The Altiplano is a large uplifted plateau in the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes of South America. The plateau has an area of about 65,536 square miles (170,000 km2) and an average elevation of 12,000 feet (3,660 m) above sea level. The Altiplano is a sedimentary basin caught between the mountain ranges of the Cordillera Oriental on the east and the Cordillera Occidental on the west. Lake Titicaca, the largest high-altitude lake in the world, is located at the northern end of the Altiplano, a dry region with sparse vegetation and scattered salt flats. Villagers grow potatoes and grains, and a variety of minerals are extracted from the plateau and surrounding mountain ranges.

The Atacama Desert is an elevated arid region located in northern Chile, extending over 384 square miles (1,000 km2) south from the border with Peru. The desert is located 2,000 feet (600 m) above sea level and is characterized by numerous dry salt basins (playas), flanked on the east by the Andes and on the west by the Pacific coastal range. The Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth, with no rain ever recorded in many places, and practically no vegetation in the region. Nitrate and copper are mined extensively in the region.

The Atacama is first known to have been crossed by the spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro in 1537, but it was ignored until the middle 19th century, when mining of nitrates in the desert began. However, after World War I, synthetic nitrates were developed and the region has been experiencing economic decline ever since, as it is too expensive to mine the natural nitrates from the desert.

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