Chile is unique, given its very long (4,345 km) and comparatively narrow shape (ranging from 90 km in the south to 380 km in the north, with 177 km average width), and for its great variety of natural features. The country extends from 18°S to 56°S latitude, and contains one of the driest regions in the world, as well as one of the wettest areas in South America. Chile is bounded on the north by Peru, on the northeast by Bolivia, on its long eastern border by Argentina and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The country covers an area of approximately 756,000 km2 and has a population of approximately 15.8 million people, over 85% of them living in urban areas.
Chile consists of three distinct longitudinal structural regions: the Andes, the Coastal Range and the Central Valley, each with its own diverse climatic regions.
The Andes (Cordillera) run along the entire length of the eastern part of the country. The watershed between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, which follows the central and often highest ridges of the Andes, was adopted (by agreement with Argentina) as Chile's eastern boundary. The Chilean Andes are highest, most rugged and precipitous in the northern and central parts of the country, with peaks above 6,000 masl. South of Santiago, the Andes become gradually lower, with peaks of approximately 3,700 masl. In the extreme south, the Andes are fragmented by deep glacial valleys, ocean inlets and channels. The mountains extend through the island of Tierra del Fuego to the southern end of the continent.
Near the Chilean Andes and along their eastern flank is one of the world's densest concentrations of volcanoes, both extinct and active. There are over 2,000 volcanoes, including 48 that have erupted at least once within the last 100 years. The abundance of volcanic features in Chile and its vicinity is also reflected in the frequent seismic events and conspicuous evidence of recent tectonic movements.
The second structural region is the Coastal Range (Cordillera de la Costa), which follows the coastline closely throughout northern and central Chile, from Arica to Puerto Montt . The Coastal Range rises abruptly from the shoreline in high cliffs that form an unbroken wall for hundreds of kilometres, creating a coastline devoid of natural harbours and a formidable obstacle to access inland. Large parts of the coastal range are actually an eroded plateau descending west to the sea by cliff-bound terraces. The coastal range rises to an elevation of approximately 2,700 masl. The southward extension of the coastal range beyond Puerto Montt forms a chain of approximately 3,000 hilly islands, extending along a fjord-lined coast to Cape Horn at the southern extremity of the South American continent. The largest of these islands is Chiloe, just south of Puerto Montt.
The third structural region, and the most important one, insofar as human settlement is concerned, is the depression between the Andes and the Coastal Range, known as the Central Valley. This feature is a long and narrow basin of varying width, reaching approximately 80 km at its widest section. The Central Valley is not continuous, as it is interrupted by east-west oriented spurs from the Andes, and is divided by a wide mountainous intrusion into two main basins, each of which includes a number of smaller basins. Sirocco's Aguas Blancas Property is located within this geographic region. The northern basin, extending from Arica to Copiapo, includes the Atacama Desert. The second major basin is that of central Chile, extending from Santiago southward to Puerto Montt, and is Chile's main agricultural area. This basin is also Chile's most densely inhabited region, and includes the country's three largest metropolitan areas: Santiago, Valparaíso/Viña del Mar and Concepción. It is climatically the most attractive part of the country.
The Loa is Chile's longest river, at about 483 km long, and other principal rivers include the Aconcagua, Baker, Bío-Bío, Imperial, Maipo, Maule, Palena, Toltén and Valdivia Rivers.
Chile's economy is primarily based on its rich mineral resources, agriculture, fishing grounds and on industry. Mining plays a dominant role in northern and central Chile, while forestry, fishing and agriculture are important in the south. Chile's main exports are minerals, fishmeal, fruits, wood pulp and paper, and chemicals.
The Chilean mining sector has grown rapidly since the late 1970's with the start-up of numerous new world class mining operations. Currently, mining constitutes almost half of the country's foreign trade, and most of the foreign currency revenues. The Chilean mining sector is attractive to both national and foreign investors. Chile is still considered to be one of the most favourable South American countries for foreign investment. As a result of Chile's large and active mining industry, the country is well positioned to meet all the infrastructure and labour demands for new mining projects.
The bulk of Chilean mining is concentrated in the northern desert areas. Chile is the largest copper producer and exporter in the world, and hosts roughly 30% of the world's reserves. In 2003, Chile produced 4.19 Mt of fine copper, representing 40% of total worldwide production. Production of copper for 2004 is estimated to have reached 4.9 Mt. State-owned Codelco remains the country's largest copper producer, totalling 1.6 Mt, or approximately 33% of Chile's copper production, in 2003. Chile is also an important gold producer, with a total production of 39 t in 2003.
Non-metallic mining in Chile involves a wide range of commodities. The main non-metallic products are calcium carbonate, gypsum, iodine, lithium carbonate, nitrates, quartz, sodium chlorides, quartz and ulexite.
Chile is the largest iodine producer in the world. The country also hosts nearly two thirds of the world reserve base, excluding seawater (USGS, 2002). Iodine is produced in Chile from surface nitrate deposits, as opposite to Japan, the second largest producing nation, where iodine is produced from gas brines.
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