World Geography and Cultures © 2008
Physical Geography of Latin America
Latin America is a vast region in the Western Hemisphere that covers almost 16
percent of the earth's surface and features varied landscapes. Chapter 8 describes
Latin America's physical features, water systems, and natural resources, and explains
their importance to the region's countries.
The Land Latin America is divided into three geographic regions: Middle
America, which consists of Mexico and Central America; the Caribbean Islands,
also know as the West Indies; and the continent of South America. The region's
location along the Ring of Fire has had a tremendous influence on the landscape.
Latin America's diverse physical geography features extensive mountain ranges,
broad highlands, coastal lowlands, grassy plains, and volcanic islands. The
region's water systems, especially its huge rivers, are important for producing electricity, and commercial transportation, and naturalgas. Minerals, forests, farmland, and water are
major natural resources throughout the region. Not all countries, however, benefit
equally due to geographic, political, or economic difficulties.
The climates of Latin America, are more affected by elevation than latitude. Differences
in elevation create five vertical climate zones that affect agriculture and settlement, with the tierra templada being the most heavily populated.
Climate and Vegetation Much of Latin America lies between the Tropic
of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, resulting in tropical rain forest, tropical
savanna, and humid subtropical climates with hot temperatures and heavy rainfall.
Smaller areas of desert and steppe climates receive less rainfall.