Terrain shapes and bedrock
Chile consists of three north-south regions, which extend through practically the entire narrow country, namely the Andes mountain range system to the east, the central valley and the coastal mountains to the west.
The Chilean Andes, which form an effective dividing line on the border with Argentina, include the highest section of the Andean system, with heights of more than 5,000 meters above sea level. in its northern part. Several of the peaks are extinct volcanoes, such as Llullaillaco, 6,723 m above sea level. and Ojos del Salado, 6,908 meters above sea level. To the south, the mountain range decreases in height, but the peaks are covered by glaciers. Most of the peaks there are extinguished or active volcanoes, usually in conical form. Also in Patagonia there are altitudes of 3 650 m above sea level, and the area is divided into massive by a network of valleys and lakes.
The mountain range is mainly built up by younger Mesozoic and Tertiary sediments that were converted, folded and raised during the alpine mountain range formation. Through volcanic activity, ryolites and dacites became included in the mountain range, which also obtained rich deposits of ores, e.g. of copper, silver, iron and manganese. Tertiary collages also occur.
The central longitudinal valley, which is mostly limited by fault lines, has at its bottom a blanket of moraine, sometimes overlaid with glacifluvial and alluvial material. At the far north, the 25-30 km wide area forms a plateau of 600-1,200 m above sea level. rich deposits of nitrate were found. The soil in the central part is also mineral-containing and provides the basis for a flourishing agriculture and dense settlement. At Puerto Montt at 42 ° south latitude, the longitudinal valley reaches the sea level and is replaced by a large number of islands.
The coastal mountains run like a high ridge between the long valley and the coast, but with peaks that usually fall below 2,000 m above sea level. In its northern and central part, the mountains are made up of paleozoic and mesozoic granites as well as of metamorphic rocks that were raised during the alpine fold. In the southern part, however, rocks from older Paleozoic dominate. Both ground cover and forest vegetation have been severely destroyed. The coastal zone, which has been raised for a quarter, has terraces and a straight coastline that is poor in natural ports.
Due to Chile’s topographic structure, the runoff is to the west. The rivers are short but rich in falls; in the northern part is the Loa, the longest, 440 km, and in the south Bío Bío, the richest, with a water flow of 480 m 3/s.
Chile’s geographical design – both in terms of the country’s long range in the north-south and its elevation conditions – results in a great deal of climatic differentiation. The influence of the sea in the west also means a strong leveling of the temperatures. A number of climate types can thus be distinguished from north to south.
Desert climate is furthest to the north from the Peruvian border to about 31 ° south latitude with the Atacama Desert in the central part of the arid area. It is the high-pressure cell in the southeastern Pacific Ocean and the cold Humboldt stream along the west coast that work together to provide continuous drought even along the coast. Because even though the air there is humid and gives high frequency of fog, especially during the summer, no rain falls. The daytime temperature exhibits a large amplitude. The average temperature for the summer is around 30 °C and in wintertime reaches the nighttime freezing point. The heat radiation from the sun is crucial for the temperature and should be the highest in the world. Precipitation is almost completely missing or falls only a few years; so for example Arica in the north 0.6 mm per year. The rainfall is increasing slightly towards the south, and a smaller area where there is a steep climate.
Further south, about 33–38 ° south latitude, a warm temperate climate of Mediterranean type prevails. During the summer, the high pressure, which is now slightly further north, gives beautiful sunny days, while low pressure affects the area in wintertime and results in cloudy weather and frontal rainfall, 300-500 mm per year. This climate is favorable for Mediterranean-type agriculture with products such as grapes, apricots, melons and peach.
The southern part of Chile (43–49 ° south latitude) is completely under the influence of the polar front and therefore receives a humid temperate coastal climate. The prevailing west wind brings in humid air masses from the sea and lowers the temperature. In the southernmost islands, the temperature in summer (December – January) is below 10 °C, which is why a climate similar to tundra climate exists. However, the average wintertime temperature does not fall below 0 °C.
The parts of Chile that are outside the mentioned climate regions belong to the Andes main chain. The temperature conditions here are mainly determined by the elevation position, as well as the precipitation, which here is orographically enhanced and averages 2,500 mm per year but in some places reaches up to 5,000 mm. This abundant rainfall along with the cool summer causes glaciers to form in the mountains and even reach out to the sea. The climate types found in the Andes are usually summarized under the term mountain climate.
Plant-and animal life
Chile is a very elongated and hilly country, and the plant and animal life changes greatly from north to south and with the height above the sea.
Andes provide an effective barrier to tropical areas in Argentina and Paraguay; Chile is therefore relatively poor in species and lacks many organisms that are otherwise widely distributed in South America, such as the family of heliconia plants and monkeys, caimans, poison snakes and vipers. In Chile there are almost 100 species of terrestrial mammals, just over 100 species of reptiles and almost 300 species of breeding birds.
Of the flora, which includes about 5,500 species of vascular plants, a relatively large proportion is endemic, about 125 vascular plants are restricted to Chile, for example Jubaea (which includes vine palm, Jubaea chilensis, one of the few non-tropical palms in the world), Lapageria (lianas in the family lily plants) and Lardizabala (lianas in the family shrubs).
Chile encompasses eight ecoregions, five of which are described here. The other three have their main distribution outside Chile’s borders: the Sechura desert is mainly located in Peru and the South Andean steppes and the Patagonian steppes are mainly located in Argentina and therefore described there.
In northern Chile lies the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth and one of the world’s best places for astronomical studies. With extreme drought over the last 3 million years, the desert is one of the oldest in the world.
Due to the extremely dry climate, few plants and animals are found. Despite this, no less than 500 different plants have been described, most in areas where cloud banks from the Pacific Ocean provide some moisture. Examples are various thyme species and several cacti, including Echinopsis atacamensis which can grow up to 7 m high and is used for furniture manufacturing and other constructions. The most common animals are lizards, but a few amphibians have adapted to the desert conditions. The rare species of tamarugo beak (Conirostrum tamarugense) is one of the birds and viscacha is one of the few mammals.
At the far south along the Pacific coast is the Pan de Azúcar National Park with a richer plant and animal life. In the islands, Hummingbird penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) breed, and guanaco, magellan fox, crab butter (Lontra felina) and South American sea lion are relatively common mammals.
To the east of the Atacama Desert, where the desert meets the Andes with snow-capped mountain peaks, volcanoes, high plateaus and lakes, there is dry puna. The sparse forests are dominated by small trees of the genus Polylepis. Higher up, in the zone between 3,500 and 5,000 m above sea level, dwarf bushes and alpine, tropical flora dominate.
The region is rain-poor and animals and plants are adapted to the extreme temperatures and high altitudes. Here are mammals such as Vikunja, guanaco, Andinese cat (Leopardus jacobitus), mackerel fox, a species of hair belt (Chaetophractus nationi) and Peruvian huemul (Hippocamelus antisiensis). The lakes, for example, in the Lauca National Park, attract many waterfowl, including giant caterpillar (Fulica gigantea), andean goose (Chloephaga melanoptera), punaibis (Plegadis ridgwayi), andean shark spot (Recurvirostra andina), punta beach altar (Charadrius altarpiper) (Charadrius altarpiper)Podiceps occipitalis), tuftsand (Lophonetta specularioides) and three species of flamingo: punaflamingo (Phoenicoparrus jamesi), chile flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) and andean flamingo (Phoenicoparrus andinus). Outside of the national parks and reserves, the region is strongly influenced by human activities such as livestock management, forest clearing, mining and firewood collection.
Along the central coast of Chile there is Chilean Matral, a unique Mediterranean-type nature characterized by scattered trees and dense, tall undergrowth of grass and herbs. Similar vegetation types are found, except in the Mediterranean region, in South Africa, California and southwestern Australia. The climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and humid, chilly winters.
The region is characterized by many endemic plant species (95 percent) and animal species (especially within the group of iguanas). No native mammals but are more rare species such kodkod (Leopardus guigna, it lose the cat in America), southern Pudu (Pudu Pudu, one 35 cm high deer), Monito Del Monte and Pichi (Zaedyus pichiy). A couple of endemic bird species in Chile, including the chandelier hummingbird (Sephanoides sephaniodes), chiletinamo (Nothoprocta perdicaria) and white- throated tapakul (Scelorchilus albicollis), have their main distribution here. Along the coast are a few typical but rare bird species, including perudykpetrell (Pelecanoides garnotii), perupelican (Pelecanus thagus), guano cormorant, red-footed cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi) and the distinctive incarceration (Larosterna inca). Large parts of the region are strongly influenced by human activities and are considered threatened.
Valdivian temperate forests
The unique eco-region of Valdivian temperate forests is located in central Chile with foothills to western Argentina. Due to the complicated relief with high mountains and deep fjords, the vegetation shows great variations and five different forest types have been described. Up to 90 percent of the trees are found only around the world and the closest relatives are found in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, which indicates a common past in Gondwanaland 550-300 million years ago.
The region is especially famous for its many amphibians, several of them endemic. Among the mammals, there are also a few unique species, such as chiloé point crabs with their closest relatives in Australia. Two other endemics are the chile rat (Irenomys tarsalis) and the chilein rabbit (Rhyncholestes raphanurus), which live in the mountain forests. Chilean huemul are rare in the most inaccessible mountain areas. As only about 1 percent of the original population remains, the species has been categorized as acutely endangered.
The bird fauna is similar to that in Magellan’s subpolar forests, with species such as magpies (Campephilus magellanicus), magellan (Buteo ventralis), bronze-winged duck (Speculanas specularis) and condor. In addition, species such as chile parakeet (Enicognathus leptorhynchus), magellan parakeet (Enicognathus ferrugineus), black-throated tapakul (Pteroptochos tarnii), and chucaotapakul (Scelorchilus rubecula) with their main residence in temperate forests.
On the island of Isla Guafo in the Pacific, there is the world’s largest colony of gray lira with 4 million nesting pairs. Along the coast there are marine mammals such as white-bellied dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia), South American sea lion, South American fur seal, crabs and southern sea elephant.
Outside the Corcovado National Park, in 2014, the large marine reserve Tic-Toc was allocated to protect the southern hemisphere’s largest blue whale population with 1,400 individuals feeding their young here.
The region has long been exposed to deforestation, and more than a third of the original area has been felled and several national parks and reserves have therefore been allocated. To reverse the negative trend, a couple of unique, private initiatives have also been started to protect and restore certain areas, including Corcovado National Park and a new Patagonian National Park near the border with Argentina.
Magellanic subpolar forests
The farthest south is the Magellan subpolar forests. The landscape here is majestic with high mountains, deep fjords, extensive glaciers and forests with southern bushes surrounded by the often wind-whipped ocean.
As in Valdivian temperate forests, there are a number of plants related to Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, but Magellan’s subpolar forests are colder and in some parts drier, leading to fewer plant and animal species. There are few endemic species among the animals. Several species however has its main extension in the region, such as Magellanic Plover, rosthuvad goose (sheldgoose rubidiceps), upland goose (sheldgoose picta), striated caracara (Phalcoboenus australis), stricklandbeckasin (Gallinago stricklandii), magellanvråk (Buteo ventralis) and Magellanic woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus). Southern river otter (Lontra provocax), puma, magellan fox, pampas fox, guanaco, chilean huemul and southern pudu occur here as well as further north in other regions. A number of mice and amphibians are endemic.
Southwest of the mainland is four isolated island groups with large seabird colonies of black-browed albatross, Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus), Rockhopper penguins, southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus), Gray-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) and blue petrel (Halo Baena caerulea). The cold, nutritious Humboldt stream creates the conditions for the rich marine life that forms the basis for the colony breeding birds and the marine mammals.
Three islands in the Pacific belong to Chile. Isolated 370 km west of the mainland is Easter Island. Studies have shown that once upon a time the island was covered with palm trees and deciduous forests that disappeared in connection with the first colonization from Polynesia. Today, the island is covered with grasslands and most of the original flora has disappeared. The last specimen of the Passover tree died in 1962. The original plants that have managed the best are the ferns, and four of the 15 species found are endemic.
No native mammals are present and among the birds only four marine species of conservation interest: Polynesian storm swallow (Nesofregetta fuliginosa, severely threatened), brown lira (Puffinus nativitatis), red-footed cormorant and gray noddy (Procelsterna cerulea).
The other archipelago is the Juan Fernández Islands, which is considerably closer, 67 miles from the mainland. One of the three islands has been named Isla Robinson Crusoe as it served as inspiration and model for Daniel Defoe’s famous book. The vegetation is dominated by temperate forests and is still relatively intact. Three bird species are endemic: Juan Fernandez hummingbird (firecrown fernandensis) robinsoncrusoemestyrann (Anairetes fernandezianus) and masafuerarayadito (Aphra Tura masafuerae) while three marine birds footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus), robinsoncrusoepetrell (Pterodroma defilippiana), and Stjenegers petrel (Pterodroma longirostris) has a slightly wider spread.
Further north and 85 miles from mainland Chile is Islas Desventuradas, a small archipelago of volcanic origin. Temperate forests dominate vegetation but relatively little is known about plant and animal life. The islands do, however, have a good population of robin concentrus apetrell.
Chile has a large number of nature-protected areas (18% of the country’s area) with about 35 national parks, among them Lauca (highland with bay and huemul), Los Paraguas y Conguillio (lakes and forests of brood fir and southern trees) and Torres del Paine (rich wildlife) and beautiful scenery). The latter is at the same time a biosphere reserve.