America is 429, 115, 060 (42.25 cores). Population density of South America is 21 persons per square kilometer. South America is positioned 5th rank in total population among the continents.


Population distribution

* High densely populated areas are Guiana, Venezuela, Suriname, Columbia, Brazil and Peru.

* Moderate populated areas are Paraguay, Chile and Uruguay and

* Sparsely populated areas are Argentina, Bolivia and Amazon Basin.


Languages and Religions

Portuguese and Spanish are the primary languages of the South America. Among otherlanguages used by many South Americans are Dutch, French, English, German and Hindi. Christianity is the dominant religion in South America. Other than Christianity, Hinduism and Islam are also followed by South Americans.

South American nations have variety of music. Some of the most famous genres include Samba from Brazil, Tango from Argentina and Uruguay andCumbia from Colombia. 

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