South America, the fourth-largest continent, extends from the Gulf of Darién in the northwest to the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in the south.
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Tiger, TigerTigers are dangerous animals, but they have more to fear from us than we have to fear from them. The Earth’s natural resources include air, water, soil, minerals, fuels, plants, and animals.
Deforestation is the process of clearing away forests by cutting them down or burning them. Harvesting all the trees from a large area, a practice called clearcutting, increases the chances of losing productive topsoil to wind and water erosion. Migration to remote island groups, such as the Philippines or the islands of Polynesia, appears to have been one of the final stages of global human migration. The so-called "restless gene," DRD4-7R, has been linked to the human tendency toward risk-taking, including migration.
DRD4-7R has also been associated with financial risk-taking: men with the DRD4-7R gene have been found to be more willing to invest in unproven (risky) economic ventures. People with DRD4-7R have a higher frequency of multi-racial ancestry, perhaps hinting at a willingness to embrace a different sort of change.
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Paul says the most difficult part of his profession is maintaining personal relationships and diplomacy while juggling different responsibilities. The paleontologist believes geography is not just the current landscape, but also what has happened to that landscape over time.
Geologic features along the Ring of Fire include not only volcanoes, but ocean trenches, mountain trenches, hydrothermal vents, and sites of earthquake activity. The island nation of Japan lies along the western edge of the Ring of Fire, and is one of the most tectonically active places on Earth. The Pacific Plate, which drives much of the tectonic activity in the Ring of Fire, is cooling off. The Ring of Fire is a string of volcanoes and sites of seismic activity, or earthquakes, around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.
If you were to drain the water out of the Pacific Ocean, you would see a series of deep ocean trenches that run parallel to corresponding volcanic arcs along the Ring of Fire.
The Andes Mountains of South America run parallel to the Peru-Chile Trench, created as the Nazca Plate subducts beneath the South American Plate. The San Andreas Fault, stretching along the central west coast of North America, is one of the most active faults on the Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire is also home to hot spots, areas deep within the Earth’s mantle from which heat rises.
Hot spots are not generally associated with the interaction or movement of Earth’s tectonic plates. Mount Erebus, the most southern active volcano on Earth, sits over the eruptive zone of the Erebus hot spot in Antarctica. Mount Ruapehu in New Zealand is one of the more active volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, with yearly minor eruptions, and major eruptions occurring about every 50 years. Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain, is an active volcano in the Ring of Fire.
It is home to the world's largest river (the Amazon) as well as the world's driest place (the Atacama Desert).
The Orinoco flows in a giant arc for more than 2,736 kilometers (1,700 miles), originating in the Guiana Highlands of northern Brazil and discharging in the Atlantic Ocean in Venezuela.
If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner () of the media viewer. Conservation is the practice of caring for these resources so all living things can benefit from them now and in the future.All the things we need to survive, such as food, water, air, and shelter, come from natural resources. Find more interactive content, photos, and videos in the iPad version of National Geographic magazine. Their studies have led them to a gene variation that might point to our propensity for risk-taking, movement, change, and adventure.
These regions were probably the first to be settled because they are so close to Africa, and could be reached by foot over several generations. Do you think early humans followed any geographic patterns in their migration out of Africa? Can you think of other adventurous behaviors that may be influenced by "the restless gene"? While growing up in Naperville, Illinois, he received a butterfly-collecting kit from his father and built a go-kart from scratch.A behind-the-scenes tour of a museum during college inspired Paul to pursue paleontology. Scientists have discovered that the youngest parts of the Pacific Plate (about 2 million years old) are cooling off and contracting at a faster rate than older parts of the plate (about 100 million years old).
Tectonic plates are huge slabs of the Earth’s crust, which fit together like pieces of a puzzle.
Convergent boundaries are often subduction zones, where the heavier plate slips under the lighter plate, creating a deep trench. The Andes Mountains include the world’s highest active volcano, Nevados Ojos del Salado, which rises to 6,879 meters (over 22,500 feet) along the Chile-Argentina border. The East Pacific Rise is located on the divergent boundary of the Pacific Plate and the Cocos Plate (west of Central America), the Nazca Plate (west of South America), and the Antarctic Plate.
It lies on the transform boundary between the North American Plate, which is moving south, and the Pacific Plate, which is moving north. For this reason, many geologists do not consider hot spot volcanoes part of the Ring of Fire.
The mountain is one of Mexico’s most active volcanoes, with 15 recorded eruptions since 1519. Mountains and coastal plains generally run in a north-south direction, while highlands and river basins generally run in an east-west direction.
The Orinoco River basin covers an area of about 948,000 square kilometers (366,000 square miles) and encompasses approximately 80 percent of Venezuela and 25 percent of Colombia.A vast savanna or grassland region, known as the Llanos, is the primary biome of the Orinoco River basin.
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Three tiger subspecies the Bali, Caspian, and Javan tigers have gone extinct in the past century.
How far and fast they went depended on climate, the pressures of population, and the invention of boats and other technologies. This gene variant, known as DRD4-7R, is carried by approximately 20 percent of the human population.
Early routes followed the coasts of the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean. The younger parts of the plate are found in its northern and western parts—the most active parts of the Ring of Fire. A string of 452 volcanoes stretches from the southern tip of South America, up along the coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, down through Japan, and into New Zealand.
The plates are not fixed but are constantly moving atop a layer of solid and molten rock called the mantle. This subduction changes the dense mantle material into buoyant magma, which rises through the crust to the Earth’s surface. Both geographic features continue to form as the Pacific Plate subducts beneath the North American Plate. Seafloor spreading is the process of magma welling up in the rift as the old crust pulls itself in opposite directions.

Measuring about 1,287 kilometers (800 miles) long and 16 kilometers (10 miles) deep, the fault cuts through the western part of the U.S. Mount Ruapehu is part of the Taupo Volcanic Arc, where the dense Pacific Plate is subducting beneath the Australian Plate.
Beneath Krakatoa, the denser Australian Plate is being subducted beneath the Eurasian Plate. The villagers won, and Uttar Pradesh banned the felling of trees in the Himalayan foothills.
Many organizations are working hard to protect the remaining tigers from illegal hunting and habitat loss. We need a rich mixture of living things to provide foods, building materials, and medicines, as well as to maintain a clean and healthy landscape.When a species becomes extinct, it is lost to the world forever. Less tangible qualities also sped their footsteps: imagination, adaptability, and an innate curiosity about what lay over the next hill.
Over millions of years, the rising magma creates a series of active volcanoes known as a volcanic arc. This stress causes the rock to break or slip, suddenly lurching the plates forward and causing earthquakes.
An infamous eruption in 1883 destroyed the entire island, sending volcanic gas, volcanic ash, and rocks as high as 80 kilometers (50 miles) in the air. A biome is a community of animals and plants that spreads over an area with a relatively uniform climate. These are renewable resources.Other resources, such as fossil fuels, cannot be replaced at all.
The upward movement and eventual cooling of this magma has created high ridges on the ocean floor over millions of years. Movement along the fault caused the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which destroyed nearly 500 city blocks. Helens, both the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates are being subducted beneath the North American Plate. Through hunting, pollution, habitat destruction, and contribution to global warming, people are speeding up the loss of biodiversity at an alarming rate.
Burning fossil fuels also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Out of that freshwater, almost 70 percent is permanently frozen in the ice caps covering Antarctica and Greenland. The earthquake and accompanying fires killed roughly 3,000 people and left half of the city’s residents homeless. Like most grassland biomes, the Llanos is the perfect habitat for many bird species, including the scarlet ibis, bellbird, and umbrellabird. It’s hard to know how many species are going extinct because the total number of species is unknown. Only about 1 percent of the freshwater on Earth is available for people to use for drinking, bathing, and irrigating crops.People in many regions of the world suffer water shortages. Helens lies on a particularly weak section of crust, which makes it more prone to eruptions. Deforestation also harms the people who rely on forests for their survival, hunting and gathering, harvesting forest products, or using the timber for firewood. These are caused by depletion of underground water sources known as aquifers, a lack of rainfall due to drought, or pollution of water supplies. Its historic 1980 eruption lasted 9 hours and covered nearby areas in tons of volcanic ash.
About half of all the forests on Earth are in the tropics—an area that circles the globe near the Equator.
For example, after looking at just 19 trees in Panama, scientists found 1,200 different species of beetles—80 percent of them unknown to science at the time. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 2.6 billion people lack adequate water sanitation.
Situated on the far western edge of the continent, the Andes stretch from the southern tip to the northernmost coast of South America. Along with the Uruguay River, the Paraná River empties into the Rio de la Plata estuary between Argentina and Uruguay. Based on various estimates of the number of species on Earth, we could be losing anywhere from 200 to 100,000 species each year.
Many areas are experiencing more droughts, while others suffer from flooding.Scientists are exploring alternatives to fossil fuels.
More than 5 million people die each year from diseases caused by using polluted water for drinking, cooking, or washing.
There are hundreds of peaks more than 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) tall, many of which are volcanic. For example, more than 500 different species of trees live in the forests on the small island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea.Tropical forests give us many valuable products, including woods like mahogany and teak, rubber, fruits, nuts, and flowers. About one-third of Earth’s population lives in areas that are experiencing water stress. The highest peak in the Andes, Aconcagua, stands at 6,962 meters (22,841 feet) and straddles the Argentina-Chile border. This is true even if we don’t eat a species threatened with extinction because something we do eat may depend on that species for survival.
Most of these areas are in developing countries.Polluted water hurts the environment as well as people. Some predators are useful for keeping the populations of other animals at manageable levels. The extinction of a major predator might mean there are more herbivores looking for food in people’s gardens and farms. When this water gets into streams, rivers, and oceans, it can harm the organisms that live in or drink from those water sources.People can conserve and protect water supplies in many ways.
The altiplano of Peru and Bolivia, for example, has an elevation of about 3,700 meters (12,300 feet). Through conservation, people can reduce waste and manage natural resources wisely.The population of human beings has grown enormously in the past two centuries. Individuals can limit water use by fixing leaky faucets, taking shorter showers, planting drought-resistant plants, and buying low-water-use appliances. The Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile consists of lower-elevation plateaus and rugged glaciers.Most plants in the alpine biome are small, and their leaves are stiff and strong to protect them from frost and drought.
South American coastal plains are found on the northeastern coast of Brazil, on the Atlantic Ocean, and the western, Pacific coast of Peru and Chile. Billions of people use up resources quickly as they eat food, build houses, produce goods, and burn fuel for transportation and electricity.
Other sustainable forestry methods include using low-impact logging practices, harvesting with natural regeneration in mind, and avoiding certain logging techniques, such as removing all the high-value trees or all the largest trees from a forest.
Governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations can help developing countries build sanitation facilities. The continuation of life as we know it depends on the careful use of natural resources.The need to conserve resources often conflicts with other needs.
The Great Barrier Reef, a coral reef off the coast of northeastern Australia, contributes about $6 billion to the nation’s economy through commercial fishing, tourism, and other recreational activities.
The Brazilian Highlands act as a wedge that pushes moist sea winds away from the coastal plains. People in China and Mexico, for example, reuse much of their wastepaper, including writing paper, wrapping paper, and cardboard. If the coral reef dies, many of the fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and plants will die, too.Some governments have established parks and preserves to protect wildlife and their habitats.
As the ores for minerals like aluminum and iron become harder to find and extract, their prices skyrocket.
This includes limiting overgrazing, avoiding over-irrigation, and using alternatives to chemical pesticides whenever possible.

The leaves of this endangered species all grow from one woody stem, allowing moisture to run down the leaves to the base of the plant. They are also working to abolish hunting and fishing practices that may cause the extinction of some species.Fossil FuelsFossil fuels are fuels produced from the remains of ancient plants and animals. This makes tools and machinery more expensive to purchase and operate.Many mining methods, such as mountaintop removal mining (MTR), devastate the environment. Conservation GroupsBusinesses, international organizations, and some governments are involved in conservation efforts. Outside the Andes, South America has two principal highland areas: the Brazilian Highlands and the Guiana Highlands. They are trapped between the cold Peru Current to the west and the Andes Mountains to the east. We can also replace some wood products with alternatives like bamboo, which is actually a type of grass.SoilSoil is vital to food production. Located south of the Amazon River in Brazil, the Brazilian Highlands are made up of low mountains and plateaus that rise to an average elevation of 1,006 meters (3,300 feet).
All these needs are valid, but sometimes the plants and animals that live in the area are forgotten.
People rely on fossil fuels to power vehicles like cars and airplanes, to produce electricity, and to cook and provide heat. Many mining methods also pollute water and air, as toxic chemicals leak into the surrounding ecosystem. The UN also established World Water Day, an event to raise awareness and promote water conservation.
This cold surface water results in thermal inversion: cold air at sea level and stable, warmer air higher up. The benefits of development need to be weighed against the harm to animals that may be forced to find new habitats, the depletion of resources we may want in the future (such as water or timber), or damage to resources we use today.
Conservation efforts in areas like Chile and the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States often promote more sustainable mining methods.
Governments enact laws defining how land should be used and which areas should be set aside as parks and wildlife preserves. The heavily forested plateau of the Guiana Highlands covers southern Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana, northern Brazil, and a portion of southeastern Colombia. Many other types of conservation efforts, such as plant conservation and animal conservation, depend on soil conservation.Poor farming methods, such as repeatedly planting the same crop in the same place, called monoculture, deplete nutrients in the soil. These include plastics, synthetic rubber, fabrics like nylon, medicines, cosmetics, waxes, cleaning products, medical devices, and even bubblegum.
Less wasteful mining methods and the recycling of materials will help conserve mineral resources. Governments also enforce laws designed to protect the environment from pollution, such as requiring factories to install pollution-control devices. When we use the environment in ways that ensure we have resources for the future, it is called sustainable development. In Japan, for example, car manufacturers recycle many raw materials used in making automobiles. Finally, governments often provide incentives for conserving resources, using clean technologies, and recycling used goods.Many international organizations are dedicated to conservation.
The basin, which covers most of northern South America, is fed by tributaries from the glaciers of the Andes.
In the United States, nearly one-third of the iron produced comes from recycled automobiles. Members support causes such as saving rain forests, protecting threatened animals, and cleaning up the air. Every second, the Amazon River empties 209,000 cubic meters (7,381,000 cubic feet) of freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean.The Amazon River is the life force of the equally vast Amazon rain forest, which makes up about half of the rain forest of the entire planet. ForestsA forest is a large area covered with trees grouped so their foliage shades the ground. Several crops, such as corn, wheat, and clover, are planted in alternating strips across a slope or across the path of the prevailing wind.
Electronic devices present a big problem for conservation because technology changes so quickly. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an alliance of governments and private groups founded in 1948. This tropical biome has as many as 100 different tree species on a single acre, including the rubber tree, silk cotton tree, and Brazil nut tree. Every continent except Antarctica has forests, from the evergreen-filled boreal forests of the north to mangrove forests in tropical wetlands.
Other important plant species include palms, ferns, and ropelike vines known as lianas that network throughout the rain forest’s dense canopy. The average rainfall is about 1 millimeter (0.04 inches) a year, and some parts of the Atacama have never had rain in recorded history.
The diversity of animal life in the Amazon rain forest is unsurpassed in the rest of the world. Tropical rain forests are especially rich in biodiversity.Forests provide habitats for animals and plants. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans generated more than 3 million tons of e-waste in 2007.Electronic products contain minerals as well as petroleum-based plastics.
Many of them also contain hazardous materials that can leach out of landfills into the soil and water supply. In addition, the IUCN monitors the status of endangered wildlife, threatened national parks and preserves, and other environments around the world.
More than 2 million species of insects are native to the region, including hundreds of spiders and butterflies.
Larger animal species are also rare, and include the grey fox, a type of deer called the huemul, and the viscacha—the largest member of the chinchilla family. Recycling not only keeps materials out of landfills, but it also reduces the energy used to produce new products. Thousands of native birds include brightly colored macaws, parrots, toucans, and parakeets.
While Atacama lacks flora and fauna, it is a rich source of copper and a chief source of revenue for the Chilean economy.
For instance, recycling aluminum saves 90 percent of the energy that would be required to mine new aluminum. Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, England, work to protect plant life around the world.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, for example, works with partners in 54 countries to protect biodiversity through seed collection. Kew researchers are also exploring how DNA technology can help restore damaged habitats.Individuals can do many things to help conserve resources. Turning off lights, repairing leaky faucets, and recycling paper, aluminum cans, glass, and plastic are just a few examples. Riding bikes, walking, carpooling, and using public transportation all help conserve fuel and reduce the amount of pollutants released into the environment. And people can carry reusable water bottles and coffee mugs rather than using disposable containers. If each of us would conserve in small ways, the result would be a major conservation effort.

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