Andes Mountains

Andes Mountains
Mountain system, western South America.

One of the great natural features of the globe, the Andes extend north-south about 5,500 mi (8,850 km). They run parallel to the Caribbean Sea coast in Venezuela before turning southwest and entering Colombia. There they form three distinct massifs: the Cordilleras Oriental, Central, and Occidental. In Ecuador they form two parallel cordilleras, one facing the Pacific and the other descending toward the Amazon River basin. These ranges continue southward into Peru; the highest Peruvian peak is Mount Huascarán, 22,205 ft (6,768 m) high in the Cordillera Blanca. In Bolivia the Andes again form two distinct regions; between them lies the Altiplano. Along the border of Chile and Argentina, they form a complex chain that includes their highest peak, Mount Aconcagua, which reaches an elevation of 22,834 ft (6,960 m). In southern Chile part of the cordillera descends beneath the sea and forms numerous islands. The Andes are studded with a number of volcanoes that form part of the circum-Pacific chain known as the Ring of Fire. The Andes mountain system is the source of many rivers, including the Orinoco, Amazon, and Pilcomayo.

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also called  the Andes,  Spanish  Cordillera de los Andes,  or  Los Andes 
   mountain system of South America and one of the great natural features of the Earth.

      The Andes consist of a vast series of extremely high plateaus surmounted by even higher peaks that form an unbroken rampart over a distance of some 5,500 miles (8,900 kilometres)—from the southern tip of South America to the continent's northernmost coast on the Caribbean. They separate a narrow western coastal area from the rest of the continent, affecting deeply the conditions of life within the ranges themselves and in surrounding areas. The Andes contain the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere. The highest of them is Mount Aconcagua (Aconcagua, Mount) (22,831 feet [6,959 metres]) on the border of Argentina and Chile.

 The Andes are not a single line of formidable peaks but rather a succession of parallel and transverse mountain ranges, or cordilleras, and of intervening plateaus and depressions. Distinct eastern and western ranges—respectively named the Cordillera Oriental and the Cordillera Occidental—are characteristic of most of the system. The directional trend of both the cordilleras generally is north-south, but in several places the Cordillera Oriental bulges eastward to form either isolated peninsula-like ranges or such high intermontane plateau regions as the Altiplano (Spanish: “High Plateau”), occupying adjoining parts of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.

      Some historians believe the name Andes comes from the Quechuan word anti (“east”); others suggest it is derived from the Quechuan anta (“copper”). It perhaps is more reasonable to ascribe it to the anta of the older Aymara language, which connotes copper colour generally.

Physical features
      There is no universal agreement about the major north-south subdivisions of the Andes system. For the purposes of this discussion, the system is divided into three broad categories. From south to north these are the Southern Andes, consisting of the Chilean, Fuegian, and Patagonian cordilleras; the Central Andes, including the Peruvian cordilleras; and the Northern Andes, encompassing the Ecuadorian, Colombian, and Venezuelan (or Caribbean) cordilleras.

      The Andean mountain system is the result of global plate-tectonic forces during the Cenozoic Era (the last 66.4 million years) that built upon earlier geologic activity. About 250 million years ago, the crustal plates constituting the Earth's landmass were joined together into the supercontinent Pangaea. The subsequent breakup of Pangaea and of its southern portion, Gondwana, dispersed these plates outward, where they began to take the form and position of the present-day continents. The collision (or convergence) of two of these plates—the continental South American Plate and the oceanic Nazca Plate—gave rise to the orogenic (mountain-building) activity that produced the Andes.

      Many of the rocks comprising the present-day cordilleras are of great age. They began as sediments eroded from the Amazonia craton (or Brazilian shield)—the ancient granitic continental fragment that constitutes much of Brazil—and deposited between about 450 and 250 million years ago on the craton's western flank. The weight of these deposits forced a subsidence (downwarping) of the crust, and the resulting pressure and heat metamorphosed the deposits into more resistant rocks; thus, sandstone, siltstone, and limestone were transformed, respectively, into quartzite, shale, and marble.

      Approximately 170 million years ago this complex geologic matrix began to be uplifted as the eastern edge of the Nazca Plate was forced under the western edge of the South American Plate (i.e., the Nazca Plate was subducted), the result of the latter plate's westward movement in response to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean to the east. This subduction-uplift process was accompanied by the intrusion of considerable quantities of magma from the mantle, first in the form of a volcanic arc along the western edge of the South American Plate and later by the injection of hot solutions into surrounding continental rocks; the latter process created numerous dikes and veins containing concentrations of economically valuable minerals that later were to play a critical role in the human occupation of the Andes.

      The intensity of this activity increased during the Cenozoic—notably between about 15 and 6 million years ago—and the present shape of the cordilleras emerged. The resultant mountain system exhibits an extraordinary vertical differential of more than 40,000 feet between the bottom of the Peru-Chile (Peru-Chile Trench) (Atacama) Trench off the Pacific coast of the continent and the peaks of the high mountains within a horizontal distance of less than 200 miles. The tectonic processes that created the Andes have continued to the present day. The system—part of the larger Circum-Pacific volcanic chain that often is called the Ring of Fire—remains volcanically active and is subject to devastating earthquakes.

Physiography of the Southern Andes
      The Fuegian Andes begin on the mountainous Estados (Staten) Island, the easternmost point of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, reaching an elevation of 3,700 feet. They run to the west through Grande Island, where the highest ridges—including Mounts Darwin, Valdivieso, and Sorondo—are all less than 7,900 feet high. The physiography of this southernmost subdivision of the Andes system is complicated by the presence of the independent Sierra de la Costa.

      The Patagonian Andes rise north of the Strait of Magellan. Numerous transverse and longitudinal depressions and breaches cut this wild and rugged portion of the Andes, sometimes completely; many ranges are occupied by ice fields, glaciers, rivers, lakes, or fjords. The crests of the mountains exceed 10,000 feet (Mount Fitzroy reaching 11,073 feet) north to latitude 46° S but average only 6,500–8,400 feet from latitude 46° to 41° S, except for Mount Tronador (11,453 feet). North of Lake Aluminé (Argentina) the axis of the cordillera shifts to the east up to a zone of transition between latitude 37° and 35° S, where the geographic aspect and geomorphic structure change. This zone marks the most commonly accepted northern extent of the Patagonian Andes; there is some disagreement, however, about this limit, some placing it farther south, at the Gulf of Penas, (47° S) and others considering it to be to the north, around 30° S.

      The line of permanent snow becomes higher in elevation with decreasing latitude in the Southern Andes: 2,300 feet in Tierra del Fuego, 5,000 feet at Osorno Volcano (41° S), and 12,000 feet at Domuyo Volcano (36°38′ S). A line of active volcanoes (volcano)—including Yate, Corcovado, and Macá—occurs about 40° to 46° S; the southernmost of these, Mount Hudson of Chile, erupted in 1991. Enormous ice fields are located between Mount Fitzroy (called Mount Chaltel in Chile) and Lake Buenos Aires (Lake General Carrera in Chile) at both sides of Baker Fjord; the Viedma, Upsala, and other glaciers originate from these fields. Other notable features are the more than 50 lakes found south of 39° S. Those depressions that are free of water form fertile valleys called vegas, which are easily reached by low passes. Magnificent and impenetrable forests grow on both sides of these cordilleras, especially on the western slopes; these forests cover the mountains as high as the snow line, although at the higher altitudes toward the north and in Tierra del Fuego the vegetation is lower and less dense. Both Argentina and Chile have created national parks to preserve the area's natural beauty.

Physiography of the Central Andes
      The Central Andes begin at latitude 35° S, at a point where the cordillera undergoes a sharp change of character. Its width increases to about 50 miles, and it becomes arid and higher; the passes, too, are higher and more difficult to cross. Glaciers are rare and found only at high elevations. The main range serves as the boundary between Chile and Argentina and also is the drainage divide between rivers flowing to the Pacific and the Atlantic. The last of the southern series of volcanoes, Mount Tupungato (21,555 feet) is just east of Santiago, Chile. A line of lofty, snowcapped peaks rise between Tupungato and the mighty Mount Aconcagua. To the north of Aconcagua lies Mount Mercedario (Mercedario, Cerro) (22,211 feet), and between them are the high passes of Mount Espinacito (16,000 feet) and Mount Patos (12,825 feet). South of Anconcagua the passes include Pircas (16,960 feet), Bermejo (Bermejo Pass) (more than 10,000 feet), and Iglesia (13,400 feet). Farther north the passes are more numerous but higher. The peaks of Mounts Bonete, Ojos del Salado, and Pissis surpass 20,000 feet.

      The peak of Tres Cruces (22,156 feet) at 27° S latitude marks the culmination of this part of the cordillera. To the north is found a transverse depression and the southern limit of the high plateau region called the Atacama Plateau in Argentina and Chile and the Altiplano in Bolivia and Peru. The cordillera grows wider as it advances into Bolivia and Peru, where the great plateau is bounded by two ranges: the Occidental and the Oriental.

      Northward, to latitude 18° S, the peaks of El Cóndor, Sierra Nevada, Llullaillaco, Galán, and Antofalla all exceed 19,000 feet. The two main ranges and several volcanic secondary chains enclose depressions called salars (playa) because of the deposits of salts they contain; in northwestern Argentina, the Sierra de Calalaste encompasses the large Antofalla Salt Flat. Volcanoes of this zone occur mostly on a northerly line along the Cordillera Occidental as far as Misti Volcano (latitude 16° S) in Peru.

      The western slopes of the Cordillera Occidental descend gradually to the Atacama Desert along the coast. At about 18° S the trend of the Cordillera Occidental changes to a northwesterly direction. The Cordillera Oriental to the east, lower and built on a broad bed of lava, is cut and denuded by rivers with steep gradients, fed by heavy rainfall. It has two sections. The southern portion is 150 miles wide and—with the exception of Chorolque Peak (Chorolque, Mount) in Bolivia (18,414 feet)—of relatively low elevation. The northern section in Bolivia, called Cordillera Real (Real, Cordillera), is narrow, with higher peaks and glaciers; the most important peaks, at over 21,000 feet, are Mounts Illimani (Illimani, Nevado) and Illampu.

      At about latitude 22° S the Cordillera Oriental penetrates into Bolivia and describes a wide semicircle to the north and then to the northwest; to the west the Altiplano reaches its broadest extent. The Altiplano—500 miles long and 80 miles wide—is one of the largest interior basins of the world. Varying in elevation from 11,200 to 12,800 feet, it has no drainage outlet to the ocean. Roughly in the centre of the plateau is a great depression between the two cordilleras. Lake Titicaca (Titicaca, Lake), the highest navigable lake of the world (110 miles long), fills the northern part of the depression; the Desaguadero River flows south through the depression, draining Titicaca water into the smaller Lake Poopó.

      As the Andes enter Peru, the Cordillera Occidental runs parallel to the coast, while the Cordillera Real from Bolivia ends in the rough mountain mass of the Vilcanota Knot at latitude 15° S. From this knot (nudo), two lofty and narrow chains emerge northward, the Cordilleras de Carabaya and Vilcanota, separated by a deep gorge; a third range, the Cordillera de Vilcabamba (Vilcabamba, Cordillera de), appears to the west of these and northwest of the city of Cuzco. The three ranges are products of erosive action of rivers that have cut deep canyons between them. West of the Cordillera de Vilcabamba, the Apurímac River runs in one of the deepest canyons of the Western Hemisphere. The city of Cuzco lies in the valley west of the Cordillera de Vilcanota at an altitude of nearly 11,000 feet.

      The Peruvian Andes traditionally have been described as three cordilleras, which come together at the Vilcanota, Pasco, and Loja (Ecuador) knots. The Pasco Knot is a large, high plateau. To the west it is bounded by the Cordillera Huarochirí, on the west slope of which the Rímac River rises in a cluster of lakes fed by glaciers and descends rapidly to the ocean (15,700 feet in 60 miles). Ticlio Pass, at an altitude of some 15,800 feet, is used by a railway. Many small lakes and ponds are found on the knots, with Lake Junín (about 20 miles long) being the largest.

      North of the Pasco Knot, three different ranges run along the plateau: the Cordilleras Occidental, Central, and Oriental. In the Cordillera Occidental, at latitude 10° S, the deep, narrow Huaylas Valley separates two ranges, Cordillera Blanca (Blanca, Cordillera) to the east and Cordillera Negra (Negra, Cordillera) to the west; the Santa River runs between them and cuts Cordillera Negra to drain into the Pacific. Cordillera Blanca is a complex highland with permanently snowcapped peaks, some among the highest of the Andes (e.g., Mount Huascarán (Huascarán, Mount), at 22,205 feet). At times, the glaciers that rise there are broken off by earthquakes and rush down the slopes, demolishing vegetation and settlements in their paths. Cordillera Negra, so named because it is not covered with snow, is lower.

      The two ranges join together at latitude 9° S. The Marañón River, which runs northward between the Cordilleras Occidental and Central at about 6° S, changes its direction of flow to the northeast, penetrating into a region of narrow transverse water gaps (pongos) that cut the cordillera to reach the Amazon basin. These include Rentema (about one and one-fourth miles long and 200 feet wide), Mayo, Mayasito, and Huarcaya gaps and—the most important—Manseriche Gap, which is seven miles long.

      Between the Cordilleras Central and Oriental, the Huallaga River runs in a deep gorge with few small valleys; it cuts the eastern cordillera at Aguirre Gap (latitude 6° S). The Cordillera Oriental ends in the Amazon basin at 5° S.

      The permanent snow line reaches an altitude of 19,000 feet in Mount Chanchani (about latitude 16° S) and declines to about 15,000 feet in Cordillera Blanca and to 13,000 feet on Mount Huascarán. Permanent snow is less common north of 8° S, the puna grasslands end, and the so-called humid puna, or jalca, begins. Mountains become wider and smoother in appearance, while vegetation changes to heathland and trees. The altitude diminishes, and passes are much lower, as at Porculla Pass (7,000 feet) east of Piura.

Physiography of the Northern Andes
      A rough and eroded high mass of mountains called the Loja Knot (4° S) in southern Ecuador marks the transition between the Peruvian cordilleras and the Ecuadorian Andes. The Ecuadorian system consists of a long, narrow plateau running from south to north bordered by two mountain chains containing numerous high volcanoes (volcano). To the west, in the geologically recent and relatively low Cordillera Occidental, stands a line of 19 volcanoes, 7 of them exceeding 15,000 feet in elevation. The eastern border is the higher and older Cordillera Central, capped by a line of 20 volcanoes; some of these, such as Chimborazu Volcano (Chimborazo) (20,702 feet), have permanent snowcaps.

      The outpouring of lava from these volcanoes has divided the central plateau into 10 major basins that are strung in beadlike fashion between the two cordilleras. These basins and their adjacent slopes, which are intensively cultivated, contain roughly half of Ecuador's population.

      A third cordillera has been identified in the eastern jungle of Ecuador and has been named the Cordillera Oriental. The range appears to be an ancient alluvial formation that has been divided by rivers and heavy rainfall into a number of mountain masses. Such masses as the cordilleras of Guacamayo, Galeras, and Lumbaquí are isolated or form irregular short chains and are covered by luxuriant forest. Altitudes do not exceed 7,900 feet, except at Cordilleras del Cóndor (13,000 feet) and Mount Pax (11,000 feet).

      North of the boundary with Colombia is a group of high, snowcapped volcanoes (Azufral, Cumbal, Chiles) known as the Huaca Knot. Farther to the north is the great massif of the Pasto Mountains (latitude 1°–2° N), which is the most important Colombian physiographic complex and the source of many of the country's rivers.

      Three distinct ranges, the Cordilleras Occidental, Central, and Oriental, run northward. The Cordillera Occidental, parallel to the coast and moderately high, reaches an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet at Mount Paramillo before descending in three smaller ranges into the lowlands of northern Colombia. The Cordillera Central is the highest (average altitude of almost 10,000 feet) but also the shortest range of Colombian Andes, stretching some 400 miles before its most northerly spurs disappear at about latitude 8° N. Most of the volcanoes of the zone are in this range, including Mounts Tolima (17,105 feet), Ruiz (Ruiz, Mount) (17,717 feet), and Huila (18,865 feet). At about latitude 6° N, the range widens into a plateau on which Medellín is situated.

      Between the Cordilleras Central and Occidental is a great depression, the Patía-Cauca valley, divided into three longitudinal plains. The southernmost is the narrow valley of the Patía River, the waters of which flow to the Pacific. The middle plain is the highest in elevation (8,200 feet) and constitutes the divide of the other two. The northern plain, the largest (15 miles wide and 125 miles long), is the valley of Cauca River, which drains northward to the Magdalena River.

      The Cordillera Oriental trends slightly to the northeast and is the widest and the longest of the three. The average altitude is 7,900 to 8,900 feet. North of latitude 3° N the cordillera widens and after a small depression rises into the Sumapaz Uplands, which range in elevation from 10,000 to 13,000 feet. North of the Sumapaz Upland the range divides into two, enclosing a large plain 125 miles wide and 200 miles long, often interrupted by small transverse chains that form several upland basins called sabanas that contain about a third of Colombia's population. The city of Bogotá is on the largest and most populated of these sabanas; other important cities on sabanas are Chiquinquirá, Tunja, and Sogamoso. East of Honda (5° N) the cordillera divides into a series of abrupt parallel chains running to the north-northeast; among them the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (18,022 feet) is high enough to have snowcapped peaks.

      Farther north the central ranges of the Cordillera Central come to an end, but the flanking chains continue and diverge to the north and northeast. The westernmost of these chains is the Sierra de Ocaña, which on its northeastern side includes the Sierra de Perijá (Perijá, Mountains of); the latter range forms a portion of the boundary between Colombia and Venezuela and extends as far north as latitude 11° N in La Guajira Peninsula. The eastern chain bends to the east and enters Venezuela as the Cordillera de Mérida. On the Caribbean coast just west of the Sierra de Perijá stands the isolated, triangular Santa Marta Massif (Santa Marta Mountains), which rises abruptly from the coast to snowcapped peaks of 18,947 feet; geologically, however, the Santa Marta Massif is not part of the Andes.

      The Venezuelan Andes are represented by the Cordillera de Mérida (280 miles long, 50 to 90 miles wide, and about 10,000 feet in elevation), which extends in a northeasterly direction to the city of Barquisimeto, where it ends. The cordillera is a great uplifted axis where erosion has uncovered granite and gneiss rocks but where the northwestern and southeastern flanks remain covered by sediments; it consists of numerous chains with snow-covered summits separated by longitudinal and transverse depressions—Sierras Tovar, Nevada, Santo Domingo, de la Culata, Trujillo, and others. The range forms the northwestern limit of the Orinoco River basin, beyond which water flows to the Caribbean. North of Barquisimeto, the Sierra Falcón and Cordillera del Litoral (called in Venezuela the Sistema Andino) do not belong to the Andes but rather to the Guiana system.

      The complex interchange between climate, parent material, topography, and biology that determines soil types and their condition is deeply affected by altitude in the Andes. In general, Andean soils are relatively young and are subject to great erosion by water and winds because of the steep gradients of much of the land.

      In the Fuegian and southern Patagonian Andes, the formation of soils is difficult; the actions of glaciers and of strong winds have left nearly bare rock in many places. Peat bogs, podzols, and meadow soils, all with thick horizons (layers) of humus, are found; drainage is poor. Volcanic soils that are rich in organic material and are well drained occur in the region of lakes. North of latitude 45° S, soils are formed directly on weathered rocks at higher elevations, and reddish brown soils with gravel and quartz are found in the lower zones; erosion is heavy.

      North of 37° S the Atacama Desert is covered with heavily eroded desertic soils that are low in moisture and organic material and high in mineral salts. This soil type, with few differences, extends along the Cordillera Occidental to north of Peru.

      From Bolivia to Colombia the soils of the plateau and the east side of the eastern cordilleras show characteristics closely related to altitude. In the Andean páramo embryonic soils black with organic material are found. At altitudes between 6,000 and 12,000 feet, red, brown, and chernozem soils occur on moderate slopes and on basin floors. In more poorly drained locations, soils with a permeable sandy horizon are relatively fertile; these soils are the most economically important in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The sabana soils of Colombia are gray-brown, with an impermeable claypan in certain levels, resulting in poor drainage.

      At high elevations soils are thin and stony. On the east side of the eastern cordilleras, descending to the Amazon basin, thin, poorly developed humid soils are subject to considerable erosion. Intrazonal soils (those with weakly developed horizons) include humic clay and solonetz (dark alkaline soils) types found close to lakes and lagoons. Also included in this group are soils formed from volcanic ash in the Cordillera Occidental from Chile to Ecuador.

      The azonal soils—alluvials (alluvium) (soils incompletely evolved and stratified without definite profile) and lithosols (shallow soils consisting of imperfectly weathered rock fragments)—occupy much of the Andean massif. In Colombia, sandy yellow-brown azonal soils on slopes and in gorges are the base of the large coffee plantations.

      In general, temperature increases northward from Tierra del Fuego to the Equator, but such factors as altitude, proximity to the sea, the cold Peru (Humboldt) Current, rainfall, and topographic barriers to the wind contribute to a wide variety of climatic conditions. The hottest rain forests and deserts often are separated from tundralike puna by a few miles. There also is considerable climatic disparity between the external slopes (i.e., those facing the Pacific or the Amazon basin) and the internal slopes of the cordilleras; the external slopes are under the influence of either the ocean or the Amazon basin. As mentioned above, the line of permanent snow varies greatly. It increases from 2,600 feet at the Strait of Magellan, to 20,000 feet at latitude 27° S, after which it begins descending again until it reaches 15,000 feet in the Colombian Andes.

      Precipitation varies widely. South of latitude 38° S, annual precipitation exceeds 20 inches, whereas to the north it diminishes considerably and becomes markedly seasonal. Farther north—on the Altiplano of Bolivia, the Peruvian plateau, and in the valleys of Ecuador and the sabanas of Colombia—rainfall is moderate, though amounts are highly variable. It rains only in very small amounts on the west side of the Peruvian Cordillera Occidental but considerably more in Ecuador and Colombia. On the east (Amazonian) side of the Cordilleras Orientales, rainfall usually is seasonal and heavy.

      Temperature varies greatly with altitude. In the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes, for example, the climate is tropical up to an altitude of 4,900 feet, becoming subtropical up to 8,200 feet; hot temperatures prevail during the day, and nights are mildly warm. Between 8,200 and 11,500 feet daytime temperatures are mild, but there are marked differences between night and day; this zone constitutes the most hospitable area of the Andes. From 11,500 to 14,800 feet it generally is cold—with great differences between day and night and between sunshine and shadow—and temperatures are below freezing at night. Between about 13,500 and 15,700 feet (the puna), the climate of the páramo is found, with constant subfreezing temperatures. Finally, above 15,700 feet, the climate of the peaks and high ridges is polar with extremely low temperatures and icy winds.

      As in other mountainous areas of the world, a wide variety of microclimates (highly localized climatic conditions) exist because of the interplay of aspect, exposure to winds, latitude, length of day, and other factors. Peru, in particular, has one of the world's most complex arrays of habitats because of its numerous microclimates.

Plant and animal life
      The ability of plants and animals to live in the Andes varies with altitude, although the existence of plant communities is also determined by climate, availability of moisture, and soil, while that of animal life is also affected by the abundance of food sources; the permanent snow line is the upper limit of habitation. Some plants and animals can live at any altitude, and others can live only at certain levels. Cats rarely live above 13,000 feet, whereas white-tailed mice usually do not stay lower than 13,000 feet and can live up to 17,000 feet. The camelids (llama, guanaco, alpaca, and vicuña) are animals primarily of the Altiplano (11,200 to 12,800 feet), although they can live well at lower altitudes. It is thought that the condor can fly up to 26,000 feet.

      Probably the low barometric pressures of high altitudes are less important for vegetation, but altitude amplifies a number of climatic variables—such as temperature, wind, radiation, and dryness—that determine what kinds of plants grow in different parts of the Andes. In general, the Andes can be divided into altitudinal bands, each with typical predominant vegetation and fauna; but latitude imposes differences between south and north, and proximity to the Pacific and to the Amazon basin is reflected in differences between the external and internal slopes of the Cordilleras Occidental and Oriental.

      A zone at about latitude 35° S separates two different regions of the Andes. To the south, in the Patagonian Andes, the flora is austral (of southern aspect) instead of Andean. Magnificent mid-latitude rain forests of the conifer genus Araucaria and of oak, coigue (an evergreen used for thatching), chusquea, cypress, and larch occur.

      Characteristics to the north are different. The Cordillera Occidental is extremely dry in the south, slightly humid (with moisture and scarce rainfall) in central and northern Peru, and humid with heavy or moderate rainfall in Ecuador and Colombia. Vegetation follows the climatic scheme: in the south it is poor and desertlike, though at higher altitudes steppe vegetation occurs. Animals include the guemul, puma, vizcacha, cuy (guinea pig), chinchilla, camelids, mice, and lizards; among the birds are the condor, partridge, parina, huallata, and coot. Excluding areas where irrigation methods are utilized, agricultural potential is poor. The east side of the Cordilleras Orientales northward from Bolivia has lush vegetation, most of it tropical forest with a rich jungle fauna.

      On the plateau (valleys, plains, ranges, and internal slopes of the cordilleras), life again is closely related to altitude. Tropical palms and eternal snows lie within a few miles of each other, where altitude may vary from 1,600 feet in deep gorges to more than 20,000 feet in peaks and ridges. Up to an elevation of 8,000 feet, vegetation reflects the dry tropical and subtropical climate, and agriculture is important: the great coffee industry of Colombia is located mainly in the warm valleys of this zone. Between 8,200 and 11,500 feet lies the most populated zone of the Andes; some of the major cities of the Andean countries are there, and the zone supports the main part of Andean agriculture. Temperatures vary from warm in the valleys to moderate low (down to 50 °F [10 °C]) on the plains, sabanas, and slopes, and there is seasonal rainfall and water from rivers. This zone also is suitable for livestock and poultry farming.

      Between 11,500 and 13,400 feet relief is usually rough and difficult for agriculture. In Colombia this zone is páramo and sub-páramo, with seasonal rainfall; in Ecuador rain is abundant; and in Peru páramo has from moderate to scarce rainfall. From 13,400 to 15,700 feet (the puna), vegetation consists of plants that resist the cold temperature and nighttime freezing; above 16,000 feet, vegetation is almost absent.

The people
      Human presence in the Andes is relatively recent; the oldest human remains to be found are only 10,000 to 12,000 years old, although habitation probably dates to much earlier times. The shortage of oxygen at high altitude, especially above 12,000 feet, is so physiologically demanding that it imposes deep adaptative changes even within the cells of the body. The highest altitude in the Andes at which people have resided permanently is 17,100 feet (shepherds in southern Peru) and, as temporary workers, 18,500 to 19,000 feet (Carrasco Mine, in the Atacama Desert, Chile).

      From Patagonia to the southern limits of the Bolivian Altiplano, the Andes are sparsely populated; a few small groups of shepherds and farmers live on the lower slopes and vegas of the cordillera. Farther to the north, from Bolivia to Colombia, the largest population concentrations and most of the important cities of these countries are found in the Andes. In Peru and Bolivia, a significant proportion of the inhabitants live above 10,000 feet.

      Roughly half the population of Bolivia are Aymara- (Aymara) and Quechua-speaking (Quechua) Indians (South American Indian); most of the remainder are Spanish-speaking mestizos (mestizo) (or mixed). In the Lake Titicaca district live remnants of the ancient Uru people. Population is distributed mainly between the high páramos, where, except for a seminomad population of shepherds, the principal occupation is mining, and the lower narrow valleys, where the people practice agriculture. In Peru, mining is the most important human activity above 11,500 feet, but the great majority of the Andean population is engaged in agriculture and raising sheep, cattle, goats, llamas, and alpacas; a growing proportion of people have become employed in industry and commerce. A group of Aymara-speaking Indians live in the south around Lake Titicaca, but the largest native population is Quechua-speaking; Quechua speakers constitute the great majority of the highland population.

      The inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Andes are mainly Quechua speakers and mestizos; in the south there are small groups of Cañaris and, in the north, Salasacas. Agriculture (corn [maize], potatoes, broad beans) is the main occupation; some Indian peoples engage in ceramics and weaving.

      In Colombia the largest proportion of the population lives between 5,000 and 10,500 feet. Only a tiny fraction of the country's population is Indian, these groups living on the Altiplano of the Cordillera Oriental and in the Cordillera Central and the southern mountains. The zone of coffee plantations at about 3,000 to 6,500 feet is the most densely populated area.

The economy

Agriculture and livestock
      Agriculture on the Andes is difficult, and crop yields are relatively poor. The water supply is inadequate, and a large part of the plateau region is dry or receives little and irregular seasonal rainfall. Temperatures of the high plains are cold, and crops are subject to freezing. The terrain is rough, and soils are not well developed; and, where fertile valleys do occur, they are narrow and small. Terraced fields have been developed on many slopes to increase the amount of land available for agriculture.

      Thus, a considerable amount of Andean agricultural production is for local consumption. Some products, however, have been grown in sufficient quantity to be exported, including coffee (especially from Colombia), tobacco, and cotton; in addition, large quantities of coca (the source of cocaine) have been exported from Colombia and Bolivia, despite efforts to curb production. The possibilities of increasing the amount of arable land area by irrigation are extremely limited.

 The natural pastures of the plateau regions are extensively used for cattle raising. Colombia exports cattle, and Peru has a large milk-canning and livestock industry. Sheep, goat, llama, and alpaca raising are widespread in Peru and Bolivia, with both countries exporting sheep and alpaca wool.

      The mining industry of the Andes is one of the most important of the world. Mining is especially extensive in the south. The principal minerals are copper in Chile and Peru; tin in Bolivia; silver, lead, and zinc in Bolivia and Peru; gold in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia; platinum and emeralds in Colombia; bismuth in Bolivia; vanadium in Peru; and coal and iron in Chile, Peru, and Colombia. Several deposits of petroleum are distributed along the eastern side of the Andes.

      The Andes always have been a formidable barrier for communication, with great effect on the economic and cultural development of the region. Production centres generally are far from seaports, and the mountainous character of the land makes the construction and maintenance of railways and roads difficult and expensive. A large network of pack trails are still in use between small communities and between farms and markets. Horses, donkeys, and mules are widely used; in Colombia the ox and in Peru and Bolivia the llama also are transport animals.

      Most of the railways were built to transport mining products, and otherwise are little developed. There are two international railways between Chile and Argentina: the first connects Valparaíso and Buenos Aires, and the second, Antofagasta and Salta. La Paz, Bolivia, is connected with Buenos Aires, Antofagasta and Arica (Chile), and (via Lake Titicaca) Puno, Arequipa, Cuzco, and Matarani (Peru). Peru has two important internal railways, one from Puno to Cuzco and the other from Lima to Cerro de Pasco and Huancavelica; the latter line is the highest in the world, crossing Ticlio Pass at an altitude of some 15,800 feet. The main rail line in Ecuador runs from Quito to Guayaquil, and in Colombia the main line connects Bogotá to the Caribbean coast.

      Roads are more suitable for Andean agricultural regions, because the small and widely separated valleys make railway construction and operation too expensive. Since World War II, all countries along the Andean cordilleras have expanded their road networks both within and through the mountains, although only a small portion of these roads are paved. The Pan-American Highway connects the major western cities; various east-west routes are included in the system.

      Air transport has become particularly important in the Andes, where it has reduced the difficulties of overland communication. Air routes are especially well developed in Colombia and Peru.

Study and exploration
      As mentioned above, the Andes have been populated for millennia. By the time of the Spanish conquest (European exploration) in the 1530s, the indigenous highland peoples had developed a thorough knowledge of the Andes and had built in them an extensive network of cities and connecting roads. Early Spanish exploration of the mountains consisted of plundering raids, although in the process most of the major modern Andean cities were founded.

      The first systematic European study of the mountains came in the form of a series of surveys called the Relaciones geográficas (1579–85), which in increasingly elaborate questionnaires recorded much geographic and economic information about Spain's overseas colonies. In 1735 an expedition led by the French naturalist Charles-Marie de La Condamine (La Condamine, Charles-Marie de) began to measure the arc of the meridian at the Equator in the Andes, and for several years this group surveyed the Ecuadorian ranges. An even more important series of investigations was conducted by the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (Humboldt, Alexander von), who arrived on the Venezuelan coast in 1799 and for five years made innumerable observations of Andean geology, climatology, and biology (particularly of altitude-based ecological zones).

      By the mid-19th century the now-independent Andean countries were conducting and sponsoring scientific exploration of the mountains. Among those active at that time were the British mountaineer Edward Whymper (Whymper, Edward) in Ecuador, the Peruvian Mariano Paz Soldan in Peru, and the Italian geographer Agostino Codazzi, who produced detailed maps of Colombia and Venezuela. Since the late 19th century much Andean research has been directed toward economic development, primarily mining operations and railway construction.

M. Tulio Velásquez Norman R. Stewart

Additional Reading
Classic works on the geography and geology of the Andes include Alan G. Ogilvie, Geography of the Central Andes (1922); and Isaiah Bowman, The Andes of Southern Peru (1916). The role of plate tectonics in the formation of the Andes is discussed in R.W.R. Rutland, “Andean Orogeny and Ocean Floor Spreading,” Nature, 233(5317):252–255 (1971); and David E. James, “The Evolution of the Andes,” Scientific American, 229(2):60–69 (August 1973). Harold Osborne, Indians of the Andes: Aymaras and Quechuas (1952, reissued 1973), is still a useful discussion of the indigenous peoples. More recent works include Daniel W. Gade, Nature and Culture in the Andes (1999); Karl S. Zimmerer, Changing Fortunes: Biodiversity and Peasant Livelihood in the Peruvian Andes (1996); Gregory W. Knapp, Andean Ecology: Adaptive Dynamics in Ecuador (1991); Shozo Masuda, Izumi Shimada, and Craig Morris (eds.), Andean Ecology and Civilization (1985), a collection of conference papers; Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (1989), a report prepared by a panel of the National Research Council; Benjamin S. Orlove and Glynn Custred (eds.), Land and Power in Latin America: Agrarian Economies and Social Processes in the Andes (1980); and William P. Mitchell, Peasants on the Edge: Crop, Cult, and Crisis in the Andes (1991). A classic account of Andean exploration, George E. Squier, Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas (1877), is available in later editions..William M. Denevan

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Universalium. 2010.

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