Size: 8,547,403 sq km / 3,300,155 sq. miles (slightly smaller than the continental United States)
Population: 174 million
Geography: Brazil is in eastern South America bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest and most populous country in South America and shares a border with every South American country except Chile and Ecuador. Brazil occupies almost half of South America alone. It can be divided into four main geographic regions:
- the Atlantic seaboard with many coastal mountain ranges;
- the Planalto Brasileiro or central plateau, highlands south of the Amazon;
- the Paraguay Basin, home to the Pantanal; and
- the densely forested Amazon Basin.
Climate: The climate of Brazil varies according to latitude. Most of the country has a steady tropical climate, with only extreme seasonal changes in the temperate south. Different regions of the country experience the rainy season at different times: in the North the rainy season lasts from January to April, in the northeast April to July, and in the south November to March.
Languages: Portuguese (official)
Indians thrived in Brazil before the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500. By 1531 Portugal had established its first colonies. In 1807 Portuguese Prince Regent sailed to Brazil and upon his arrival named Rio de Janeiro the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and Algarve. Brazil is the only New World country to serve as the seat of a European monarch.
Following three centuries under the rule of Portugal, Brazil became an independent nation in 1822. In 1889 a military coup toppled the Brazilian empire and for the next forty years military and civilian leaders ruled Brazil. In the mid-1980s the military rule finally handed Brazil back to a civilian government.
Utilizing vast natural resources and its large labor pool, Brazil became Latin America's leading economic power by the 1970s. Highly unequal income distribution remains a pressing problem.
140,000 sq.km / 50,000 sq. miles (About half the size of Texas)
Geography: The Pantanal is the world's largest wetland. Pantanal is derived from the Portuguese word "pantano" which literally means "swamp." It is situated in western Brazil in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and extends into Bolivia and Paraguay. As part of the Paraguay floodplain, it receives water from the Paraguay River and its surrounding tributaries. The Pantanal lies in a 140,000 sq. km bowl-like depression. Its flat terrain paired with seasonal rains cause widespread flooding. This results in a landscape of river channels, abandoned river courses, and seasonally isolated swamps, backwaters, and lakes.
The Pantanal is a complex hydrological system that supports multitudes of aquatic plants, invertebrates, fish, waterfowl and other species, many of which are endemic to the area.
It is a relatively fragile ecosystem that is highly dependent on the functioning of certain critical habitats and the flood cycle.
Climate: The Pantanal has two seasons: summer (April to September) and winter (October to March). During the summertime the temperatures are warm and rainy, while it is much colder and drier during the winter months. The Pantanal is known for its heavy seasonal rainfall and massive flooding. The highlands surrounding the floodplain receive on average 1500 mL of rain a year, while the average rainfall in the floodplain is 1000-1400mL (about 40-55 inches). Rainfall in the Pantanal varies during the year causing a regular cycle of floods and droughts. Typically, the rainy season starts in October and lasts throughout March. However, it may vary from year to year. In April the water starts to drain away and the area becomes virtually waterless for much of the dry season, April through September. This annual cyclical flooding allows the region to support a high diversity of flora and fauna.
History: In 2000 BC human occupation of the Pantanal was strictly indigenous. In the beginning of the 18th century the Portuguese and Spanish penetrated into the Pantanal and decimated these indigenous tribes until only the Guatós, Kadiwéu and Terrenas remained. Today there are no Indians left in the Pantanal.
During the last three decades the region has changed commercially and socially. Throughout the 1960s development boomed, and farming and mining started heavily in the region. The rapid development had harmful effects on both the environment and the socioeconomic system of the Pantanal. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul has seen an upward swing in its economy but there are still concerns on child labor, safety and health issues. Tourism has become a lucrative industry throughout the region.