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  • Physical and Human Geography of Brazil
  • The Tropical Rainforests
  • Wonders and Value of the Rainforests
  • Threats to the Rainforest
  • Urbanisation in Brazil
  • Development in Brazil

What is the physical geography of Brazil?


Brazil is the largest country on the continent of South America. The capital city of Brazil is Brasilia. Brazil has two distinct physical features, the Amazon and the Brazilian Highlands.


The Amazon River and rainforest dominates the north of Brazil. The Amazon River has it's source in Peru and flows through Brazil to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. The Amazon River is 6,840km long, making it the world's second longest river (the River Nile is first). It is a network of waterways as it has many tributaries. It is home to many species, for example the Piranha and Pink River Dolphin. 


The Brazilian Highlands are a mix of ancient hills, high flat areas and mountains. They rise sharply from the coast, forming a steep gradient called the Great Escarpment. The rise to an average height of 1,000 metres above sea level.


The Amazon Rainforest covers around 40% of Brazil and is the largest area of tropical rainforest in the world. It is home to the world's greatest biodiversity, much of which is yet to be discovered. 


Brazil's climate is very diverse given its size. The majority of Brazil is within the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn so it is hot all year. The average temperature of Brazil is 25⁰C. The amount of rainfall is dependent on many factors such as the height of the land, distance from the coast and the prevailing wind direction. Much of northern and western Brazil is hot with temperature cooling towards the east and the south of Brazil. You can see from the climate graph below that Brazil gets its highest amount of rainfall in March.

What ecosystems and resources does Brazil have?


As mentioned above, Brazil's largest ecosystem is the Tropical Rainforest in the north.Central Brazil is covered by a large area of Savanna Grasslands. The south of Brazil is made up of Dry Forest and Pampas, which are grassy plains heavily farmed with cattle. 


Brazil does not have much oil and gas and gets 70% of its electricity from hydroelectric power (HEP). Brazil grows a wide range of crops such as coffee, soya beans, sugar cane, bananas, cotton and rice. Brazil is one of the world's top producers of ion, aluminium and tin due its rich mineral reserves. 

What is the historical geography of Brazil? How did Brazil begin to develop?


Brazil has a large population of around 211 million people. The UK's population is around 66 million. 


By 1500, Brazil had a population of 5 million people. They were called Indios by mistake as Christopher Columbus though South America was India when he discovered it. 


In 1500, a fleet of sailing ships from Portugal arrived. Brazil became a colony of Portugal. The Portuguese began exported timber from the rainforest before turning to sugar cane due to Europe's obsession with sugar. This was hard work, at first the Indios (Brazil's people) were forced to work on sugar plantations by the Portuguese, until the Indios rebelled. 


To cope with this, in 1538 the Portuguese started to buy people from Africa in exchange for cheap goods. This was the beginning of Europe's slave trade. Over 4 million slaves were imported to Brazil over the subsequent 300 years. 


By the 1700s, sugar cane production had started to decline in Brazil as gold and diamonds were found. More Portuguese arrived hoping to make their riches. Slaves were put to work in the mines until slavery was abolished in 1888. Brazil got independence from Portugal in 1825.


After slavery, many Europeans started to migrate to Brazil. The majority worked in agriculture before urbanisation. During urbanisation, more builders, teachers, doctors and engineers were needed.

What is the employment structure of Brazil?


For hundreds of years, after the Portuguese arrived in 1500 many people worked in the primary sector, working the land producing goods such as sugar cane, rubber and iron ores to export.


During the mid-1900s, Brazil started to experience a rapid period of urbanisation. Brazil began to import machinery and then it began to build factories to make its own goods. This meant that by the 1980s the majority of Brazil's population worked in the secondary sector, manufacturing goods and distributing them. 


Today, Brazil has a GNI (Gross National Income) of $3, 173 trillion US dollars and the demand for services grows due to urbanisation. The majority of the population work in the tertiary sector, providing services such as teachers, doctors, nurses, retail staff and admin workers. 

What does Brazil's Amazon Rainforest look like? How has biodiversity adapted to survive in the tropical rainforest?


The rainforest biome (a global ecosystem) is found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, it contains 75% of the world's plant species and 50% of the world's animal species.


The tropical rainforest has four distinct layers, the forest floor, understory, canopy and emergent layer. Tropical rainforests started to grow around 140 million years ago. Plants grew well in the damp heat and they soon had to fight for sunlight, this explains why the trees can grow up to 45 metres in height. Plants and animals had to adapt for survival in many ways.


The forest floor is damp and dark. Many predators can be found here. From the forest floor, you can see many adaptations including:

  • Buttress roots - large roots at the base of trees to stop them from falling over as they grow so tall.
  • Thin and waxy tree trunks - this allows water to trickle down easily and reach the soil, which is very infertile due to the amount of rainfall washing away the nutrients. This is called leaching.
  • Ferns - small plants that adapt to the dark conditions by having green leaves all year round to absorb as much light as possible. They also don't have flowers to save energy.
  • Lianas -  thick vines that wrap themselves around tree trunks to reach sunlight. 
  • Drip tips - many plants have pointed ends to allow water from heavy rain to drip off to prevent them from snapping off branches. 

The understory consists of small trees, many with the same adaptations as the forest floor. They await their chance to shoot upwards into the canopy.


The canopy layer is the largest layer of the tropical rainforest and home to most animals and insects. It consists of fully grown trees. Animals have adapted to living here by:

  • Spider Monkey - has a long tail to support balance and allow it to swing from tree to tree.
  • Sloth - uses camouflage and moves very slowly to make it difficult to be spotted.
  • Toucans and Parrots - developed big and strong beaks to allow them to crack open nuts. 

What is the natural value of the tropical rainforest? 


  • Food - many of the world's popular fruit such as bananas can be found in the rainforest, along with avocados, cashew nuts, vanilla, sugar, coffee and cocoa. 
  • Medicine - 25% of the world's cancer fighting drugs are derived from plants found in the tropical rainforests. Drugs containing plants from the rainforest are also used to treat arthritis, diabetes and malaria.
  • Timber - rainforests contain beautiful and valuable wood such as mahogany, teak and rosewood. We use this to make furniture, doors and panels.

What are the threats to the tropical rainforest?


  • Deforestation - this is the removal of trees. The main cause of deforestation is to make space for agriculture. 60% of deforestation in the Amazon, Brazil is due to agriculture. In just the last 50 years, one third of tropical rainforests have been destroyed.
  • Mining - Governments are providing tax incentives for large-scale mining projects of copper, bauxite and gold. Trees are removed to make way for mines and road building to transport the goods.
  • Forest Fires - when vegetation is very arid (dry) and temperatures are high, fires can start and spread easily. However, some species such as lodgepole pine have adapted to surviving forest fires. During 2015-16, fires affected 38,000 square km of Brazilian Amazon

How developed in Brazil?


Some countries are more developed than others. A developed country has a better standard of living. We categorise countries as low income countries, newly emerging economies and high income countries. A newly emerging economy or a high income country can be classed as developed.


A newly emerging economy or a high income country is likely to have:

  • good roads, railways, airports and phone systems. This is known as a country's infrastructure.
  • electricity and piped water.
  • good hospitals and schools for everyone.
  • lots of retail and entertainment services like cinemas and gyms.
  • enough food for everyone.
  • modern factories.
  • good employment opportunities.
  • little or no poverty.

We measure development by looking at development indicators. These are statistics about a country that tell us its human geography. We can also look at a country's HDI (human development index), this a score from 0 to 1 calculated by looking at a country's life expectancy (average age people live to), GNI per capita (the amount of money the country makes plus what it makes abroad divided by the total population) and the mean years of schooling (how many years the average child attends school).


Brazil's development indicators are:


  • GNI – $3, 173 Trillion US dollars.
  • GNI per capita - $15, 160 US dollars.
  • Human Development Index – 0.759
  • Life Expectancy – 75 years.
  • Infant Mortality Rate (per every 1000 births) - 13.5
  • Literacy Rate – 92%.
  • Expected years of schooling - 15.4 years.
  • Mean years of schooling - 7.8 years.
  • Urban Population - 86% of Brazil's population live in towns or cities.

What are the challenges of urbanisation in Brazil?


Urbanisation is the increasing proportion of people living in towns and cities. It occurs as a result of migration and natural increase (births). Brazil has many cities, Rio de Janeiro is Brazil's second largest city and is located on the coast. It was the capital city of Brazil until 1960 when Brasilia became the capital city.


Although Brazil is classed as a BRIC country (countries with rapidly developing economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China) it is a Newly Emerging Economy.


Over the past 60 years Rio de Janeiro has become an industrial and commercial hub aswell as having increased popularity with tourists. This economic activity has attracted many migrants from Brazil and other countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Portugal, South Korea and China. Many migrants come from rural areas (remote areas) such as the Amazon Basin. This is called rural to urban migration. Migration occurs due to pull and push factors. A pull factor makes a person move 'to' an area, whereas a push factor makes a move 'from' an area. Pull factors for people from the Amazon Basin include better access to services such as education and healthcare and access to resources such as water, food and electricity. Pull factors for people from China and South Korea include seeking new business opportunities and a common pull factor for the Portuguese is the language of Brazil, Portuguese.


This has increased Rio de Janeiro's urban population and created many challenges such the build up of squatter settlements, crime and traffic congestion.


  • Inequalities in Services - in 2013 only 55% of Rio de Janeiro had access to a health clinic. There is also a shortage of nearby schools. Around 12% of Rio’s population do not have access to clean water. The whole of Rio suffer from frequent power cuts. 
  • Squatter Settlements - squatter settlements in Brazil are called favelas. They are illegal settlements were people have built homes on land that they do not own. This is often a result of rural to urban migration. Rocinha is the largest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. There is limited access to services such as education and healthcare and resources such as water and electricity in squatter settlements and they are areas of poverty and deprivation.
  • Crime - robbery and violent crime present great challenges for Rio. Murder, kidnapping, armed assault occur regularly. In 2013, Pacifying Police Units started to patrol squatter settlements. 
  • Traffic Congestion - Rio de Janeiro is the most congested city in South America. Traffic congestion increases air pollution. It occurs due to limited road networks, as roads can only be built on coastal lowland and due to high crime rates many people prefer to travel by car.


1) What is the physical geography of Brazil?

2) How has Brazil's economy developed overtime?

3) How has the tropical rainforest helped Brazil to develop?

4) What is the natural value of Brazil's rainforest?

5) What are the challenges of urbanisation in Rio de Janeiro?

6) How are humans damaging the tropical rainforest?

7) How has biodiversity adapted to life in the tropical rainforest?

8) What are the causes of urbanisation in Brazil?

9) How do we know Brazil is a developing country?

10) How is Brazil's economy linked to the slave trade?

11) What is Brazil's relationship with the rest of the world?

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