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LATIN AMERICA

Climate

The climate of Latin America ranges from extremely wet conditions to extremely dry conditions and from very hot temperatures to very cold temperatures. Tropical rainforests dominate the Amazon River basin in South America. Arid to semi-arid regions exist in northern Mexico. Tropical savanna can be found in parts of Central America and also in the Caribbean. Temperate conditions can be found in the southern portions of South America while Cape Horn (on the southern tip) experiences sub-arctic conditions. Of course, the tops of the Andes Mountains experience polar conditions.

Desert

The driest place on the face of the earth can be found in the Atacama Desert (in Chile-- see map at bottom of this page). Certain locations within the Atacama Desert have not received any rain for over 400 years. There is very little here but rocks and sky. Virtually nothing can survive in this harsh environment. The Atacama Desert exists in the rainshadow of the Andes Mountains on their western side. Prevailing winds from the east bring moisture from the Atalantic Ocean and this moisture NEVER makes it over the Andes Mountains to the Atacama Desert. Cold currents in the Pacific Ocean also restrict moisture coming in from the west.

Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest is the last of the major rainforests to be studied in this course. And the Amazon Rainforest is the largest of them all. Remember, wherever the equator crosses a land-mass, tropical rainforests exist. It rains almost everyday in the tropical rainforest. But why is the Amazon larger than the tropical rainforests of Africa or Southeast Asia?

To answer the question about Africa, take a look at the Nile River in Africa. The Nile River has its source in the tropical rainforests of Africa. And the Nile River flows in what direction?-- due north and away from the rainforest area. Water is continually being taken out of the system.

Now take a look at the Amazon River. The Amazon River has its source in the Andes Mountains and it is the second longest river in the world (next to the Nile). But for most of its journey across South America, it runs almost parallel to the equator and basically keeps the water within the system. The Amazon River itself replenishes the rainforest and allows this to be the largest of the tropical rainforests in the world.

As for the rainforests in Southeast Asia, the area is broken up into many islands and the individual rainforests are not in a closed system like that of the Amazon. Based on the physical aspects of South America, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest of the tropical rainforests.

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