Official name : Federative Republic of Brazil
Area: 8,511,965 square kilometers (3,286,488 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Neblina Peak (Pico da Neblina) (3,014 meters/9,888 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Southern, Northern, and Western
Time zone: There are four time zones. From east to west—noon GMT = 10 A.M. on the Fernando de Noronha islands; 9 A.M. in Rio de Janeiro; 8 A.M. in Manaus; 7 A.M. in Rio Branco (westernmost)
Longest distances: 4,328 kilometers (2,689 miles) from north to south; 4,320 kilometers (2,684 miles) east to west
Land boundaries: Total: 14,691 kilometers (9,108 miles); Argentina, 1,224 kilometers (759 miles); Bolivia, 3,400 kilometers (2,108 miles); Colombia, 1,643 kilometers (1,019 miles); French Guiana, 673 kilometers (417 miles); Guyana, 1,119 kilometers (694 miles); Paraguay, 1,290 kilometers (800 miles); Peru, 1,560 kilometers (967 miles); Suriname, 597 kilometers (307 miles); Uruguay, 985 kilometers (612 miles); Venezuela, 2,200 kilometers (1,364 miles)
Coastline: 7,491 kilometers (4,655 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Brazil is the largest country in South America and shares common boundaries with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. Its eastern coastline borders the Atlantic Ocean. With an area of 8,511,965 square kilometers (3,286,488 square miles), it is slightly smaller than the United States. The country is divided into twenty-six states and one federal district. Brazil has land area in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, because the equator crosses through the northern part of the country.
Brazil designates the Fernando de Noronha Islands (Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha), which lie off its northeast coast, as a territory. The country also controls several small islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
Brazil's geographical diversity makes for a range of climatic conditions. Most of the country has a tropical climate. The southernmost regions lie outside the tropics and have a temperate climate. May through September are the coolest months, and the higher elevations in the south may receive snow during this time. In the north, the coastal areas experience tropical conditions, while the upland interior is relatively dry and moderate.
Rainfall varies widely across the country. In the southern and central part of the country, it generally ranges between 150 centimeters to 200 centimeters (58 inches to 78 inches) annually, but it can be much higher in certain areas. Rainfall is heavier in the Amazon River basin, reaching as much as 300 centimeters (117 inches) annually. Parts of this region experience dry spells of three months or more each year. The northeast region is the driest and hottest part of the country, with lengthy droughts a regular occurrence.
|S EASON||M ONTHS||A VERAGE T EMPERATURE , R IO DE J ANEIRO °C ELSIUS (°F AHRENHEIT )|
|Summer||November to March||29°C (84°F)|
|Winter||May to September||17°C (63°F)|
The Amazon River basin and its many tributaries dominate the northern part of Brazil, occupying two-fifths of the country. The Guiana Highlands, home to the country's highest point, Neblina Peak (Pico da Neblina) near the Venezuela border, are in the northernmost part of the Amazon River basin. To the south is a large plateau called the Brazilian Highlands. This plateau meets the Atlantic Ocean in a steep wall-like slope called the Great Escarpment. The highland block of the country is part of the South American Tectonic Plate.
Brazil's eastern seaboard borders the Atlantic Ocean, with a continental shelf that extends some 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles). The waters of the continental shelf are extremely shallow. Reefs and sandbars dot the shoreline.
Duck Lagoon (Lagoa dos Patos), on the southern coast of Brazil, is a long, shallow tidal lagoon separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a wide sandbar. It covers an area of 10,153 square kilometers (3,920 square miles) and is the largest lagoon in the world.
Harbors in Brazil include, from south to north: Pôrto Alegre, in Rio Grande do Sul; Santos, in the port of São Paulo; Rio de Janeiro; Vitória, just north of Rio de Janeiro in Espírito Santo; and Belem and Macapá, both at the mouth of the Amazon River.
Many islands exist throughout the river system and delta area of the Amazon. One of the world's largest riverine islands, Marajó, is the largest island in the Amazon River Delta. (A riverine island is one situated in a river.) It lies in the center of the mouth of the Amazon River, separating the western arm from the eastern arm, known as the Pará River. Maracá Island lies north of the mouth of the Amazon, just to the south of Brazil's border with French Guiana.
The Fernando de Noronha Islands are a group of volcanic islands off the northeastern bulge of the country. The island state of Santa Catarina is located off the nation's southern coast, between São Paulo and Pôrto Alegre.
Brazil's beaches are among the most famous in the world, including Copacabana and Ipanema, found near Rio de Janeiro. Near the Uruguay border, a large sandbar separates Duck Lagoon from the Atlantic Ocean.
Brazil has several small lakes throughout the Amazon River basin that formed naturally through flooding of the river systems. The largest of Brazil's natural lakes is the Duck Lagoon; the other large lakes are artificial, such as Sobradinho (3,970 square kilometers/ 1,533 square miles); Tucuruí (2,820 square kilometers/1,089 square miles); Balbina (2,360 square kilometers/911 square miles); and Serra da Mesa (1,784 square kilometers/689 square miles).
Tropical climate is typically hot and humid, with both abundant rainfall and intense sunshine; the main difference between seasons is the amount of rainfall. Temperate climate is generally mild, with greater differences in temperature from season to season.
The Amazon River is Brazil's longest river and the second-longest river in the world. It covers 3,218 kilometers (2,000 miles) within the country of Brazil, but it has a total length of about 6,570 kilometers (4,080 miles). It starts in Peru and flows through Colombia and Brazil before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon has eighteen major tributaries, including ten that carry more water than the Mississippi River. The river is also known as having the world's largest flow of water, with about 303 million liters (80 million gallons) of water per second emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Amazon River basin contains the world's largest tropical rain forest, which provides a natural replacement for 15 percent or more of the world's oxygen in the atmosphere. The number of species in this forest is unknown, but about one-fourth of the world's known plant species can be found in Brazil. Along much of the river in the Amazon basin, there are stretches of varzea (flat, swampy land) that is subject to frequent flooding and is underwater for part of every year.
The São Francisco River is the longest river contained entirely in Brazil. It starts near Belo Horizonte and flows northeastward along a line parallel to the coast before turning eastward toward the sea. At the border between the states of Sergipe and Alagoas, it drops 80 meters (265 feet) through a series of three spectacular waterfalls. The falls, known as Paulo Afonso Falls, lie about 305 kilometers (190 miles) from the mouth of the river on the Atlantic coast.
The Río de la Plata basin in the south includes three major rivers: Paraná, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The upper reaches of the Paraguay River contain a wet lowland system in western Mato Grosso called the Pantanal. Part of the region is protected as the Pantanal National Park, made up of swamp and marshland and supporting diverse wildlife. The Pantanal covers an area of about 140,000 square kilo-meters (50,000 square miles) and is part of the world's largest freshwater wetland system.
The magnificent Iguazú Falls are located on the Iguazú River near the border with Argentina. The Iguazú River starts near the city of Curitaba and flows into the Paraná River. The Iguazú Falls include about 275 individual cataracts in a complex system that is 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) wide and 82 meters (270 feet) high.
There are no desert regions in Brazil, although the northeast is arid, with dunes of white sand. Concern about desertification, the process where arid land becomes desert, is raised during periods of drought, but when the rains are normal, lagoons form between the dunes.
Grasslands cover major portions of the south and west-central regions. The plains of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, are called pampas and provide fields for cattle raising. The southern part of the west-central region is a rolling prairie with rivers draining southward. Its soils are particularly suited for agriculture.
The northern, western, and central areas of the Central Highlands (Brazilian Highlands) feature broad, rolling terrain with low, rounded hills. Names have been given to some systems of hills, but these hills do not reach altitudes high enough to be considered mountains.
With an elevation of 3,014 meters (9,888 feet), the Neblina Peak (Pico da Neblina) in the Imeri range is Brazil's highest peak. It is located in the Guiana Highlands near the border with Venezuela.
The Serra do Mar runs along the coast for 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) from Santa Catarina to Rio de Janeiro and northward to join the Serra dos Orgaos. This extended range has an average height of about 1,524 meters (5,000 feet) topped by peaks above 2,133 meters (7,000 feet), including Pedra Acu, which rises to 2,318 meters (7,605 feet) just west of Rio de Janeiro. The Serra do Mar is so near the tidewater in many places that it rises almost directly from the shore.
The Serra da Mantiqueira is the highest and most rugged range of the Central Highlands. It includes the Bandeira Peak (Pico da Bandeira), which at 2,890 meters (9,482 feet) is the highest elevation in the Central Highlands.
The Serra do Espinhaço, or "Backbone Mountains," form a type of spine that determines the drainage divide between the São Francisco River to the west and short streams that tumble eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. It contains a great wealth of minerals. Sometimes the Serra do Espinhaço and the Serra da Mantiqueira are referred to collectively as the Serra Geral.
There are no significant caves or canyons in Brazil.
The Central Highlands are often called the Brazilian Highlands or Brazilian Plateau. The region covers nearly all of Brazil south of the Amazon River basin.
The Guiana Highlands form part of an immense plateau that reaches higher altitudes than the Central Highlands. The Guiana Highlands extend into Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
Most of Brazil's energy comes from the hydroelectric power created by dams. The Sete Quedas hydroelectric power project is located on the Paraná River. The Tucuruí Dam created Lake Tucuruí, near the mouth of the Amazon River. It was the first large dam ever built in a tropical rainforest and has created one of the largest man-made lakes to exist in such a region. The Sobradinho Dam created Lake Sobradinho along the São Francisco River. The Itaipú Hydroelectric Power Station created the Itaipu Reservoir, located near Iguazú Falls.
Burns, E. Bradford. A History of Brazil . 3rd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
Haverstock, Nathan A. Brazil in Pictures . Minneapolis: Lerner, 1987.
Munro, David. The Oxford Dictionary of the World . New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Van Dyk, Jere. "The Amazon." National Geographic , February 1995, pp. 2-39.
CIA World Factbook. http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cg.html (accessed July 22, 2003).
Fernando de Noronha Islands. http://www.noronha.com.br/indexe.htm (accessed July 22, 2003).