This photo, taken from space, shows the Southeast Pacific Ocean on the left, with patches of stratocumulus clouds along the coast of South American. Moving to the right (east) one can see the low lying coastal Atacama Desert and the Andes Mountain Range.
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Image Courtesy of NASA

The Andes Mountains

The Andes Mountains are one of the longest mountain ranges on Earth. This mountain range is over 7,000 km (4,400 miles) long and runs along the west coast of South America. The Andes include peaks above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet); many of these peaks are active volcanoes. The mountain range is part of seven countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela .

The Andes form a huge barrier between the eastern Pacific Ocean and the rest of the continent of South America. This barrier impacts the climate of South America. The northern part of the Andes is typically rainy and warm. The west side of the central Andes is extremely dry and includes the Atacama Desert in northern Chile; the eastern part of the central Andes is much wetter. In the south, the western side of the Andes is very wet, and the eastern plains in the south are very dry. Many of the peaks in the Andes receive heavy snowfall and contain glaciers.

The forces of plate tectonics are responsible for the formation of the Andes. These processes continue today and cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the region.

The Inca Empire started in the mountains of Peru in the early 13th century and spread throughout the Andes in the 1400s. The Incas built roads, aqueducts, and impressive cities throughout the mountain range. In the 1530s a civil war and exposure to European diseases destroyed most of the Inca Empire.

Last modified November 17, 2008 by Julia Genyuk.

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