Tierra del Fuego
/tee er"euh del fway"goh/; Sp. /tyerdd"rddah dhel fwe"gaw/
a group of islands at the S tip of South America, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan: jointly owned by Argentina and Chile; boundary disputed. 27,476 sq. mi. (71,165 sq. km).

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Archipelago at the southern extremity of South America.

It is separated from the Antarctic Archipelago by the Drake Passage. The southern and western parts are an extension of the Andes Mountains, with peaks exceeding 7,000 ft (2,100 m). About two-thirds of the islands are in Chile, and the remainder are in Argentina. The main island, Tierra del Fuego, is divided roughly equally between Chile (west) and Argentina (east); the city of Ushuaia, Arg., there is the southernmost city in the world. Indigenous peoples were the sole occupants until 1880, when colonization by Chilean and Argentine nationals was prompted by the discovery of gold. Chile's only oil field is there. The region's name (Spanish: "Land of Fire") refers to its many volcanoes.

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      archipelago, at the southern extremity of South America. In shape the main island, separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan, is a triangle with its base on Beagle Channel. The total area is 28,473 square miles (73,746 square km), about two-thirds of which is Chilean and one-third Argentine. The boundary, agreed upon in 1881, follows the meridian 68°36′38″ W, from Cabo (cape) Espíritu Santo on the Atlantic, and the east–west Beagle Channel. Lennox, Picton, Nueva, and several small islands at the mouth of the channel are disputed between the two republics.

      The physical features of Tierra del Fuego are varied. Most of the northern portion of the main island, consisting of glacial topography, mainly lakes and moraines, is under 600 feet (180 metres) in height, and the Atlantic and Strait of Magellan coasts are low-lying. In contrast, the southern and western parts of the main island and the archipelago are a prolongation of the Andes, with peaks exceeding 7,000 feet, notably Monte Sarmiento (7,550 feet [2,300 metres]) and Monte Darwin (7,999 feet [2,438 metres]), and mountain glaciers. The climate of Tierra del Fuego is monotonously cool in summer and cold in winter, with great contrast in annual rainfall, from 180 inches (4,600 mm) at Bahía Félix on Isla Desolación, Chile, to 20 inches at Río Grande, Arg. In the exposed southern and western areas, vegetation is limited to mosses and stunted trees. The central part of the main island has deciduous beech forests, and the northern plains have a tussock grass cover.

      The archipelago was discovered by the navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Magellan, Ferdinand) in 1520, when he sailed through the strait named after him and called the region Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Various navigators traversed the area, but no systematic exploration was attempted until the British Admiralty undertook a thorough survey of the entire archipelago between 1826 and 1836. For 350 years after Magellan's voyage, the region was left in the undisputed occupation of its indigenous peoples, the Ona, Yahgan, and Alacaluf Indians, but after 1880 colonization by Chilean and Argentine nationals was sparked by the introduction of sheep farming and the discovery of gold. The discovery of petroleum at Manantiales in 1945 converted the northern part of Tierra del Fuego into Chile's only oil field. Pipelines have been laid to the Strait of Magellan for export of the oil to middle Chile, drilling platforms have been built in the Strait of Magellan, and a small refinery meets local needs. There is some lumbering in the forested areas of the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan; fish and crayfish canning at Ushuaia, Arg., and Porvenir, Chile; and fur hunting for nutria and seal. A meat refrigeration plant is located at Río Grande, but most surplus sheep are processed on the mainland.

      Roads are poor in Tierra del Fuego, and there are no railways. Air services however, link major settlements to Punta Arenas, Chile, and Río Gallegos, Arg. Sea communications are also important; a regular service links Porvenir and Punta Arenas, and naval vessels supply Ushuaia and the Isla Navarino, Chile.

      provincia (province), southern Argentina, consisting of the eastern half of the triangular island of Tierra del Fuego (Spanish: “Land of Fire”), lying between the Strait of Magellan (north) and Beagle Channel (south) at the southern extremity of South America. Argentina also claims as part of this province a number of South Atlantic islands and a portion of the Antarctic continent representing an additional 1,000,000 square miles (2,600,000 square km). Excluding these claims, the area of the province (8,329 square miles [21,571 square km]) presents three well-defined zones. There is a central mountain region whose highest peak is Cornú (4,888 feet [1,490 m]), with a windy, narrow, structural valley running east-west that is marked by Lake Fagnano in the Argentine sector and that continues as Almirantazgo Bay in the Chilean sector; this region has abundant vegetation. Below the mountains is a plateau and terrace region north of Lake Fagnano with excellent grazing ground for sheep and cattle. Finally, there is a plains region along the northeastern coast near the city of Río Grande, with open woodland covering the nearby mountain slopes.

      The capital of Tierra del Fuego is located on the Beagle Channel at Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. There is little agriculture on the island, but oil and gas reserves have been developed. Many textile and electronic firms have been established at Río Grande and Ushuaia, the island's two main cities. Fishing activity centres on spider crabs and mussels and other mollusks, which are canned and exported. Krill, tiny shrimplike creatures suggested as a potential source of food for humans, are extremely abundant in adjoining ocean waters but are not yet exploited. Two popular points of interest in Tierra del Fuego are the National Park Reserve and the United States scientific research vessel Hero, whose home port is Beagle Channel. Pop. (2001) 101,079.

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Universalium. 2010.

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