Geography of El Salvador

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A map of El Salvador. Un-el-salvador.png
A map of El Salvador.

El Salvador borders the North Pacific Ocean to the south and southwest, with Guatemala to the north-northwest and Honduras to the north-northeast. In the southeast, the Golfo de Fonseca separates it from Nicaragua. El Salvador is the smallest Central American country and is the only one without a coastline on the Caribbean sea. El Salvador is about the size of Israel and the states of New Jersey and Vermont, but has the population size of Lybia and Lebanon.

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Honduras republic in Central America

Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras, is a country in Central America. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "Spanish Honduras" to differentiate it from British Honduras, which later became modern-day Belize. The republic of Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

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Plate tectonics

El Salvador, along with the rest of Central America, is one of the most seismologically active regions on earth, situated atop three of the large tectonic plates that constitute the Earth's surface. The motion of these plates causes the area's earthquake and volcanic activity.

Tectonics The processes that control the structure and properties of the Earths crust and its evolution through time

Tectonics is the process that controls the structure and properties of the Earth's crust and its evolution through time. In particular, it describes the processes of mountain building, the growth and behavior of the strong, old cores of continents known as cratons, and the ways in which the relatively rigid plates that constitute the Earth's outer shell interact with each other. Tectonics also provides a framework for understanding the earthquake and volcanic belts that directly affect much of the global population. Tectonic studies are important as guides for economic geologists searching for fossil fuels and ore deposits of metallic and nonmetallic resources. An understanding of tectonic principles is essential to geomorphologists to explain erosion patterns and other Earth surface features.

Earthquake Shaking of the surface of the earth caused by a sudden release of energy in the crust

An earthquake is the shaking of the surface of the Earth, resulting from the sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in size from those that are so weak that they cannot be felt to those violent enough to toss people around and destroy whole cities. The seismicity, or seismic activity, of an area is the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time. The word tremor is also used for non-earthquake seismic rumbling.

Volcano A rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface.

Most of Central America and the Caribbean Basin rests on the relatively motionless Caribbean Plate. The Pacific Ocean floor, however, is being carried northeast by the underlying motion of the Cocos Plate. Ocean floor material is largely composed of basalt, which is relatively dense; when it collides with the lighter granite rocks of Central America, the ocean floor is forced down under the land mass, creating the deep Middle America Trench that lies off the coast of El Salvador.

Caribbean Basin

The Caribbean Basin is generally defined as the area running from Florida westward along the Gulf coast, then south along the Mexican coast through Central America and then eastward across the northern coast of South America. This region includes the islands of the archipelago of the West Indies. Bermuda is also included within the region even though it is in the west-central Atlantic, due to its common cultural history created by European colonization of the region, and in most of the region by the presence of a significant group of African descent.

Caribbean Plate A mostly oceanic tectonic plate including part of Central America and the Caribbean Sea

The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate underlying Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

Cocos Plate A young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America

The Cocos Plate is a young oceanic tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Central America, named for Cocos Island, which rides upon it. The Cocos Plate was created approximately 23 million years ago when the Farallon Plate broke into two pieces, which also created the Nazca Plate. The Cocos Plate also broke into two pieces, creating the small Rivera Plate. The Cocos Plate is bounded by several different plates. To the northeast it is bounded by the North American Plate and the Caribbean Plate. To the west it is bounded by the Pacific Plate and to the south by the Nazca Plate.

The subduction of the Cocos Plate accounts for the frequency of earthquakes near the coast. As the rocks constituting the ocean floor are forced down, they melt, and the molten material pours up through weaknesses in the surface rock, producing volcanoes and geysers.

Geyser Hot spring characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam

A geyser is a spring characterized by intermittent discharge of water ejected turbulently and accompanied by steam. As a fairly rare phenomenon, the formation of geysers is due to particular hydrogeological conditions that exist only in a few places on Earth. Generally all geyser field sites are located near active volcanic areas, and the geyser effect is due to the proximity of magma. Generally, surface water works its way down to an average depth of around 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) where it contacts hot rocks. The resultant boiling of the pressurized water results in the geyser effect of hot water and steam spraying out of the geyser's surface vent.

North of El Salvador, Mexico and most of Guatemala are riding on the westward-moving North American Plate that butts against the northern edge of the stationary Caribbean Plate in southern Guatemala. The grinding action of these two plates creates a fault (similar to the San Andreas fault in California) that runs the length of the valley of the Rio Motagua in Guatemala. Motion along this fault is the source of earthquakes in northernmost El Salvador.

North American Plate Large tectonic plate including most of North America, Greenland and a bit of Siberia

The North American Plate is a tectonic plate covering most of North America, Greenland, Cuba, the Bahamas, extreme northeastern Asia, and parts of Iceland and the Azores. It extends eastward to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and westward to the Chersky Range in eastern Siberia. The plate includes both continental and oceanic crust. The interior of the main continental landmass includes an extensive granitic core called a craton. Along most of the edges of this craton are fragments of crustal material called terranes, accreted to the craton by tectonic actions over a long span of time. It is thought that much of North America west of the Rocky Mountains is composed of such terranes.

San Andreas Fault A continental transform fault through California between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate

The San Andreas Fault is a continental transform fault that extends roughly 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) through California. It forms the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, and its motion is right-lateral strike-slip (horizontal). The fault divides into three segments, each with different characteristics and a different degree of earthquake risk. The slip rate along the fault ranges from 20 to 35 mm /yr.

El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, and suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. The country has over twenty volcanoes, although only two, San Miguel and Izalco, have been active in recent years. From the early nineteenth century to the mid-1950s, Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name "Lighthouse of the Pacific." Its brilliant flares were clearly visible for great distances at sea, and at night its glowing lava turned it into a brilliant luminous cone.

San Salvador National capital in San Salvador Department, El Salvador

San Salvador is the capital and the most populous city of El Salvador and its eponymous department. It is the country's political, cultural, educational and financial center. The Metropolitan Area of San Salvador which comprises the capital itself and 13 of its municipalities has a population of 2,404,097.

Izalco (volcano) volcano

Izalco is a stratovolcano on the side of the Santa Ana Volcano, which is located in western El Salvador. It is situated on the southern flank of the Santa Ana volcano. Izalco erupted almost continuously from 1770 to 1958 earning it the nickname of "Lighthouse of the Pacific", and experienced a flank eruption in 1966. During an eruption in 1926, the village of Matazano was buried and 56 people were killed. The formation of the volcano actually occupied highly arable land on the southern slope of the Santa Ana volcano which was used for the production of coffee, cacao and sugar cane

Physical features

El Salvador's topography. El Salvador Topography.png
El Salvador's topography.
Economic activity of El Salvador, 1980. El salvador econ 1980.jpg
Economic activity of El Salvador, 1980.
Vegetation and land use, 1980. El salvador land 1980.jpg
Vegetation and land use, 1980.

Two parallel mountain ranges cross El Salvador to the west with a central plateau between them and a narrow coastal plain hugging the Pacific. These physical features divide the country into two physiographic regions. The mountain ranges and central plateau, covering 85 percent of the land, comprise the interior highlands. The remaining coastal plains are referred to as the Pacific lowlands.

The northern range of mountains, the Sierra Madre, form a continuous chain along the border with Honduras. Elevations in this region range from 1,600 to 2,700 meters. The area was once heavily forested, but overexploitation led to extensive erosion, and it has become semibarren. As a result, it is the country's most sparsely populated zone, with little farming or other development.

The southern range of mountains is actually a discontinuous chain of more than twenty volcanoes, clustered into five groups. The westernmost group, near the Guatemalan border, contains Izalco and Santa Ana, which at 2,365 meters is the highest volcano in El Salvador. Between the cones lie alluvial basins and rolling hills eroded from ash deposits. The volcanic soil is rich, and much of El Salvador's coffee is planted on these slopes.

The central plateau constitutes only 25 percent of the land area but contains the heaviest concentration of population and the country's largest cities. This plain is about 50 kilometers wide and has an average elevation of 600 meters. Terrain here is rolling, with occasional escarpments, lava fields, and geysers.

A narrow plain extends from the coastal volcanic range to the Pacific Ocean. This region has a width ranging from one to thirty-two kilometers with the widest section in the east, adjacent to the Golfo de Fonseca. Near La Libertad, however, the mass of the mountains push the lowlands out; the slopes of adjacent volcanoes come down directly to the ocean. Surfaces in the Pacific lowlands are generally flat or gently rolling and result from the alluvial deposits of nearby slopes.

El Salvador has over 300 rivers, the most important of which is the Rio Lempa. Originating in Guatemala, the Rio Lempa cuts across the northern range of mountains, flows along much of the central plateau, and finally cuts through the southern volcanic range to empty into the Pacific. It is El Salvador's only navigable river, it and its tributaries drain about half the country. Other rivers are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to the Pacific.

Numerous lakes of volcanic origin are found in the interior highlands; many of these lakes are surrounded by mountains and have high, steep banks. The largest lake, the Lago de Ilopango, lies just to the east of the capital. Other large lakes include the Lago de Coatepeque in the west and the Lago de Güija on the Guatemalan border. The Cerron Grande Dam on the Rio Lempa has created a large reservoir, the Embalse Cerron Grande, in northern El Salvador.

Izalco has erupted at least 51 times since 1770. It earned the nickname "Lighthouse of the Pacific" because it was the most active volcano in Central America.

Climate

Koppen climate classification of El Salvador. Koppen-Geiger Map SLV present.svg
Köppen climate classification of El Salvador.

El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot and humid; the central plateau and mountain areas are more moderate.

The rainy season, known locally as invierno, or winter, extends from May to October. Almost all the annual rainfall and the highest humidity occurs during this time, and yearly rain totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 2,000 millimeters (78.7 in). Protected areas and the central plateau receive lesser, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Although hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific, they seldom affect El Salvador, with the notable exception of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (which actually formed over the Atlantic Basin) and Hurricane Emily in 1973.

From November through to April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has lost most of its precipitation while passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy. This season is known locally as verano, or summer.

Temperatures vary little with season; elevation is the primary determinant. The Pacific lowlands are the hottest region, with annual averages ranging from 25 to 29 °C (77.0 to 84.2 °F). San Salvador is representative of the central plateau, with an annual average temperature of 23 °C (73 °F) and absolute high and low readings of 38 and 6 °C (100.4 and 42.8 °F), respectively. Mountain areas are the coolest, with annual averages from 12 to 23 °C (53.6 to 73.4 °F) and minimum temperatures sometimes approaching freezing.

Other facts

El Salvador Departments El Salvador Departments Map Mapa Departamentos El Salvador.png
El Salvador Departments

El Salvador's physical shape form, evokes a similar resemblance to a rugged and miniature version of the U.S State of California. During the 1980s, the country's coastal roads were compared to California's coastal roads by American surfers and El Salvador became known as the wild west of Central America, characterized by roughness and lawlessness.

The total land area of El Salvador is 23,041 km², with 20,721 km² of land and 320 km² of water. This is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. El Salvador has 590 km of borders, including 391 km of borders with Honduras and 199 km with Guatemala. El Salvador has a coastline of 307 km.

El Salvador claims a territorial sea of 200 nautical mile s (370.4 km; 230.2 mi).

Climate: tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April); tropical on coast; temperate in uplands

Terrain: mostly mountains with narrow coastal belt and central plateau

The lowest point of elevation in El Salvador is the Pacific Ocean, at sea level. The highest point is Cerro El Pital, at 2,730 m.

Natural resources: hydropower, geothermal power, petroleum, arable land

Land use (2012 estimate) includes 34.03 percent arable land, 10.86 percent permanent crops, 55.12 percent other.

Irrigated land: 449.9 km² (2003)

Total renewable water resources: 25.23 km3 (2011)

Natural hazards: El Salvador is known as the "Land of Volcanoes"; there are frequent and sometimes very destructive earthquakes and volcanic activity; catastrophic hurricanes are uncommon.

Extreme points

Environmental issues

Deforestation; soil erosion; water pollution; contamination of soils from disposal of toxic wastes.

El Salvador is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, CITES, Basel Convention, Partial Test Ban Treaty, Montreal Protocol, Ramsar Convention. El Salvador has signed, but not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

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