Chile is, geographically, an unusual and in many ways astonishing country (Fig. 1.1). It stretches north–south along the South American mainland for over 4000 km, from 18°S, where the Altiplano is shared with Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, to 56°S at Tierra del Fuego and the islands of Cape Horn, the next stop being Antarctica. Its western margin everywhere is the Pacific Ocean, and its eastern boundary is the summit of the Andes mountains, so that in a width of rarely more than 200 km, the topography rises from sea level to a maximum of almost seven thousand metres. Climatic variations reflect this extraordinary topography. The north is characterized by the Atacama Desert, considered to be the driest place on Earth. The south is in the temperate rainforest zone, with vegetation that struggles against the prevailing westerly gales. In this southern sector the land is moulded by recent glaciations that carved the coastal areas into fiords and archipelagos consisting of thousands of islands; the length of the Chilean coastline including these islands must exceed that of many other countries that have a larger surface area. It is the extreme variety represented by these factors that have led to Chile becoming such an attractive tourist destination, despite the isolation and comparative difficulty of access of many of its geomorphological treasures.
Figure 1.1 shows the distribution of the main tectonic and geomorphological features of Chile. The northern and central parts of the country can be reasonably divided into three north– south
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This book is the first comprehensive account in English of the geology of Chile, providing a key reference work that brings together many years of research, and written mostly by Chilean authors from various universities and other centres of research excellence. The 13 chapters begin with a general overview, followed by detailed accounts of Andean tectonostratigraphy and magmatism, the amazingly active volcanism, the world class ore deposits that have proven to be so critical to the welfare of the country, and Chilean water resources. The subject then turns to geophysics with an examination of neotectonics and earthquakes, the hazardous frequency of which is a daily fact of life for the Chilean population. There are chapters on the offshore geology and oceanography of the SE Pacific Ocean, subjects that continue to attract much research not least from those seeking to understand world climatic variations, and on late Quaternary land environments, concluding with an account examining human colonization of southernmost America.
During his voyage on H.M.S. Beagle, an extended visit to Chile (1834-35) had a profound impact on Charles Darwin, especially on his understanding of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Over more recent decades scientists have come to recognize the Chilean Andes as providing the classic example of a mountain belt produced by oceanic subduction beneath a continent, as well as some of the most dramatic scenic and climatic variations on Earth. In the final chapter, the editors offer a description of a drive from the Mediterranean landscapes of central Chile to the hyperarid Atacama Desert, a contribution designed to give visitors a chance to experience for themselves the geology and scenery of this extraordinary country.