Chile: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Chile: Natural and Geographic Landscape

Mon, 06/27/2022 - 19:39
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Spanning about 2,700 miles north to south, Chile’s natural landscape includes desert, grasslands, and shrublands as well as both temperate and tropical forests. Chile is generally divided by geographers into five regions or zones each having its own characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate, and topography.

Geography of Chile

Chile is located along the western coast of South America and is bordered by Peru and Bolivia in the north, Argentina in fthe east, and the Pacific Ocean in the west.

Spanning approximately 4,300 km (2,700 mi) north to south, Chile’s natural landscape includes desert, grasslands, and shrublands as well as both temperate and tropical forests. The ecoregions of Chile are primarily unique to South America’s ecosystems.

Chile is generally divided by geographers into five regions or zones each having its characteristic vegetation, fauna, climate, and topography.

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

Map depicting the countries on the continent of South America

The Natural and Geographic Landscape of Chile

Geographic Regions

Far North (Norte Grande)

Most of the Far North region is covered by the Atacama Desert. The climate here is arid. The Coastal Range in the east features peaks over 2,000 m (6,500 ft) and cliffs along the Pacific coast. Large salt flats and mineral deposits exist in the intermediate depression while the Andes in the east feature Chile's highest mountains. The region also hosts the Altiplano and puna high plateaus.

Near North (Norte Chico)

The Near North region is characterized by the transition from the Atacama Desert in the north to Mediterranean Matorral vegetation in the south. The climate is semi-arid. Here the Coastal Range and the Andes merge. Agriculture is limited however, important gold, copper, and iron deposits are located here.

Central (Zona Central)

The Central zone features a Mediterranean climate and Matorral vegetation. The Andes here are massive and high. The Coastal Range and the Andes lose height as they separate from each other to the south. The summer runoff of large rivers is heavily dependent on glaciers and snowmelt. The Intermediate Depression of central Chile extends from Santiago to the south. It is a fertile region and is considered the agricultural heartland of Chile.

South (Zona Sur)

The Southern Zone features a rainy, temperate climate and Valdivian temperate rainforest vegetation. Here, both the Coastal Range and the Andes are low, with an intermediate depression near sea level. The rivers that descend from the Andes rush over volcanic rocks, forming numerous white-water sections and waterfalls. This region features many glacial lakes and there is intensive volcanic and geothermal activity.

Far South (Zona Austral)

The Far South region covers all of Chilean Patagonia and the Chiloé Archipelago. It features a subpolar oceanic climate and the vegetation includes Magellanic forest and Magellanic moorland in the west with Patagonian grasslands in the east. The landscape is glacial and the Coastal Range consists of islands. Fjords penetrate the Andes where there are also two ice sheets, the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, along with several glacial lakes.

Map of the geographical regions of Chile

Map depicting the geographic regions of Chile

Bodies of Water

  • Gulf of Peñas

Major Rivers

  • Loa River: the U-shaped river is Chile's longest and is the primary watercourse in the Atacama Desert, Antofagasta Region

  • Bío-Bío River: the second largest river in Chile, flows from the Andes to the Gulf of Arauco on the Pacific Ocean, Bío-Bío Region

  • Maipo River: flows from the Maipo Volcano in the Andes, through the Maipo Valley and into the Pacific Ocean, Valparaíso Region

  • Maule River: flows from Laguna del Maule in the Andes, flows through the Central Valley to the Pacific Ocean, Maule Region

  • Baker River: is Chile's largest river in terms of volume of water, runs from the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and empties into the Pacific Ocean, Aysén Region

  • Rapel River: begins at the confluence of the Cachapoal and Tinguiririca rivers, O'Higgins Region

  • Copiapó River: begins at the confluence of the Jorquera and Pulido rivers and flows through the city of Copiapó, Atacama Region

  • Itata River: Ñuble Region

  • Valdivia River: southern Chile, Los Ríos Region

  • Bueno River: southern Chile, Los Ríos Region

  • Pascua River: Aysén Region

  • Imperial River: Araucanía Region

  • Limarí River: Coquimbo Region

Major Lakes

  • General Carrera Lake: the largest lake in Chile, located in Patagonia, Aysén Region, shared by Argentina

  • Llanquihue Lake: the second-largest lake in Chile, southern Los Lagos Region

  • O'Higgins Lake: located in Patagonia, Aysén Region, shared by Argentina

  • Ranco Lake: fourth largest lake in Chile, Los Ríos Region

  • Presidente Ríos Lake: lies in the middle of the Taitao Peninsula, Aysén Region

  • Greve Lake: a proglacial lake formed by the advance of Brüggen Glacier, situated on the western side of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field

  • Rupanco Lake: located in the area of Puyehue Lake and Osorno Volcano

  • Del Toro Lake: located in southern Chile, Magallanes Region

  • Todos Los Santos Lake: lies within Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park, Los Lagos Region

  • Villarrica Lake: in Chile's Lake District, on its eastern shore is the city of Pucón and on its western shore is the town of Villarrica

Natural Regions / Biomes

Biomes are natural regions distinguished by their geography, climate, and associated flora and fauna. The regions are classified according to their predominant vegetation.

Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert ecoregion is located in northern Chile between Argentina on the west and the Pacific Ocean on the east. Running east from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains an extremely arid, almost barren, landscape predominates, because in many areas rainfall has never been recorded.

Altiplano-Puna

The Altiplano is often referred to as the Altiplano-Puna plateau, where "Puna" refers to the high-altitude grassland region that covers much of the plateau. It is the most extensive area of high plateau outside Tibet.

Central Andean Dry Puna

The Central Andean dry puna ecoregion is a very dry, high-elevation montane grassland and herbaceous community of the southern high Andes, extending through western Bolivia and northern Chile, and Argentina. The Central Andean dry puna is a part of the Puna grassland, occupying the southwestern portion of the Altiplano, and is located east of the Atacama Desert.

Valdivian Temperate Forests (Selva Valdiviana)

The Valdivian temperate forests ecoregion is located in the southern cone of South America on the west coast of Chile and extends slightly into Argentina. It covers a narrow continental strip between the western slope of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. The Valdivian temperate forests (Selva Valdiviana) are temperate broadleaf and mixed forests.

Patagonian Forest

The Andean Patagonian Forest spreads over steep elevations along a thin strip on both sides of the Andes Mountains in southern South America. These temperate forests, located in both southern Chile and Argentina, are the southernmost forests on earth.

Southern Andean Steppe

The Southern Andean steppe is a montane grasslands and shrublands ecoregion occurring along the border of Chile and Argentina in the high elevations of the southern Andes mountain range. This ecoregion has a cold desert climate.

Vegetation map of Chile

Vegetation map of Chile

Ecological Regions

The following is a list of ecoregions in Chile defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Chile is in the Neotropical realm. Ecoregions are classified by biome type - the major global plant communities determined by rainfall and climate.

Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests

  • Rapa Nui and Sala-y-Gomez subtropical broadleaf forests

Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests

Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands

Montane grasslands and shrublands

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub

Deserts and xeric shrublands