The Southern Brazilian Highlands


  1. General Reference Maps
  2. Environmental Maps
  3. Population Maps
  4. Political Maps
  5. Other Maps

1. General Reference Maps

A.    South America’s Brazilian Highlands

     This is a basic physical map of South America. This map shows where the Brazilian Highlands are located. I added this map to my page just for general reference. The Brazilian highlands are located in the southeast region of Brazil. They are a vast and complex region running from the northeast toward the southwest from about 5°S to 30°S latitude.  They extend inward from the Atlantic coast approximately 1,000 km although, far in the south their width shrinks to 550 km. Sometimes the term “Brazilian Plateau” is used to describe this region.

B. Brazilian Plateau

Latin America. Robert B. Kent.

 FIG. 15.1

(Picture from textbook).

     The area in the lightest shade of grey is considered to be the Brazilian Highlands. The Southern Brazilian Highlands encompass about 2/3rds of this area while Sertão (in the northeast) occupies the remainder. The Southern Brazilian Highlands are divided into two large sub-regions. The Paraná Plateau and the Central Plateau. This latitudinal range combined with altitudinal variation and the differing influences of coastal and interior location produce distinctive environmental patterns over the extent of the highlands region. The Highlands end abruptly at approximately 30ºS latitude.

       C. Central Plateau- LOCATION MAP

     Brazil’s central plateau plays a prominent role in the economy. Mining, agriculture and livestock are used for income. The population of this area is 25 million and includes the nation’s capital, Brasília. This region includes Minas Gerais, The Federal District of Brasilia, much of Goiás to the west, and portions of southern Bahia and eastern Mato Grosso. This region’s climate is rainy and wet in summer and dry in the winter. In Portuguese this region would be called Planalto Central. Much of the plateau lies at about 1,000 m in elevation and the terrain varies from flat plateaus to rolling hills and deeply incised valleys. The population, also known as mineiros, or miners, is often viewed as conservative and traditional.

D. Paraná Plateau- LOCATION MAP

     The Paraná Plateau is the industrial and population heartland of the Southern Highlands and is home to approximately 50 million people. It is also Brazil’s most prosperous region. This region includes the following states: São Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarína, and parts of Mato Grosso do Sul. This region lies squarely within the subtropics falling between the tropic of Capricorn  (23ºS) and 30º S latitude. This region accounts for almost 1/3rd of Brazil’s entire population and is 85% urban. It became the world’s most important producer of coffee and other crops grown here are namely, citrus fruits, and soybeans.

E. Shaded relief map of the Southern Brazilian Highlands

Brazil, shaded relief map

     These shaded relief maps illustrate the highlands. The highlands are more akin to a plateau than a mountain chain. They rise sharply to form a steep escarpment. Typically, the highlands reach their greatest height along the eastern escarpment, with the plateau sloping downward toward the west. These highlands are composed of ancient rocks of Precambrian origin that have been highly eroded. Beyond the escarpment, there are few areas that can be considered truly mountainous. Rather the topography is more typically “rounded” and characterized by low hills and broad valleys.

2.    Environmental Maps

 A. Latitude and Longitude Map

     Paraná Plateau is the southernmost extension of the Brazilian highlands. In the north, it grades into the Central Plateau. This transition zone is roughly coincident with the modern border between the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais in the north, and São Paulo in the south. The differences between the two regions are defined along this boundary more by climate and vegetation than by topography. The Central Plateau and Paraná Plateau each have there own distinct weather patterns and climate ranges. In the central plateau the climate is a tropical wet and dry, and in the Paraná plateau it is temperate and humid.

B. Koppen-Geiger Climate map

    While the climate over most of the Brazilian Highlands can be classified as tropical, the climate of the Paraná Plateau region ranges from subtropical in the north to almost temperate in the far south. Seasonal temperature variations are most extreme in the Paraná Plateau. This plateau receives moderate rainfall with annual precipitation averaging between 1,250mm and 2,000mm. Precipitation is highest in the south along the southern escarpment and tends to decline toward the north and west.

C. The Westerlies

File:Map prevailing winds on earth.png

    In the winter, precipitation is usually associated with the northward incursion of midlatitude storm fronts from the south Atlantic, while summer precipitation is characteristically due to convectional heating on the plateau that brings afternoon thunderstorms. The ITCZ moves over the plateau bringing in unstable air and precipitation. The highlands fall under the influence of the global air pressure belt known as the “subtropical high” that brings stable depending air and no rainfall to the central plateau. Also, a monsoon-type circulation pattern develops in which moist, high pressure air is pulled inland from the Atlantic bringing seasonal rains during hot summer months. This pattern is reversed during the winter months.

D. Altitude Map

     The eroded plateau region of central and southeastern Brazil, which comprises more than half the countries landmass, are located mainly in Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Goias, and Mato Grosso. Low mountains, tabular plateaus, and hilly uplands characterize them. They rise to an average elevation of 3,300 feet (1,000m). The estimated highest point is Pico de Pedra da Mina as 9,180 ft (2798m). Serra do Mar (in north) and known as Serra Geral in the south, marks the beginning of the plateau. The highest elevations on the Paraná Plateau are the Serra da Mantiqueira and the Serra Paranápiacaba. These rise sharply to elevations that exceed 2,000m.

3. Population Maps

 A. States By Population

              File:Brazilian States by Population.svg

     The Southern Brazilian Highlands are Latin America’s most extensive and populous metropolitan area and one of the five most populated urban areas in the world. The core of the Paraná Plateau are the Brazil states; São Paulo and Paraná. In these two states alone the population is approximately 40 million. The core of the Central Plateau are the cities; Belo Horizonte, Brasília and Goiânia. Brazil has diverse cultural influences, however, the major influence is that of Portuguese. Other races include mulattos, mestizos, blacks and whites.

B. Population Zones

     The Paraná Plateau is brazil’s most prosperous and populated region. It accounts for almost one-third of Brazil’s entire population and over 85% of the population in this area is urban and the vast majority is located in a few large urban centers. Significantly industrial activity in the Paraná Plateau is limited to a few population centers, notably Santos, Curitiba, and Pôrto Alegre. By the time of independence from Portugal in the early 19th century, indigenous peoples had ceases to be a numerically significant element in the population geography of the Brazilian Highlands. Catholicism is stronger in the Central Plateau region than any other part of the nation.

4. Political Maps

 A. Brazil’s regions

     Here is a map of Brazil’s Regions and states. I outlined the Southern Brazilian Highlands in light blue for a better look and the territories located on the plateau. Mining remains a central economic activity especially in Minas Gerais. Agriculture however, continues to play a major role in the regional economy. The Federal Republic of Brazil consists of twenty-six states and one federal district and 5,564 Municipalities. From 1985 onward, Brazil has been considered as a presidential democracy and at present time it is a Federal Republic.

B. Major Cities

     The Brazilian Highlands are home to very economically important cities in Brazil, including their capital Brasília. Brasília is one of the most famous and well-known cities in Latin America and is a thoroughly monumental and modernistic city. Other major cities are Salvador, Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo is a principle coffee-growing region and accounts for 50 percent of the nation’s industrial output. It is the nations single most important center for financial institutions and commercial activity. Santos, with a population of 1.4 million, is one of the regions principle ports. Curitiba, the state capital of Paraná, is also a diversified commercial and industrial center. Ouro Prêto is a colonial mining center and the former state capital of Minas Gerais. Goiánia is also a major metropolitan area and was planned as the state capital of Goiás. Goiânia concentrates on the production of basic consumer goods and agro- industrial processing.   

6. Other Maps

     A. Six vegetative regions of Brazil

     Paraná Plateau: Natural vegetation of these humid subtropical uplands fall into three principle formations. The Araucarian conifer forest, humid broadleaf forest of the Parana River Basin, and subtropical broadleaf forest. Araucarian forests occupy the central portion of the plateau (where it says bioma cerrado on the map above).  These unique looking evergreens grow to heights of 30+ m. They grow in elevations between 850 m and 1,300 m. Humid broadleaf dominates on the northern portions of the plateau where it eventually grades into the cerrado forest of the central plateau. Subtropical broadleaf forests, similar to the mata Atlantica, take on a more tropical aspect than those in the interior of the plateau because of precipitation and milder temperatures. The central plateau is covered by cerrado, a forested savanna. Much of what was cerrado has been deforested and transformed into grass savanna. It is eroded, barren, and severely degraded as a result of over grassing.

B. Ecological Zones

     Most ecosystems of the highlands have been destroyed including hardwood forest and the formerly magnificent Paraná Pine (Araucaria) forest that covered the southern plateaus. Small patches of forest still support the original flora but only isolated pockets of the subtropical broadleaf forests along the southeastern margins remain, amounting to no more than 5% of their original extent. Only 20% of the Araucanian forest remains. Cleared land is used to grow coffee and other crops. The broadleaf forest of Paraná River Basin have been cleared for the production of crops to be exported, notably soybeans. Some reforestation efforts have been successful.

C. Natural Vegetation

     The Central Plateau and Paraná Plateau each have their own distinctive vegetation habitats. When rain ceases, the vegetation changes rapidly, becoming brown, seared, withered and seemingly dead. Savannah grasses and deciduous forest make traveling on foot difficult unless wild game trails are available. The landscape color is brown during the dry season and green and lush during the rainy seasons. The savannah grass usually grows between 4 and 20 feet and is mixed in with various types of trees. Paraná pine forests are very common in the southern Brazilian highlands.

D. Diversity Zones

     With the original Southern Brazilian Highland’s ecosystem destroyed, monkeys, parrots, and other formerly common wildlife are now only found in zoos. Former waterways and swamps were once teemed with waterfowl and alligators. Jaguars and ocelots once inhabited the forests’ edges but have been extensively hunted by ranchers and are now endangered. Other wildlife includes aquatic birds, ducks, geese, lizards, snakes, armadillos, anteaters, ants, termites, rheas (the South American relative of the ostrich), roadrunners, quail, partridge, pumas, bush dogs, foxes and monkeys of many species. Deer are plentiful and the wildlife of South America consists of around 750 species of which 417 are found in Brazil.

E. Major Rivers

     The Brazilian Highlands are characterized by a complex hydrographic pattern. Two major river systems drain the northern and southern sections of the region. These rivers are São Francisco River and the Paraná River. The São Francisco River is the only navigable river to penetrate the highlands but is only accessible to oceangoing vessels for 250 km. At this point, the Paulo Alfonso Falls block fluvial transport. This river played a key role in the economic development of the highlands as a critical transportation route well into the 2nd half of the 20th century. The Paraná River and its tributaries drain the southwestern section of the highlands. Its shallow, shifting nature and frequent falls and rapids have severely restricted its use as a transportation route. The Paraná River is a tremendous resource for the generation of hydroelectric power. Itaipu Dam, built jointly by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná River, just 20 km upstream from Iguaçu Falls, is one of the largest hydroelectric generating plants in the world. 


Submitted by: Jessica Connick

Last Updated on 20 April 2010

A selection of maps created for Geography 3070.  Geography of Latin America at the University of Nebraska at Omaha