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Ecuador - Geography

Due to a repeated loss of territory to neighboring countries, Ecuador is now 40 percent of its original size. When Ecuador declared its independence in 1830, it claimed an area of some 706,000 km2. Annexation of the Galapagos in 1832 added another 8,000 km2. Modern Ecuador has a total area of about 280,000 square kilometers, which includes the Galápagos Islands.

Upon independence, most of the emerging states in Latin America accepted the principle of uti possedetis, which provides that newly decolonized states should inherit the colonial administrative borders that they held at the time of independence. However, there was disagreement over what constituted evidence of such “possession.”

Fighting between Ecuador and Peru broke out in January 1995, making this the most active border dispute in Latin America. The conflict involved Ecuador's loss of extensive Amazonian territories in 1941. Ecuador's government uses maps, monuments of historical events, slogans, and other means constantly to remind citizens of its lost Amazon lands and elicit their support for its attempts to regain the lost territory. These public symbols help to shape citizens' image of the country, which, in turn, limits the government's ability to settle the b

order dispute without loss of face.

Ecuador lays claim to a territorial sea that includes two separate areas. The largest, over 80 percent of the territorial sea, encompassesthe interior waters of the Galapagos Islands and a band surrounding the islands which extends from a baseline connecting the extremities of the archipelago out to sea for 200 nautical miles. The interior waters of the Galapagos, plus a 15-mile surrounding buffer zone were declared a marine reserve in 1986. The second area begins from a baseline that connects the westernmost points of the continent and extends out to sea for 200 nautical miles. In addition, the area between these areas, 200 to 400 nautical miles from the coast, is considered a continental shelf claim. The total area of Ecuador's territorial sea is 1,060,053 km2, and approximately 220,000 km2 of this is adjacent to the continent.

Ecuador is one of the smaller countries in South America. Located on the west coast and straddling the equator, Ecuador has a total area of about 280,000 square kilometers, which includes the Galápagos Islands. Roughly the size of the state of Colorado, Ecuador encompasses a wide range of natural formations and climates, from the desertlike southern coast to the snowcapped peaks of the Andes Mountains to the plains of the Amazon River Basin.

Ecuador is bounded on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the north by Colombia, and on the east and south by Peru. Ecuador continues to contest the boundary with Peru, which was established by the Protocol of Peace, Friendship, and Boundaries (Rio Protocol) of 1942 and ceded to Peru a large portion of territory east of the Andes.

Ecuador is divided into three continental regions -- the Costa, Sierra, and Oriente -- and one insular region -- the Galápagos Islands. The continental regions extend the length of the country from north to south and are separated by the Andes Mountains. The Galápagos Islands, officially called the Archipiélago de Colón, are located 1,000 kilometers west of the Ecuadorian coast within 1 south of the equator.

The Costa, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains, consists of coastal lowlands, coastal mountains, and rolling hills that separate river valleys. The widest part of the region stretches 150 kilometers from Cabo San Lorenzo in Manabí Province to the foothills of the Andes Mountains. In the southern part of Guayas Province, east of the Gulf of Guayaquil, the narrow coastal plain is only fifteen to twenty kilometers wide. The lowlands of the Costa do not exceed 200 meters in elevation, whereas the coastal mountains extend no higher than 1,000 meters. The coastal mountain chain, known as the Cordillera Costañera, divides the region into the Costa Externa, next to the coast, and the Costa Internal, next to the Andes. The Cordillera Costañera reaches from Esmeraldas in the north to Guayaquil in the south. North of Portoviejo in Manabí Province, the Cordillera Costañera loses its character as a mountain chain and becomes a series of hills and small mountains.

The Sierra consists of two major chains of the Andes mountains, known as the Cordillera Occidental (Western Chain) and Cordillera Oriental (Eastern Chain), and the intermontane basin or plateau between the two chains. Several transversal mountain spurs, known as nudos, cut across the plateau. The Nudo del Azuay, at 4,500 meters the highest of these transversal spurs, divides the Sierra into two subregions--the area of modern volcanism to the north and the area of ancient volcanism to the south. The former area consists of newer, higher mountains than those in the ancient volcanism section, which with time have eroded to lower levels.

The Sierra has at least twenty-two peaks over 4,200 meters in height. Of the two cordilleras, the Cordillera Oriental is wider and generally higher, with peaks averaging over 4,000 meters. The Cordillera Occidental, however, contains the highest point in Ecuador, which is the Mount Chimborazo at 6,267 meters. The Sierra also contains the highest point on the equator, Mount Cayambe at 5,790 meters.

The Sierra has at least thirty peaks of volcanic origin, including six still active. These peaks, which vary in width from 80 to 130 kilometers, are located in the area of modern volcanism known as the Avenue of the Volcanos. The most active volcano is Mount Sangay, 5,230 meters high. Although its last major outpouring of lava occurred in 1946, specialists consider Mount Sangay to be in a constant state of eruption because of fires and bubbling lava at its crater. Mount Cotopaxi, at 5,897 meters the highest active volcano in the world, last erupted in 1877 and is now listed as "steaming." Its crater is 800 meters in diameter. In addition to the other damage caused by eruptions, volcanos in the Sierra have melted snowcaps, which in turn generate massive mudslides and avalanches. Earthquakes and tremors also are common in the region.

The intermontane plateau between the two cordilleras is divided by the nudos into roughly 10 basins, or hoyas, that range from 2,000 to 3,000 meters in altitude. The average altitude of the plateau is 2,650 meters.

The Oriente to the east of the Cordillera Oriental consists of two subregions: the Andean piedmont and the Eastern lowlands. The piedmont drops from a height of 3,353 meters to the featureless lowlands, which spread out at an altitude of 150 to 300 meters.

The Galápagos Islands consist of a chain of large, medium, and small islands that have a combined area of roughly 8,000 square kilometers. The largest island is Isabela Island, also known as Albemarle Island, which is 120 kilometers long with an area of 4,275 square kilometers. All of the islands are of volcanic origin, and some have active cones. Santo Tomás, located on Isabela Island, is the highest peak of the Galápagos at 1,490 meters. Its crater is ten kilometers in diameter.

In Ecuador the terms verano and invierno, or summer and winter, do not coincide with the astronomical summer and winter as generally understood. The verano or summer is the cool season, whilst the invierno is the warm or rainy season. All the regions have a dry and a wet season, but this varies in different zones. As before described, the three main zones are those of the coast, the highlands, and the Amazon forests. In the forest or Oriental zone summer reigns whilst in the other two it is the winter season, and vice versa. The inter-Andine region participates in the invierno of the western and not of the eastern region, because the eastern Cordillera is higher and wider than the western and does not present any breaks or gaps, such as is the case with the latter, or to a much less degree. In western Ecuador the summer or verano is from the middle of May to the middle of December, with some slight variations. The nearer the foot of the Cordillera the shorter is the summer and the longer the winter. The prevailing wind in the verano is from the south or south-west, generally from midday until early morning. The contrary direction is held in winter. Hurricanes are almost unknown in western Ecuador. In winter, however, the atmosphere is highly charged with electricity, and severe thunderstorms occur.

In Peru the temperature of the land was found by Humboldt, who was the first to study the temperatures of the region, to be higher than that of the sea. Thus the great importance of the Antarctic or Humboldt current upon the climate of the region was shown ; but although Humboldt made these observations he did not arrive at their ultimate consequence or regard them as largely the cause of the aridity of the Peruvian littoral. The true conditions later educed is that the cold current bathing the shore extracts from the sea winds their humidity, and so prevents the formation of rain on the coast-zone. That the same condition does not obtain north of the Equator is due to the outward trend of the current, caused by the bulging South American coastline, the current being deviated towards the Galapagos Islands, where its effect is also notable.

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