A composite relief image of South America
South America occupies the southern portion of the Americas. The continent is generally delimited on the northwest by the Darién watershed along the Colombia–Panama border, although some may consider the border instead to be the Panama Canal. Geopolitically and geographically all of Panama – including the segment east of the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is typically included in North America alone and among the countries of Central America. Almost all of mainland South America sits on the South American Plate.
South America is home to the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls in Venezuela; the highest single drop waterfall Kaieteur Falls in Guyana; the largest river by volume, the Amazon River; the longest mountain range, the Andes (whose highest mountain is Aconcagua at 6,962 m or 22,841 ft); the driest non-polar place on earth, the Atacama Desert; the largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest; the highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia; the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca; and, excluding research stations in Antarctica, the world's southernmost permanently inhabited community, Puerto Toro, Chile.
South America's major mineral resources are gold, silver, copper, iron ore, tin, and petroleum. These resources found in South America have brought high income to its countries especially in times of war or of rapid economic growth by industrialized countries elsewhere. However, the concentration in producing one major export commodity often has hindered the development of diversified economies. The fluctuation in the price of commodities in the international markets has led historically to major highs and lows in the economies of South American states, often causing extreme political instability. This is leading to efforts to diversify production to drive away from staying as economies dedicated to one major export.
South America is one of the most biodiverse continents on earth. South America is home to many interesting and unique species of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha, jaguar, vicuña, and tapir. The Amazon rainforests possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion of the Earth's species.
Brazil is the largest country in South America, encompassing around half of the continent's land area and population. The remaining countries and territories are divided among three regions: The Andean States, the Guianas and the Southern Cone.
Traditionally, South America also includes some of the nearby islands. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Trinidad, Tobago, and the federal dependencies of Venezuela sit on the northerly South American continental shelf and are often considered part of the continent. Geo-politically, the island states and overseas territories of the Caribbean are generally grouped as a part or subregion of North America, since they are more distant on the Caribbean Plate, even though San Andres and Providencia are politically part of Colombia and Aves Island is controlled by Venezuela.
Other islands that are included with South America are the Galápagos Islands that belong to Ecuador and Easter Island (in Oceania but belonging to Chile), Robinson Crusoe Island, Chiloé (both Chilean) and Tierra del Fuego (split in between Chile and Argentina). In the Atlantic, Brazil owns Fernando de Noronha, Trindade and Martim Vaz, and the Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago, while the Falkland Islands are governed by the United Kingdom, whose sovereignty over the islands is disputed by Argentina. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands may be associated with either South America or Antarctica.
Map of all tropical cyclone tracks from 1945 to 2006.
The distribution of the average temperatures in the region presents a constant regularity from the 30° of latitude south, when the isotherms tend, more and more, to be confused with the degrees of latitude.
In temperate latitudes, winters are milder and summers warmer than in North America. Because its most extensive part of the continent is in the equatorial zone, the region has more areas of equatorial plains than any other region.
The average annual temperatures in the Amazon basin oscillate around 27 °C (81 °F), with low thermal amplitudes and high rainfall indices. Between the Maracaibo Lake and the mouth of the Orinoco, predominates an equatorial climate of the type Congolese, that also includes parts of the Brazilian territory.
The east-central Brazilian plateau has a humid and warm tropical climate. The northern and eastern parts of the Argentine pampas have a humid subtropical climate with dry winters and humid summers of the Chinese type, while the western and eastern ranges have a subtropical climate of the dinaric type. At the highest points of the Andean region, climates are colder than the ones occurring at the highest point of the Norwegian fjords. In the Andean plateaus, the warm climate prevails, although it is tempered by the altitude, while in the coastal strip, there is an equatorial climate of the Guinean type. From this point until the north of the Chilean coast appear, successively, Mediterranean oceanic climate, temperate of the Breton type and, already in Tierra del Fuego, cold climate of the Siberian type.
The distribution of rainfall is related to the regime of winds and air masses. In most of the tropical region east of the Andes, winds blowing from the northeast, east and southeast carry moisture from the Atlantic, causing abundant rainfall. However, due to a consistently strong wind shear and a weak Intertropical Convergence Zone, South Atlantic tropical cyclones are rare. In the Orinoco Llanos and in the Guianas plateau, the precipitation levels go from moderate to high. The Pacific coast of Colombia and northern Ecuador are rainy regions, with Chocó in Colombia being the most rainy place in the world along with the northern slopes of Indian Himalayas. The Atacama Desert, along this stretch of coast, is one of the driest regions in the world. The central and southern parts of Chile are subject to , and most of the Argentine Patagonia is desert. In the pampas of Argentina, Uruguay and South of Brazil the rainfall is moderate, with rains well distributed during the year. The moderately dry conditions of the Chaco oppose the intense rainfall of the eastern region of Paraguay. In the semiarid coast of the Brazilian Northeast the rains are linked to a monsoon regime.
Important factors in the determination of climates are sea currents, such as the current Humboldt and Falklands. The equatorial current of the South Atlantic strikes the coast of the Northeast and there is divided into two others: the current of Brazil and a coastal current that flows to the northwest towards the Antilles, where there it moves towards northeast course thus forming the most Important and famous ocean current in the world, the Gulf Stream.