BRAZIL - THE LAND
Geography | Topograghy | Rivers | Climate | Vegetation | Fauna | Nature Conservation Units | Indigenous Lands | Mineral Resources
Brazil is the largest of the Latin American countries. Covering nearly half (47.3 percent) of the continent of South America, it occupies an area of 3,286,470 sq. miles (8,511,965 sq. km). It is the fifth largest country in the world after the Russian Federation, Canada, China, and the United States.
The Equator passes through the north of the country near Macapá; the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the south near São Paulo. Brazil's greatest width, 2,684 miles (4,319.4 km), is almost the same as its greatest distance from north to south, 2,731 miles (4,394.7 km).
Brazil has 10 neighbors: the Department of French Guiana and the countries of Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia bound Brazil on the north. Uruguay and Argentina are on the south, and on the west are Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru. Ecuador and Chile are the only two countries of continental South America that do not share a border with Brazil. The Atlantic Ocean extends along the entire eastern side of the country, giving it a coastline of 4,578 miles (7,367 km).
The landscape of Brazil is dominated by two prominent features, the Amazon River with its surrounding lowland basin of 1,544,400 sq. miles (4.000,000 sq. km) and the Central Highlands, a plateau that rises southward from the great river. Most of the Central Highlands consists of a tableland varying in altitude from 984 to 1,640 feet (300 to 500 meters) above sea level, broken by a number of low mountain ranges and cut by deep valleys. The highlands ascend steeply in the east forming an escarpment, where several peaks attain an altitude of 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) or more, and then drop precipitously to a narrow Atlantic coastal plain. A network of high moun tain ranges runs from the south of the country to the northeast forming a continental divide between the Atlantic Ocean and the interior. Brazil's highest peak, Pico da Neblina, reaching 9,888 feet (3,014 meters), is in the north, close to the Venezuelan border.
Brazil has one of the most extensive river systems in the world with eight drainage basins. : The Amazon and the Tocantins Araguaia basins in the north account for 56 percent of Brazil's total drainage area. The Amazon River, the world's largest river in volume of water and second longest after the Nile, is 4,087 miles (6,577 km) long, of which 2,246 miles (3,615 km) are in Brazilian territory. The river is navigable by ocean steamers as far as 2,414 miles (3,885 km) upstream, reaching Iquitos in Peru.
The Paraná-Paraguai river system drains the area from the southwestern portion of the state of Minas Gerais southward until it reaches the Atlantic through the River Plate (Rio da Prata) near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Brazil's two southernmost states are drained through the Uruguay River also into the Prata.
The São Francisco River is the largest river wholly within Brazil, flowing for over 1,000 miles (1,609 km) northward before it turns eastward into the Atlantic. It rises, like the Paraná and the Tocantins, in the Central Highlands of the coun try. The upper river is navigable for shallow draft riverboats in some areas, but only the last 172 miles (277 km) of the lower river is navigable for ocean-going ships.
The hydroelectric potential of Brazil, according to the data provided by Eletrobrás in 1994, is of 127,867.6 MW/year of energy. Of this 24.42% is in operation and/or under construction, 35.80% are in inventory and 39.78% are estimated.
Although 90 percent of the country is within the tropical zone, more than 60 percent of the population live in areas where altitude, sea winds, or cold polar fronts moderate the temperature. There are five climatic regions in Brazil: equatorial, tropical, semi arid, highland tropical, and subtropical. Plateau cities such as São Paulo, Brasília, and Belo Horizonte have very mild climates averaging 66°F (19°C). Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and Salvador on the coast have warm climates balanced by the constancy of the Trade Winds. In the southern Brazilian cities of Porto Alegre and Curitiba, the subtropical climate is similar to parts of the U.S. and Europe with frosts occurring with some frequency. In this region temperatures in winter can fall below freezing.
Despite the popular image of the Amazon as a region of blistering heat, temperatures of more than 90°F (32°C) are rarely experienced there. In fact, the annual average temperature in the Amazon region is in the range of 72 79°F (22-26°C), with only a very small seasonal variation between the warmest and the coldest months. The hottest part of Brazil is the northeast where, during the dry season, between May and November, temperatures of more than 100°F (38°C) are recorded frequently. The northeast has greater seasonal variation in temperatures than does the Amazon region. Along the Atlantic coast from Recife to Rio de Janeiro, mean temperatures range from 73°F to 81°F (23 27°C). Inland, on higher ground; temperatures are lower, ranging from 64°F to 70°F (18 21°C). South of Rio, the seasons are more noticeable and the annual range of temperature greater. The average temperature for this part of the country is in the range between 63°F to 66°F (17 19°C).
Brazil's most intense rainfall is found around the mouth of the Amazon River near the city of Belém, and also in the vast upper regions of Amazônia where more than 78 inches (2,000 millimeters) of rain falls every year. Another important region of heavy rainfall is along the edge of the great escarpment in the state of São Paulo. Most of Brazil, however, has moderate rainfall of between 39 to 59 inches (1,000 to 1,500 millimeters) a year, with most of the rain falling in the summer, between December and April. The winters tend to be dry. The driest part of the country is the northeast, the so called "polygon of drought", encompassing 10 percent of the country's territory. In this region rainfall is undependable and the evaporation rate is very high, making it difficult to raise crops. Along the coastline, south from Recife, the mountains trigger rainfall from the Trade Winds. In some places behind the mountains, such as the region south of Salvador, the hinterland is dry because the rain is dumped on the mountains leaving very little for the area behind.
Seasons in Brazil are the reverse of those in the U.S. and Europe:
Spring = September 22 to December 21
Summer = December 22 to March 21
Autumn = March 22 to June 21
Winter = June 22 to September 21
The variety of climates together with soil and drainage conditions are reflected in Brazil's vegetation. In the Amazon Basin and in those places along the Atlantic coast where the rainfall is very heavy, there is tropical rain forest composed of broadleaf evergreen trees growing luxuriantly. The rain forest is made up of a great many different species, as many as 3,000 in a sq. mile (2.6 sq. km). In the lowlands and plateaus of the eastern coast where rainfall is slightly less and the dry season is really dry, there is semi-deciduous forest, where the trees are smaller than in the rain forest and lose their leaves in the dry season. In the semi-arid northeast, the caatinga, a dry bush, predominates. The greater portion of the central part of Brazil is covered with a woodland savanna known as the cerrado. This is a special type of land combining sparse scrub trees and dryness resistant grasses. In the south, needle-leafed pine woods (Paraná-pine or Araucária) cover the highlands; grassland covers the sea-level plains. The Mato Grosso swamplands (Pantanal Mato-grossense), a plain which covers 88,803 sq. miles (230,000 sq. km) in the western portion of the center of the country, is covered in tall grasses, weeds, and widely dispersed trees. Large patches of it are submerged during the rainy season. The Amazon Basin and the Pantanal Mato-Grossense, already much altered by man's actions, constitute two of the world's largest biological reserves.
Of the twelve categories of mammals that inhabit the tropics of the Western Hemisphere, eleven are present in Brazil, representing over 600 species. This includes several species of the cat family such as the jaguar and smaller cats such as the puma, jaguarundi, and the ocelot. Other mammals include: sloths, anteaters, tapirs, armadillos, marine dolphins, capybaras (a large aquatic rodent, some weighting up to 145 pounds [66 kilograms]), and 30 species of monkeys. Brazil has a larger variety of birds than any other country, with 1,600 species including many varieties of parrot. There are at least 40 species of turtles, 120 lizards, 230 snakes, five species of alligators, 331 species of amphibians, and 1,500 species of freshwater fish. Naturalists have cataloged over 1,000,000 invertebrates in Brazil of which more than 700,000 are insects. A study conducted by the Brazilian Statistical Institute (IBGE) in 1990 identified 303 endangered species and sub-species in Brazil.
The Amazon forest contains the largest single reserve of biological organisms in the world. No one really knows how many species there are in the Amazon forest, but scientists estimate that there are between 800,000 and 5 million species living there, amounting to 15 to 30 percent of all the species in the entire world. As naturalists catalogue new species of freshwater fish, their findings suggest that there may be as many as 3,000 kinds of fish in the Amazon's rivers and lakes. Among the specialized fish found in the area are: the pirarucu, said to be the largest freshwater fish in the world with specimens measuring over 6.5 feet (2 meters) in length and weighing 275 pounds (125 kilograms); the tambaqui, a member of the fruit eating characin family which possesses teeth that can crack seeds as hard as those of the rubber tree and the jauari palm; and the piranha. The ferocity of the meat-eating piranha has been exaggerated. Although it is true that some species in rare circumstances have killed large animals and even people, their behavior depends on the state of their habitat. In main river channels and in larger lakes they appear to leave swimmers unmolested. Only when they lack nourishment do they become aggressive.
There are 13 types of Nature Conservation Units in Brazil: Permanent Preservation Area (70); Environmental Protection Area (105); Relevant Ecological Interest Area (24); Ecological Post (59); Forest (50); Natural Monument (3); Park (113); Ecological Park (16); Forest Park (31); Biological Reserve (76); Ecological Reserve (65); Forest Reserve (30); and Extractive Reserve (9). These special units are maintained by federal, state, and municipal public authority, and by private persons.
The State Park of Cataguases (Minas Gerais), created in 1932, is the oldest in Brazil. That of Itatiaia (Rio de Janeiro), created in 1937, was the first park under the administration of the federal government. The National Park of Jaú (Amazonas) is the largest in the country, with 2,272,000 ha, and the one in Ubajara (Ceará) the smallest, with 563 ha.
The newest type of conservation unit is the extractive reserve, created in 1990 for self-sustained exploration and renewable natural resource conservation. The largest and most popular of these reserves is that of Chico Mendes (Acre), with 970,570 ha.
The National Foundation of the Indian - FUNAI - considers indigenous land to be the physical space that tribal groups occupy and permanently own. However, the land is not the property of the indians, but they use everything it contains. The total number of indigenous lands is 551, corresponding to 94,645,221 ha. The largest is that of the Yanomami (Amazonas and Roraima), with 9,664,975 ha and a population of 6,706 indians.
Brazil is known to possess rich mineral deposits. Brazil has proven and estimated reserves of iron ore totaling 48 billion tons. Of the total iron ore reserves, 18 billion tons are located in the Carajas mountain range (Serra dos Carajás) in the eastern part of the Amazon. The mine at Carajás went into production in 1985. In addition to iron ore, Brazil has proven deposits of 208 million tons of manganese, 2 billion tons of bauxite, and 53 million tons of nickel with a new discovery in the state of Goiás which could amount to more than 400 million tons. Brazil possesses reserves of potassium, phosphate, uranium (an element used for hardening steel), cassiterite (the chief source of tin), lead, graphite, chrome, gold, zirconium (a strong ductile metallic element with many industrial uses), and thorium.
Brazil produces gems, such as diamonds, aquamarines, topazes, amethysts, tourmalines, and emeralds.