Latin America: Environmental Conditions

Latin America: Environmental Conditions

Throughout this course, we have identified
how climates are affected by latitude, atmospheric pressure, and elevation. In this video, we
will establish how these three ideas combine to create extreme ranges in environmental
conditions within each nation of Latin America. In addition, we will explore how climate is
a major factor in determining the distribution of Latin America’s ethnic groups. From the perspective of latitude, Latin America
extends from about 30 degrees north to almost 60 degrees south. As a result, just like Africa,
there are areas of rainforest near the equator, deserts near the 30-degree latitude marks,
and savannas in between. However, with the Andes mountains running along South America’s
western coast, the climates vary according to elevation (or altitude). In fact, the air
temperature decreases on average about 3.6 degrees F per 1000 feet. Looking at this illustration, notice how temperatures
change rapidly as we rise from sea level to 13,000 feet. As a result, drastic changes
in elevation associated with the Andes Mountains produce diverse temperatures in very small
areas. Four environmental zones are associated with these temperature changes due to elevation. It important that you identify the names and
types of agriculture that are associated with each zone. As you can see, the tierra caliente,
or hot land, and the tierra templada, or cool land, are associated with plantation style
agricultural crops, such as sugar cane and coffee. The tierra fria, or cold land, is
associated with colder weather grains such as wheat. Beyond 12,000 ft, very little agriculture
is possible due to the extremely cold conditions at this altitude. Changes in elevation along
South America’s western coast have an impact beyond temperature. European colonization and agricultural exploitation
of Latin America resulted in changes to ethnic and settlement patterns. Due to the plantation
style agriculture along the coasts, Latin America’s black population (the ancestors
to slaves), remain in the lower elevations. The majority of European-founded cities, such
as Sao Paulo and Caracas, are found in the tierra templada, where moderate temperatures
prevail. Moreover, the European conquest of Latin American
land pushed the native populations from the most productive zones into the less desirable,
higher elevations of the tierra fria. Due to the combination of latitude and elevation,
Latin American nations experience extreme differences in climate over very short distances.
For example, in Ecuador and Peru, there are deserts and rainforests within just a few
hundred miles of each other. These extreme environments have provided opportunities
for European colonizers, but challenges to the Native Americans who were forced to the
marginal lands.

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