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Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego is an island near the southern tip of South America from which it is separated by the Strait of Magellan. Its western part is in Chile (Province of Tierra del Fuego and Antartica Chilena Province), while the east is in Argentina (Tierra del Fuego Province). It forms the major landmass in the island group also called Tierra del Fuego.

The island has an area of 47,992 km, making it the 29th largest island in the world. Its two primary towns are Ushuaia and Rio Grande, both in Argentina, while its highest point is Monte Darwin , in Chile. Other towns are Tolhuin and Porvenir in Argentina and Chile respectively. The northern parts of the island have oil deposits, Cerro Sombrero in Chile is the main extraction centre in the island.


Earliest human settlement occurred more than 10,000 years ago. The Yaghan people were some of the earliest known humans settling in Tierra del Fuego, with certain recognizable archeological sites at locations such as Navarino Island within the islands of Tierra del Fuego.

The name Tierra del Fuego derives from Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was the first European to visit these lands in 1520. He believed he was seeing the many fires (fuego in Spanish) of the Amerindians, which were visible from the sea and that the "Indians" were waiting in the forests to ambush his armada. These were fires lit by the Yamana Indians who lived in the southern part of the island, to ward off the low temperatures in the area. Originally called the "Land of Smoke," it was later changed to the more exciting "Land of Fire."

Four native Fuegians, including "Jemmy Button" (Orundellico), were brought from Tierra del Fuego by Robert Fitzroy on his first voyage with the HMS Beagle in 1830. They were taken to meet the King and Queen in London and were to an extent celebrities. The surviving three returned to Tierra del Fuego with the Beagle with Charles Darwin, who made extensive notes about his visit to the islands.

In 1881 it was divided between Argentina and Chile; previously it was claimed by both countries in its entirety.


The climate in this region is very inhospitable. It is a subpolar oceanic climate (Koppen climate classification Cfc) with short, cool summers and long, wet, moderate winters: the northeast is characterized by strong winds and little precipitation, in the south and west it is very windy, foggy, and wet for most of the year, and there are very few days without rain, slush, hail or snow. The permanent snow-line begins at 700 m above sea level. Isla de los Estados, east of Ushuaia, receives of rain. Rainfall is heavier in the west, a year. Temperatures are steady throughout the year: in Ushuaia they hardly surpass in summers and average in winters. Snowfall can occur in summer. The cold and wet summers help preserve the ancient glaciers. The southernmost islands possess subantarctic climate typical of tundra that makes the growth of trees impossible. Some areas in the interior have a polar climate. Regions in the world with similar climates to southern Tierra del Fuego are: Aleutian islands, Iceland, Alaska Peninsula and Faroe Islands.


Only 30% of the islands have forests, which are classified as Magellanic subpolar; the northeast is made up by steppe and cool semidesert.

There are six species of tree found in Tierra del Fuego: Canelo or Winter's Bark (Drimys winteri), Maytenus magellanica, Pilgerodendron uviferum the southernmost conifer in the world , and three kinds of Southern Beech; Nothofagus antarctica, Nothofagus pumilio and the evergreen Nothofagus betuloides. Very delicious fruits grow in open spaces in these forests, such as beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis var. chiloensis forma chiloensis) and calafate (Berberis buxifolia), which were and are collected respectively by Indians and countrymen. These forests are unique in the world for having developed in a climate with such cold summers. Tree cover extends very close to the southernmost tip of South America. Winds are so strong that trees in wind-exposed areas grow twisted by the force of winds, and people call the trees "flag-trees" for the shape that they need to take in the fight with the wind. Tree vegetation extends as far south as the Isla de los Estados, Navarino Island and the north of Hoste Island. At altitudes above , dwarf nothofagus communities are found. Going further south, Wollaston Islands and the south of Hoste Island are covered by subantarctic tundra.

Forests from Tierra del Fuego have expanded beyond local importance; they have been a source of trees that have been planted abroad in places with practically the same climate but which were originally devoid of trees like Faroe Islands and nearby archipelagos. Most species were gathered from the coldest places in Tierra del Fuego, sites mainly with tundra borders. This effort resulted in positive changes, as the heavy winds and cool summers in the Faroe Islands did not allow the growth of trees from other regions in the world. The imported trees are used ornamentally, as curtains against wind, and for fighting erosion caused by storms and grazing in the Faroe Islands.


The main industries are oil, natural gas, sheep farming and ecotourism. On the Argentine side there are several electronic companies established. Tierra del Fuego is also home to the small brewing company Cerveceria Fueguina, which produces three beers under the Beagle brand name.

See also

List of divided islands

Almirantazgo Fjord

1949 Tierra del Fuego earthquake

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