The Physical Geography of South America

The Physical Geography of South America

The Physical Geography of South America

The Physical Geography of South America

Excerpt

This book, The Physical Geography of South America, is a contribution to the Oxford Regional Environments series being published by Oxford University Press. It presents a detailed and current statement of knowledge written by specialists in the many research fields of physical geography and related fields. With this book we aspire to fill a void in recent scientific literature, namely, the lack of high-quality interpretative and correlative work that seeks to integrate knowledge of South America across the environmental spectrum.

South America is an unusually fascinating continent. Although now tenuously linked physically with other lands to the north, and increasingly enmeshed in human globalization, its character owes much to prolonged isolation from neighboring continents, diluted only quite recently by infusions of plants, animals, and peoples from elsewhere. The continent thus reflects a strong element of ende- mism—of plants and animals that developed more or less in isolation over long intervals of geologic time, and later of peoples, particularly in the High Andes, who had achieved much long before they were impacted by colonists from beyond the seas. It is also a continent of dramatic gradients and elevational patterns. For example, vertical relief of over 13,000 m, in a distance of little more than 200 km, separates peaks in the High Andes from the depths of the Perú-Chile Trench offshore, while on land alone the highest Andes descend equally abruptly from alpine tundra into rain forest just above sea level in the Amazon lowlands.

Accordingly, this book seeks to emphasize and explain South America's distinctive qualities, while also examining those features that can only be explained by reference to factors, from tectonic forces to colonization, triggered beyond its shores. It contains 21 chapters that are broadly divided into three groups: systematic framework, regional environments, and human impacts. The first eight chapters focus systematically on the broad physical and biogeographic character of South America. Of these, chapters 1 to 5 examine the shaping of the continent's physical framework, whereas chapters 6 to 8 provide an overview of South America's distinctive biogeography. Chapters 9 to 15 examine some of the continent's more distinctive regional environments, based on recognition of differing forest, shrubland, grassland, steppe, and desert biomes, and of ocean coasts. Last, chapters 16 to 21 examine nature in a human context, showing how nature has influenced people and has in turn been reshaped by them, producing landscapes that are often quite different from those inherited from nature. This in- volves examining the roles of native and immigrant peoples, agriculture and urbanism, El Niño oscilla- tions, and finally natural and human impacts and resource issues of relevance to future environments.

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