The Pampa, Argentina’s Great Plains

How are people connected to the environment?

When many people think of Argentina, they think of two things: Argentines love of beef and the gaucho, which is basically this country’s equivalent of the American cowboy. Most do not realize, however, that these two things are largely the result of one of Argentina’s major land forms, the Pampa. Stretching from southern Brazil all the way to the southern Argentine province of Chubut, the flat and fertile plains of the Pampa dominate much of central Argentina including the provincial areas surrounding the city of Buenos Aires.

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What makes this environment special or different?

Like much of the middle of the United States, the Pampa is a flat grassland that extends uninterrupted for hundreds of miles. There are only a few exceptions to this flatness, the most famous being the small mountains at Sierra de la Ventana which are located about 400 miles south of the city of Buenos Aires.

This region has been vital to Argentina historically as it has long been the center of the nation’s economy. Less than 100 years ago, Argentina was one of the world’s ten richest countries, due in large part to its booming agricultural export economy. While this is no longer the case, due to a variety of reasons, the Pampa remains home to Argentina’s economic and cultural capitals. Despite the fact that the Pampa only makes up about a fifth of Argentina’s land area, it is home to upwards of 60 percent of its people! That means that the Argentine pampa is home to over 25 million people, including 13 million people in the greater metropolitan area of the city of Buenos Aires.

What parts of this environment help people to live here?

One of the main draws to the region is that is situated well for agriculture. Not only is the land the Pampa quite flat, but the soil is quite fertile as well. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Argentina exports the second most corn, the third most soybeans, and the seventh most beef of all the countries in the world! That means there is a pretty good chance that you have eaten food that was either raised or farmed right here in central Argentina.

What challenges do people face living in this environment?

Buenos Aires does, however, face some environmental struggles. The biggest challenge is the high frequency of flooding. While some parts of the Pampas are quite dry, the area where Buenos Aires is located receives quite a bit of rainfall. Because of the low level of the land, the region has suffered extensively because of flooding in the past. Just a few weeks ago there were many parts of the city itself that were less than five feet of water!

One example of this flooding that recently came up in the news here relates to flooding that happened all the way back in 1985! After years of wet winters and heavy rainfall, the saltwater lake of Lago Epecuen went over its banks and flooded the nearby town of Villa Epecuen. After several days, the town that once was home to 1,500 was completely underwater. After nearly three decades, the ‘town’ is once again reappearing as the water has finally began to recede  after years of being underwater.

Flooding is not, however, the only problem facing the people of this area. Because of the desirability of the land in the Pampa for things like farming and cattle grazing, the region has suffered from overuse. Sadly, in many instances, the soils and land are not as pristine as they once were. The overuse of pesticides has also polluted many of the areas waterways harming the region’s wildlife in the process.

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How have people been adapting to this environment?

Because the unpredictability of flooding, many towns and areas have resorted to building dams to control the flow of water. As a result of these dams, many reservoirs, or artificial lakes, have popped up throughout the Province of Buenos Aires. Not only do these lakes help farmers and other people living in the area, they also are nice places for recreation. Last month, I visited Lake Chascomus for an afternoon of swimming and picnicking! Unfortunately, dams are not great for the natural life in the area, as the flow of the water necessarily affects all life. Migration patterns for birds and other animals shift, food chains are altered and the environment is forever changed by a dam.

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