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National parks and geography

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Argentina > Topography and geography of Argentina
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Argentina forms the eastern half of South America's long, tapering tail. It's a big country - the eighth-largest in the world, and the second-largest on the South American continent. It borders Chile to the west (separated by the Andean Cordilleras range) and Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia to the north and east (separated by rivers). It also shares the offshore island territory of Tierra del Fuego with Chile, and continues to dispute the ownership of the Falklands. Argentina's topography is affected by both latitude and altitude, and is accordingly varied. The country can be divided into four major physiographic provinces: the Andes to the west (with arid basins, grape-filled foothills, glacial mountains and the Lake District), the fertile lowland north (with subtropical rainforests), the central Pampas (a flat mix of humid and dry expanses) and Patagonia (a combination of pastoral steppes and glacial regions).

Twenty-two national parks preserve large areas of these varied environments and protect wildlife (much of it unique) such as the caiman (or yacaré), puma, guanaco (a lowland relative of the upper-Andean llama), rhea (similar to an ostrich), Andean condor, flamingo, various marine mammals and unusual seabirds such as Magellanic penguins. Thorn forests, virgin rainforests, flowering cacti, extensive forests of monkey-puzzle trees and southern beech are also protected. Argentina's climate ranges from subtropical in the north to humid and steamy in the centre, and cold in the temperate south. The Andes region has erratic rainfall, flash floods in summer, searing heat, snow at higher elevations, and the Zonda - a hot, dry wind. The lowlands receive sufficient rainfall to support swampy forests and upland savannah, but rainfall decreases from east to west; shallow summer flooding is common in the east. The winter dry season is pronounced, and the summer heat can be brutal. The flat pampas areas are also vulnerable to flooding; Patagonia is mild year-round in the east and glacial in the south.

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