Chile is a republic located in southwestern South America. On the north side of Chile lies Peru, to the east is Bolivia and Argentina, and on the south Peru is bounded by the Pacific Ocean. The Archipelagoes Islands extend along the southern coast of Chile from Chiloe Island to Cape Horn. Among these islands are the Chonos Archipelago, Wellington Island, and the western portion of Tierra del Fuego. Some other islands that belong to Chile include the Juan Fernandez Islands, Easter Island, and Sala y Gomez. All of these islands lie in the South Pacific. Chile also happens to claim a section of Antarctica. The capital and largest city of Chile is Santiago.
Land and Resources
The most dominant physical feature in Chile are the Andes Mountains, which extend the entire length of the country, from the Bolivian plateau in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south.
Chile can be divided in to three topographic zones: the lofty Andean cordillera on the east; the low coastal mountains on the west; and the plateau area, which includes the Central Valley, between these ranges. Three major geographical and climatological regions can be distinguished: the northern (arid), central (Mediterranean), and southern (temperate marine) regions.
The ranges of the Andes are the widest in the northern region. This forms broad plateaus that contain the country’s highest peak, Ojos del Salado, which is located on the border with Argentina. The plateau area is occupied by the great Atacama Desert, which contains vast nitrate fields and rich mineral deposits.
In the central region the plateau gives way to a valley, known as the Central valley. The valley, which ranges form 40 to 80 km (25 to 50 mi) in width, is the most heavily populated area of the country. The fertile area between the Aconcagua and Biobio rivers forms the agricultural heartland of Chile. The central Andes are narrower in width and have lower elevation that those in the north. The most important passes in the Andes are located here. The country’s finest natural harbors are located in this region.
The southern region is without an interior valley; it disappears below the sea at Puerto Montt. Peaks of the submerged coastal mountains form the long chains of islands along the coast. Chile lies in a zone of geologic instability and is subject to earthquakes and volcanic activity.
RIVERS AND LAKES
The many rivers of Chile are relatively short, generally rising in the Andes and flowing west to the Pacific. In the northern and central regions primarily the snow feeds the rivers from the Andes. The most important rivers are the Loa, Elqui, Aconcagua, Maipo, Muale, Biobio, and Imperial. The rivers are vital for the irrigation waters and hydroelectric power they furnish. Many of Chile’s major lakes, including Lake Llanquihue, are concentrated in the scenic district of the southern region
Because of its great latitudinal range, Chile has a diversity of climates. In general, temperatures are controlled by oceanic influences.
The northern region is almost entirely desert and is one of the driest areas in the world. Temperatures are moderated by the off shore presence of the cold Peru Current. The average temperatures in the northern region are around 70 (degrees F) in January and around 50 degrees in July. In the middle region, around Santiago, the average temperature ranges from 54 to 85 in January and 38 to 58 in July. The central region experiences a Mediterranean-like climate. The southern region is cooler and experiences year-round rainfall, much of it comes in the form snow. Here, strong winds and cyclonic storms are common.
The indigenous plant life of Chile varies according to climatic zone. The northern region has few varieties of vegetation. It is one of the Earth’s best examples of absolute desert, producing only brambles and cacti. The more humid Central Valley yields several different types of cacti, grasses, and the Chilean pine, which bears edible nuts. In the southern part of Chile, dense rain forests containing laurel, magnolia, false beech, and various species of conifers can be found. In the very southern part of Chile, a steppe vegetation of grasses is found.
Chile is rich in mineral resources, chiefly because of the size of the deposits rather that because of the diversity of minerals. Copper is by far the most important mineral. Others include nitrates, iron ore, coal, petroleum and natural gas, silver, and gold.
The Chilean economy has been dominated by the production of copper. Chile is one of the leading industrial nations in Latin America as well as one of its largest mineral producers. The government used to be very involved in the economy. Chile’s estimated gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998 was $78.7 billion. All of the products that Chile exports would be called tertiary activities because they are business and labor specialties (268). Chile has a commercial economy. Producers “freely market their goods and services” (270).
About 14 percent of the labor force of Chile is engaged in Mediterranean agriculture, forestry, and fishing. This sector amounts to about 15 percent of the GDP (271). This would make it a primary activity, or “harvesting or extracting something from the earth” (268). Except for sheep raising, conducted in the far south, the bulk of Chile’s agricultural activity is concentrated in the Central Valley. While only 3 percent of Chile’s land area is currently under cultivation, agricultural production doubled from the early 1980s to the 1990s. Chile exports more than twice the amount of agricultural products it imports.
While the share of land devoted to export crop such as fruit and vegetables is increasing, about half of all the farms still raise wheat. Grapes and apples, vegetables root crops such as sugar beets and potatoes, and maize are the leading crops in Chile. This country is the largest exporter of fruits in the Southern Hemisphere, sending much of its crops to North America. Chile also has a very significant wine making industry. Sheep are raised in large numbers in the Tierra del Fuego and the Magellan’s regions of Chilean Patagonia. As a whole, the country had around 4 million head of sheep in 1999. Other livestock include over 4 million head of cattle, 2 million pigs, and close to 600,000 horses.
FORESTRY AND FISHING
Forests cover about 10.5 percent of Chile’s land area. Some 23.5 million cubic meters of timber was cut in 1998. Output consists of both hardwoods (such as laurel) and softwoods (such as pine). Lumber, pulp, and paper are made from the annual timber cut. In the early 1990s, the forestry industry accounted for more than 6 percent of annual exports.
Chile has on of the largest fishing industries in South America. A catch of 7.6 million metric tons was taken in the country’s rich fishing waters in 1998. Principal species include mackerel, anchovy, sardine, and herring. Processing plants pack much of the fish catch for distribution.
Forestry and fishing are also primary activities because they harvest or extract something from the earth (267).
Mining continues to play a critical role in Chile’s economy. Chile has some of the world’s largest known copper deposits and is the world’s leading producer of this metal. Copper is the leading export, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all annual exports by value. Petroleum and natural gas are extracted on Tierra del Fuego and in the Straight of Magellan. Iron ore is the country’s other leading mineral product. Chile also has large deposits of nitrates, iodine, sulfur, and coal.
Mining of any of these deposits would be known as secondary activities because of the way the metals change their form and are converted into something more useful (268, 314).
The manufacturing sector contributes to 30 percent of Chile’s annual national output. It is largely base on the refining and processing of the country’s mineral, agricultural, and forestry resources. Chile is a major producer of steel. Copper is also refined, and the several oil refineries use both domestic and imported petroleum. Other important manufactures include food products, cement, pulp and paper products, textiles (cotton, wool, and synthetics), tobacco products, glass, chemicals, refined sugar, and electronic equipment. Automobile assembly is also important. The bulk of all this manufacturing is located near Santiago and Valparaiso. Concepcion is the other major industrial center.
The electricity-generating plants in Chile produced 28.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 1998. The fast-flowing rivers that descend from the Andes and the coastal ranges are potentially rich sources of hydroelectric power. Major efforts have been made to harness this potential, and by 1998 about 52 percent of Chile’s energy was generated from waterpower.
Chile has a network of about 49,000 miles of roads. Only 14 percent are paved. Railroad lines total over 1500 miles in length and are confined to the northern two-thirds of the country. Spur lines to important coastal towns connect the main north-south system. Because of the difficult terrain, many coastal cities rely on water transportation from various ports including Valparaiso, Antofagasta, and Punta Arenas. There are also important international airports located near Santiago, and Arica.
Chile is a country that is developing very quickly and therefore is in demand when exporting the goods that are produced here are taken into account. All of the factors presented have the same developing relationship. The increase in skills, knowledge, communication, and population are what make this economy grow.
Fellmann, Getis, and Getis. Human Geography, Sixth Edition, Updated Edition. McGraw Hill. New York, 2001.
Hudson, Espendhade. Goode’s World Atlas, 20th Edition. Rand McNally, 2000.