Contrasting climates of the Andes Mountains • Earth.com

Contrasting climates of the Andes Mountains

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features the Andes mountains in South America. The aerial photograph was taken by an External High-Definition Camera (EHDC) on the International Space Station. 

The Andes Mountains are the longest mountain range in the world, stretching over 4,300 miles along the western edge of South America. They span seven countries: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.

Many of the peaks rise above 20,000 feet, with the highest peak being Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, which reaches an altitude of 22,837 feet.

The Andes have a significant influence on the climate of the region. The mountains act as a barrier, preventing moist air from the Amazon Basin from moving westward, which results in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on Earth, located on the western side of the Andes in northern Chile.

“The Andes mountain chain causes a rain shadow effect that results in minimal precipitation in the Atacama region of Chile. This area – known as the Atacama Desert – is widely recognized as one of the driest places on Earth,” said NASA. “Some areas of the Atacama are touched by rain only four times a century. Other areas have never received rainfall for as long as records have been kept.”

“Precipitation is more abundant toward the east, where moisture is carried by winds from the interior of South America toward the eastern slopes of the Andes. Notice the shift from the moist Amazon basin rainforest (dark green) at the top of the image to dry desert conditions (brown) approaching the coast.”

The Andes host a wide variety of ecosystems, from tropical rainforests in the north to icy glaciers in the south. The high altitude range allows for diverse habitats like cloud forests, puna grasslands, and páramo.

The mountains have been home to various civilizations, most notably the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the most famous archaeological sites from the Incan era.

The Andean region is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. It is home to thousands of unique plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

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