Argentina

Official name : Argentine Republic

Area: 2,766,890 square kilometers (1,068,302 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Cerro Aconcagua (6,960 meters/22,835 feet)

Lowest point on land: Salinas Chicas (40 meters/131 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Southern and Western

Time zone: 9 A.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 3,650 kilometers (2,268 miles) from north to south; 1,430 kilometers (889 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: Total boundary length 9,665 kilometers (6,006 miles); Bolivia, 832 kilometers (517 miles); Brazil, 1,224 kilometers (761 miles); Chile, 5,150 kilometers (3,200 miles); Paraguay, 1,880 kilometers (1,168 miles); Uruguay, 579 kilometers (360 miles)

Coastline: 4,989 kilometers (3,100 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

Argentina is the second-largest country in South America, covering most of the southern peninsula of the continent. It is bordered by Bolivia and Paraguay to the north; Brazil, Uruguay, and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east; and Chile to the west and south. With an area of 2,766,890 square kilometers (1,068,302 square miles), the nation is a little less than one-third the size of the United States. Argentina is divided into twenty-three provinces and one autonomous city.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Argentina has a territorial claim in Antarctica. As of 2002, it was involved in a long-standing dispute with the United Kingdom over which nation controls the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. All of these territories lie off the coast of Argentina but are governed by the United Kingdom.

3 CLIMATE

Argentina's climate ranges from subtropical in the north, to humid in the central regions, to subantarctic in the south. Winter is the driest period of the year. The coldest months are June and July; the warmest month is January. Climate variations are due to the country's range of altitude as well as of latitude.

Average rainfall declines from east to west. Buenos Aires receives an average of 94 centimeters (37 inches) of rain annually and experiences light snow during the winter months. Areas north of Río Negro experience little precipitation during winter. The Pampas receives enough rainfall to support its crops, but it is also subject to flooding. The northeastern region bordering Brazil and Uruguay also receives sufficient rainfall. The Gran Chaco region north of the Pampas receives an average of 76 centimeters (30 inches) of rainfall per year. The Andes region is subject to intense changes in weather, including flash floods during the summer months.

Some areas of Argentina are prone to natural geological disturbances such as earthquakes, violent windstorms known as pamperos, and volcanic activity.

S EASON M ONTHS A VERAGE T EMPERATURE R ANGE (C ELSIUS /F ARENHEIT )
Summer January to March 16° to 35°C (60° to 95°F)
Winter May to August 8° to 18°C (47° to 65°F)

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

The terrain of Argentina varies dramatically across the country's different regions, since both elevation and latitude play a major role in Argentina's geography. The country's four major geographic regions are the Andes Mountains, the lowland north, the central Pampas, and the Patagonia region in the south. Patagonia includes Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of the South American continent, which is shared by Argentina and Chile.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Argentina has an eastern coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Atlantic coast of Argentina, curving from northeast to southwest, features a number of gulfs, bays, and inlets. Starting in the north, the bay on which Buenos Aires sits is Samborombón Bay. At the city of Bahía Blanca the coast abruptly turns southward, forming Blanca Bay. To the south are the San Matías Gulf and the San Jorge Gulf. The Strait of Magellan separates the mainland from Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of the country.

Islands and Archipelagos

Argentina shares the offshore island territory of Tierra del Fuego with Chile. Eons ago, Tierra del Fuego existed under the sea. The land slowly rose and mountains formed as the South American and Scotia Tectonic Plates pushed together. By the Ice Age, most of what is now the Patagonian continental shelf had become land. About 9,000 years ago, the waters of the Strait of Magellan broke through the tip of the continent.

Argentina also owns the Isla de los Estados, which is separated from the southern point of Tierra del Fuego by the Strait of Le Maire. Both Argentina and the United Kingdom claim the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) as their own.

Coastal Features

The Valdés Peninsula (Península Valdés), with its miles of beaches and tall cliffs, forms the southern rim of the San Matías Gulf, at about the midpoint of the country's Atlantic coast. This area is home to large colonies of marine mammals, including penguins and the southern elephant seal, which mate in the protected lagoons of the peninsula. The area also hosts one of the world's largest concentrations of the Atlantic Right Whale ( Eubalaena glacialis ). In 1999, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated the peninsula as a World Heritage Site. Salinas Chicas, Argentina's lowest elevation (40 meters/131 feet below sea level), also is found here. Just south of Valdés Peninsula is a tiny bay that is bordered to the south by Point Ninfas.

Cape Horn is the southernmost tip of the continent.

A popular destination for both tourists and Argentines is the Mar del Plata, a city on the Atlantic coast known for its sprawling beaches, which cover about 8 kilometers (5 miles). This area boasts more than 140 bird species, including flamingos.

6 INLAND LAKES

The Lake District, straddling the border between Chile and Argentina in the Andes Mountains, contains many glacial lakes that were carved out of the mountains and later filled up with water from the melting glaciers, snow, and rain. The most significant of these is Lago Buenos Aires, also known as General Carrera Lake. It is located in southern Argentina and shared with Chile. It is the largest lake in the country, and the fifth largest in all of South America, with an average surface area of 2,240 square kilometers (860 square miles). South of Lago Buenos Aires are Lago San Martín, Lago Viedma, and finally Lago Argentino. Not far from Lago Buenos Aires, on the Castillo Plain near Comodoro Rivadavia, is Lake Colhué Huapí.

One of the world's largest salt lakes, and the second-largest lake in Argentina, is Lago Mar Chiquita (Little Sea), located in central Argentina. Its surface area varies from year to year and season to season, but during its wettest periods it has spanned 5,770 square kilometers (2,228 square miles).

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

The Rio Paraná is the longest river in Argentina and the second-longest river in South America (after the Amazon). It flows approximately 4,900 kilometers (3,060 miles), separating Brazil from Paraguay and Paraguay from Argentina. The Rio Paraná is navigable only as far as Rosário. Its upper reaches feature many waterfalls. Once the Rio Paraná enters Argentina in the northeast, the Iguazú River (Río Iguaçu) joins it. This area is well known throughout the world for the spectacular Iguazú Falls (Cataratas Iguaçu, meaning "great water"). The falls are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil, with two-thirds of them in Argentina. They include approximately 275 smaller falls, with heights ranging between 60 and 80 meters (197 and 262 feet). These falls are higher and wider than Niagara Falls, on the border between Canada and the United States.

Other tributaries of the Rio Paraná that feed in from the west are the Rios Bermejo, Bermejito, Salado, and Carcarañá.

The Uruguay River (1,600 kilometers/1,000 miles) forms part of the borders between Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It is navigable for about 300 kilometers (190 miles), from its mouth to Concordia. The Paraguay River, extending for 2,550 kilometers (1,594 miles), forms part of the border between Paraguay and Argentina, and it flows into the Rio Paraná north of Corrientes and Alto Paraná. These waterways all join to flow into the Río de la Plata, and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean in northern Argentina. Where these rivers meet, a wide estuary is formed, which can reach a maximum width of 222 kilometers (138 miles).

In north-central Argentina, several rivers flow into Lago Mar Chiquita. Rio Dulce originates near San Miguel de Tucumán and flows southwest into the lake. Rios Primero and Segundo also feed into Lago Mar Chiquita from the southwest.

In the northern Patagonia region, the major rivers are the Río Colorado and Río Negro, both of which rise in the Andes and flow to the Atlantic Ocean. The Colorado is fed by the Rio Salado, which flows from Pico Ojos del Salado in a southeasterly direction to the Colorado. Tributaries of the Rio Salado include the Rios Atuel, Diamante, Tunuyán, Desaguadero, and the San Juan, all of which originate in the northwest Andes. The Río Negro also has two main tributaries of its own, the Rio Neuquén and the Rio Limay. In the central Patagonia region, the Rio Chubut rises in the Andes and flows east to form a sizable lake before making its way to the ocean. The Lake District also contains its share of rivers, all originating in the mountains and flowing to the Atlantic. These include the Rios Deseado, Chico, Santa Cruz, and Gallegos.

8 DESERTS

Narrow strips of desert area extend eastward from the mountains down into the Patagonian plains of Argentina. The land is dry, wind-eroded, and marked by sparse scrub vegetation and remnants of a petrified forest.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

The Pampas comprises fertile grasslands that cover much of central Argentina. This area is oval-shaped and extends more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) both north and south and east to west. The eastern half of the Pampas is humid, with fertile agricultural lands well suited to the cultivation of wheat. The western Pampas approaching the Andes mountain range is dry, open land, providing grazing for Argentina's famous horse, cattle, and sheep ranches. This region, along with the northeastern Gran Chaco region, is subject to violent windstorms known as pamperos (pahm-PARE-ohss).

Patagonia, the southern region of Argentina, is a combination of pastoral steppes (flat grasslands) and glacial regions. Near the Chilean border is Glacier National Park (Parc Nacional Los Glaciares), where some three hundred glaciers make up part of the Patagonian Ice Cap (21,760 square kilometers/8,400 square miles). The ice cap, flowing into the Pacific Ocean from the Andes, is the largest in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica. Thirteen of these glaciers feed lakes in the region. The Upsala Glacier, at 60 kilometers (37 miles) long and 10 kilometers (6 miles) wide, is the largest in South America. It can only be reached by boat, since it floats in Lago Argentino. The next largest glacier is Perito Moreno, 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) wide and stretching about 35 kilometers (22 miles) long to Lago Argentino, where it forms a natural dam.

The lowland north, including the Gran Chaco and Mesopotamia regions, consists of tropical and subtropical lowlands. The landscape ranges from dry savannas (flat grasslands) to swamps (lands partially submerged under standing water).

Iberá, in the northeast of Argentina, is a biologically rich region, with more than sixty ponds joined to marshes and swampland. The area is extremely humid, and is home to hundreds of bird species and thousands of insects, including a wide variety of butterflies. The area hosts a diverse array of flora and fauna, notably the royal water lily, silk-cotton tree, alligators, and capybara, the largest rodent species in the world.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

The Andean region makes up 30 percent of Argentina. Stretching more than 7,000 kilometers (4,500 miles), the Andes Mountains form the western border of Argentina, which is nearly parallel to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. First formed by tectonic movement approximately seventy million years ago, the mountain range is the highest in the western hemisphere. Its peaks reach nearly 7,015 meters (23,000 feet) and stretch to form a natural border with Chile for more than 3,219 kilometers (2,000 miles).

The Argentinean Andes contain some of the tallest mountains in South America, including Cerro Aconcagua, which at 6,960 meters (22,834 feet) is the tallest peak on the continent and in the entire Western Hemisphere, and Cerro Mercedario (6,768 meters/22,205 feet). Both of these peaks are located near the Chile border southwest of San Juan. The Andes region is also home to arid basins (low-lying areas that receive almost no rainfall); lush foothills covered with grape vineyards; glacial mountains; and half of the Lake District (the other half is in Chile).

Throughout the Andes there are more than 1,800 volcanoes, 28 of which are considered to be active. These include Tipas, Cerro el Condor, and Antofalla, all of which are over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) high and are some of the highest volcanoes in the world.

Jagged mountain peaks formed from granite include Cerro Fitz Roy (3,405 meters/11,236 feet), Cerro Torre (3,102 meters/10,346 feet), and Cerro Pináculo (2,160 meters/7,128 feet).

DID YOU KNOW?

Patagonia, in the southern region of Argentina, has a geography that ranges from a vast, windy, and treeless plateau to several glacial regions in the southern area of Tierra del Fuego. Patagonia extends more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Rio Colorado in the north to Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of the continent. The region of Patagonia takes its name from the Patagon, the native inhabitants believed by travelers in the 17th and 18th century to be the tallest people in the world.

Smaller mountain ranges also exist in central South America. These ranges cut across the center of the country and separate the southern Patagonia region from the northeastern Pampas. From west to east, these ranges are the Sierra Lihuel-Calel, the Sierra de la Ventana, and the Sierra del Tandil.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

The Cave of the Hands (Cueva de las Manos) is named for the stenciled, painted outlines of human hands that cover the walls of the cave. These outlines are surrounded by paintings of animals and stick-figured people, as well as by other geometric shapes.

Archaeologists believe that ancient inhabitants of the land painted the caves approximately 9,500 to 13,000 years ago. Cueva de las Manos has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

The Somuncurá Plateau is a basalt plateau with alternating hills and depressions. It stretches across the area from the Rio Chubut to the Rio Negro. The region undergoes severe climate changes between the winter and summer months. The area has lava (molten rock) formations and contains many fruit and alfalfa plantations. Cattle ranchers find this area to be ideal for raising their livestock. A smaller plateau, the Atacama Plateau, occupies the region just east of the Andes Mountains in northern Argentina and extends east to the city of San Miguel de Tucumán.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

The reservoir created by the Chocón dam, located on the Río Negro, is one of the country's largest man-made lakes. The Chapetón and Pati Dams, both on the Rio Paraná, are the second- and third-largest dams in the world.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Strait of Magellan was named for Ferdinand Magellan (1480–1521), the Portuguese navigator who traveled the strait in 1520 while trying to find a western route to the Spice Islands. He spent the winter of that year in the area of Patagonia. When he continued his trip, Magellan became the first European traveler to cross the Pacific Ocean, which he named because of the calm, peaceful weather he experienced on his journey. Unfortunately, he was killed in a skirmish between native people that he encountered when he reached the Philippines.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Argentina . London: APA Publications, 1997.

Bernhardson, Wayne. Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay . Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet, 1999.

Hintz, M. Argentina . Chicago: Children's Press, 1985.

Nickles, Greg. Argentina: The Land . New York: Crabtree, 2001.

Web Sites

Argentina Travel Net. http://www.argentinatravelnet.com/indexE.htm (accessed August 13, 2003).

Mayell, Hillary. "Patagonia Penguins Make a Comeback." National Geographic, Dec. 26, 2001. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/12/1221_patapenguins.html (accessed May 2, 2003).

United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). http://www.whc.unesco.org/heritage.htm (accessed June 17, 2003).

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