Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina

Last updated
Tierra del Fuego

Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida
e Islas del Atlántico Sur
Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands
Escudo de la Provincia de Tierra del Fuego.svg
Coat of arms
Tierra del Fuego, Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur (de-facto +claims hatched) (special marker) (+Antarctica).svg
Location of Tierra del Fuego Province within Argentina; de facto and claimed areas hatched.
Country Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina
Capital Ushuaia
Departments 4
Local Governments5
   Governor Gustavo Melella (FORJA/FDT)
   Deputies 5
   Senators 3
  Total21,263 km2 (8,210 sq mi)
 (2010 [1] )
  Rank 24th
  Density6.0/km2 (15/sq mi)
Demonym(s) fueguino
Time zone UTC−3 (ART)
ISO 3166 code AR-V
HDI (2018)0.837 Very High (10th) [2]
Website www.tierradelfuego.gov.ar

Tierra del Fuego (Spanish for "Land of Fire"; Spanish pronunciation:  [ˈtjera ðel ˈfweɣo] ; officially Provincia de Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur, Spanish for "Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands") is the southernmost, smallest, and least populous Argentine province.


The province had been inhabited by indigenous people for more than 12,000 years, since they migrated south of the mainland. It was first encountered by a European in 1520 when spotted by Ferdinand Magellan. Even after Argentina achieved independence, this territory remained under indigenous control until the nation's campaign known as the Conquest of the Desert in the 1870s, after which Argentina organised this section in 1885 as a territory.[ citation needed ] European immigration followed due to a gold rush and rapid expansion of sheep farming on large ranches in the area. Tierra del Fuego is the most recent Argentine territory to gain provincial status, which occurred in 1990.


The Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur including all its external territorial claims Argentina - Tierra del Fuego Province and its territorial claims.svg
The Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur including all its external territorial claims

The effective extent of the province is the eastern part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, Isla de los Estados and adjacent islands.

However, Argentina has made a territorial claim over the two British Overseas Territories of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and over a segment of Antarctica, which overlaps with the British and Chilean claims on that continent. Despite international recognition of the British territories and Argentina exercising no authority in said territories – other than in Argentine Antarctic bases – nevertheless those territories (known in Argentine Spanish as las Islas del Atlántico Sur and Antártida Argentina respectively) have been nominally included in the province since 1990.


Period impression of HMS Beagle navigating along Tierra del Fuego, 1833. HMS Beagle by Conrad Martens.jpg
Period impression of HMS Beagle navigating along Tierra del Fuego, 1833.

The youngest of the Argentine provinces was first inhabited around 12,000 years ago. When the first Europeans arrived, they encountered a population of about 10,000 indigenous people belonging to four tribes: Yámana, Alakaluf (now known by their autonym of Kawésqar), Selk'nam (Ona) and Manek'enk (Haush). [3] Within fifty years of discovery, only about 350 natives remained due to high fatalities from the endemic diseases carried by Europeans, such as smallpox and measles, as the natives had no immunity to these new diseases. [4] [5] In addition, in the late 19th century, ranchers and settlers committed genocide against the Selk'nam. [6] The provincial capital city is Ushuaia, from a native word meaning "bay towards the end".

The territory was first seen by Europeans in 1520 during Ferdinand Magellan's expedition. He named the area Land of Smokes (later changed to Land of Fire), as he saw what were probably the fires produced by the local Amerindian peoples for heating. Juan de Alderete in 1555 and later Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa intended to found settlements in the area. The harsh weather and the constant attacks of British pirates, who took Sarmiento de Gamboa prisoner, frustrated their ambitions. [ citation needed ]

Spanish, Dutch, British and French explorers ventured on Tierra del Fuego island and the nearby seas. Gabriel de Castilla passed through before exploring the Antarctic islands. In the early 1830s, Commander Robert FitzRoy, and Charles Darwin explored this land and other parts of Patagonia via HMS Beagle.

In 1828 Argentina established a penal colony at Puerto Luis on the Falkland Islands. In 1833 the British sent a naval task force to request that the Argentine representative of the islands, José María Pinedo, and Argentine forces leave the islands, and re-established their rule there.

A member of the Selknam people, 1904. The Selk'nam, or Ona, who traditionally placed great value on amiability, were the island's most numerous native people until their numbers were reduced by disease and genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ona Selknam.jpg
A member of the Selknam people, 1904. The Selk'nam, or Ona, who traditionally placed great value on amiability, were the island's most numerous native people until their numbers were reduced by disease and genocide in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Luis Piedrabuena installed a base in San Juan de Salvamento on Isla de los Estados. The British South American Mission Society Patagonia Mission, under its superintendent Waite Stirling, founded Ushuaia as an Anglican mission in southern Tierra del Fuego in 1869. [7] Shortly after, Salesian missionaries founded Río Grande.

In the 1880s the Argentine government took a more active interest in Tierra del Fuego. In 1881, the meridian 68°36'38 W was defined as the boundary between the Chilean and the Argentine portions of the island. In 1884 the Government of Tierra del Fuego was created, and a subprefecture was established at Ushuaia.

The southern part of the Beagle Channel was an issue of conflict between both states, which competed for control of three small islands, Picton, Lennox and Nueva. Finally in 1977, these were awarded to Chile by decision of the mediating British Crown, revised by Pope John Paul II and ratified by treaty in 1985.

When the crews of sailing-ships told of the notoriously dangerous voyage round the tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego became a byword in Europe for an inhospitable land, where life would be impossibly harsh for settlers. But, it is not the most sparsely populated province of Argentina. Its population density of 4.75/ km2 is higher than five other provinces, due to various waves of immigration.

Local sheep ranch, 1942. Sheep, the most important part of the economy by the turn of the 20th century, have been eclipsed by the decline in the global wool market and the rise in petroleum extraction. Ovejas afuera de un galpon de esquila SETF.jpg
Local sheep ranch, 1942. Sheep, the most important part of the economy by the turn of the 20th century, have been eclipsed by the decline in the global wool market and the rise in petroleum extraction.

Gold fever started in Tierra del Fuego around 1883. Many Croatians from the Dalmatian coast arrived in search of gold. In addition, the gold rush inspired new technologies and innovations, such as the telegraph. Although by 1910 the gold had run out, most of the pioneers stayed. The inauspicious-looking northern plains proved ideal sheep-farming country, and vast ranches were developed. Croatian, Scottish, Basque, Italian, Galician and Chilean immigrants arrived to work on the estancias, with the hope of eventually buying their own land and stock.

The Amerindians suffered high fatalities from disease and the outright warfare waged by ranchers and bounty hunters; by 1920 their population on the island had dropped to only 200. News of the atrocities and genocide reached the Federal Congress in Buenos Aires. It sent aid and tried to help the Salesian mission, the only institution working in the island to protect the indigenous peoples.[ citation needed ]

With the creation of the Gobernación Marítima de Tierra del Fuego in 1943, construction of naval bases began in Ushuaia and Río Grande. An airport and other infrastructure were also built. These projects attracted immigrants from other countries as well as other parts of Argentina.

It was not until 1990 that the "National Territory of Tierra del Fuego, the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Islands" was declared a province. Its first governor was appointed two years later.

Geography and climate

Mossy landscape, Tierra del Fuego. Misodendrum punctulatum on lenga.jpg
Mossy landscape, Tierra del Fuego.

The province can be geographically divided into 3 distinct areas: the Tierra del Fuego islands, Argentine Antarctica, and the South Atlantic Islands.

Tierra del Fuego Island

Koppen climate map of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina (without Antartida e Islas del Atlantico Sur) Tierra del Fuego Koppen.svg
Köppen climate map of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina (without Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur)

There are low mountains and sandy beaches at the north of the island, ascending to the south. The north is somewhat similar to the steppe of Santa Cruz Province. In the middle of the island, the end of the Andes mountain system becomes flattened, and its highest peak, Mount Cornú, rises only 1,490 m (4,890 ft). There are a number of short rivers (the Grande, Moneta, Ona, Lasifashaj, etc.), and as a result of the low temperature there are many small glaciers that flow to the sea.

Due to its latitude, the island has a cold oceanic climate. [8] The influences from the surrounding ocean and the predominant winds from the west result in the climate being uniform throughout the province. [9] Mean annual temperatures are low, with winter temperatures averaging close to 0 °C (32 °F) and summer temperatures averaging around 10 °C (50 °F). [8] [9] The strong westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean decrease the perception of the temperature (wind chill). [8] In the extreme south in the Beagle Channel which is surrounded by mountains rising above 100 m (330 ft), winds can exceed 100 km/h (62 mph). [8] The island averages around 700 mm (28 in) of precipitation per year which is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year with a slight maximum in Autumn. [9] Snowfall is abundant throughout the island. [9] Much of this island can be classified as within the Magellanic subpolar forests ecoregion. [10]

Argentine Antarctica

Watercraft in Esperanza Bay, Antarctica. Antartida Argentina.jpg
Watercraft in Esperanza Bay, Antarctica.

The part of Antarctica claimed by Argentina is formed by Palmer Land and the Weddell Sea, of which half remains frozen all year round. The highest peak of this section of the continent is Mt. Chiriguano, at 3,360 meters (11,020 ft). The weather is normally cold and windy.

Antarctic portion between meridians 25deg West and 74deg West AntartidaArgentina.png
Antarctic portion between meridians 25° West and 74° West

South Atlantic Islands

Argentina lays claim to the Falkland Islands, as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, regarding them as part of Tierra del Fuego Province. Argentina has no control over the islands, which are governed as British Overseas Territories.


Tierra del Fuego has since the 1970s benefited from government subsidies to local industry and from its natural wealth. Its estimated 2006 output of US$2.6 billion gave the province a per capita income of US$25,719, the second highest in Argentina, behind Buenos Aires. [11]

Manufacturing, despite the province's remoteness, contributes about 20% to output owing partly to generous certain tax incentives to local industry, a policy Buenos Aires has pursued to encourage immigration to less populated areas. A number of sizable factories have opened on Tierra del Fuego Island to take advantage of the tax benefits legislated in 1972, mainly home appliance and electronics manufacturers.

Recently, in the city of Río Grande, many international and Argentine companies, most notably the Korean company Samsung and the Argentine company Teltron, have set up factories that produce high-definition televisions (HDTV), CD-ROM-related articles, and low-cost GSM cell phones, built mainly from Argentine components.

Cerro Castor is the most important ski resort in the province. CerroCastor01.jpg
Cerro Castor is the most important ski resort in the province.
"Train to the End of the World". Operated by the provincial government, is the world's southernmost active railway. End of The World Train at station.jpg
"Train to the End of the World". Operated by the provincial government, is the world's southernmost active railway.

Sheep ranching is the leading source of the province's modest agricultural income (5% of output). It provides wool, mutton and hides throughout the province and the wider Argentine market, whose taste for these products has been growing strongly.

As in Patagonia to the north, petroleum and natural gas extraction are important to Tierra del Fuego's economy, generating over 20% of total output. Exploration efforts continue. The government of the Falkland Islands has issued exploration licenses within its waters. This competition has caused anger in Argentina. The activity has also intruded into some of the area's lucrative crab and shrimp fishing industry.

Tourism is gaining importance on Tierra del Fuego island. The region offers mountains, glaciers, forests, fast rivers, waterfalls, ski centres (the most important is Cerro Castor), and the sea, all within short distances.

The most visited destinations in Argentine Tierra del Fuego include Ushuaia, the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Tren del Fin del Mundo , Fagnano Lake, the Museum of the End of the World, the Beagle Channel, the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse, the old jail, and South Staten Island.

The Antarctic Peninsula is a tourist destination. Tourists can see wildlife at the Argentine Marambio Base during the summer.

Political division

Governor's offices, Ushuaia. Gobernacion Provincia de Tierra del Fuego Antartida e Isla del Atlantico Sur.jpg
Governor's offices, Ushuaia.

The province is divided into five departments (Spanish: departamentos), only the first three of which are under the effective control of Argentina:

  1. Ushuaia (seat Ushuaia)
  2. Río Grande (seat Río Grande)
  3. Tolhuin (seat Tolhuin)
  4. Antártida Argentina: the Argentine claim to Antarctica lies between 25°W and 74°W (overlapping both Chilean and British claims) and is uninhabited apart from the staff of scientific bases. Being south of 60°S, the Argentine claim to the entire department is suspended under the Antarctic Treaty.
  5. Islas del Atlántico Sur: consists of the Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas in Spanish) and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, both of which are self-governing overseas territories of the United Kingdom.


Governor Gustavo Melella Gustavo Melella.png
Governor Gustavo Melella

The provincial government is divided into three branches: the executive, headed by a popularly elected governor, who appoints the cabinet; the legislative; and the judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution of Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina forms the formal law of the province.

In Argentina, the most important law enforcement organization is the Argentine Federal Police but the additional work is carried out by the Tierra del Fuego Provincial Police.

See also

The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, on the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia. Le Phare des Eclaireurs.jpg
The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, on the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia.

Related Research Articles

Tierra del Fuego Archipelago off the south of South America

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago off the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, across the Strait of Magellan. The archipelago consists of the main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, with an area of 48,100 km2 (18,572 sq mi), and a group of many islands, including Cape Horn and Diego Ramírez Islands. Tierra del Fuego is divided between Chile and Argentina, with the latter controlling the eastern half of the main island and the former the western half plus the islands south of Beagle Channel. The southernmost extent of the archipelago is at about latitude 55°S.

Strait of Magellan Strait in southern Chile joining the Atlantic and Pacific oceans

The Strait of Magellan, also called the Straits of Magellan, is a navigable sea route in southern Chile separating mainland South America to the north and Tierra del Fuego to the south. The strait is considered the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was discovered and first traversed by the Spanish expedition of Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, after whom it is named.

Ushuaia City in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Ushuaia is the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, Argentina, and the southernmost city of the country. Ushuaia claims the title of world's southernmost city. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay on the southern coast of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, bounded on the north by the Martial mountain range and on the south by the Beagle Channel. It is the only municipality in the Department of Ushuaia, which has an area of 9,390 km2 (3,625 sq mi). It was founded on October 12, 1884, by Augusto Lasserre and is located on the shores of the Beagle Channel surrounded by the mountain range of the Martial Glacier, in the Bay of Ushuaia. Besides being an administrative center, it is a light industrial port and tourist hub. Ushuaia is located roughly 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) from the coast of Antarctica and 245 kilometres (152 mi) from the Chilean city of Punta Arenas.

Ushuaia – Malvinas Argentinas International Airport

Malvinas Argentinas Ushuaia International Airport is located 4 km (2.5 mi) south of the center of Ushuaia, a city on the island of Tierra del Fuego in the Tierra del Fuego Province of Argentina.

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego Island of Argentina and Chile

Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego also formerly Isla de Xátiva is an island near the southern tip of South America from which it is separated by the Strait of Magellan. The western portion (61.4%) of the island is in Chile, while the eastern portion is in Argentina. It forms the major landmass in an extended group of islands or archipelago also known as Tierra del Fuego.

Southernmost settlements

Southernmost settlements are cities, towns, weather stations or permanent military bases which are farther south than latitude 45°S. They are closely related to the Southern Ocean or either the Roaring Forties or Furious Fifties. Antarctic bases are excluded due to not having a permanent population.

Puerto Williams Place in Magallanes y Antártica Chilena, Chile

Puerto Williams is the city, port and naval base on Navarino Island in Chile. It faces the Beagle Channel. It is capital of the Chilean Antarctic Province, one of four provinces in the Magellan and Chilean Antarctica Region, and administers the communes of Chilean Antarctic Territory and Cabo de Hornos. It has a population of 2,874, including both naval personnel and civilians. Puerto Williams claims the title of world's southernmost city. The settlement was founded in 1953, and was first named Puerto Luisa. The town was later named after John Williams Wilson, a British man who founded Fuerte Bulnes, the first settlement in the Strait of Magellan since 1587. It has served primarily as a naval base for Chile. The Chilean Navy runs the Guardiamarina Zañartu Airport and hospital, as well as nearby meteorological stations. Since the late 20th century, the number of navy personnel has decreased in Puerto Williams and the civilian population has increased. In that period, tourism and support of scientific research have contributed to an increase in economic activity.

Beagle Channel

Beagle Channel is a strait in Tierra del Fuego Archipelago on the extreme southern tip of South America between Chile and Argentina. The channel separates the larger main island of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego from various smaller islands including the islands of Picton, Lennox and Nueva; Navarino; Hoste; Londonderry; and Stewart. The channel's eastern area forms part of the border between Chile and Argentina and the western area is entirely within Chile.

Bristol Island

Bristol Island is an 8-kilometre-long (5 mi) island lying midway between Montagu Island and Thule Island in the South Sandwich Islands.

Argentine Antarctica Department in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Argentine Antarctica is a sector of Antarctica claimed by Argentina as part of its national territory consisting of the Antarctic Peninsula and a triangular section extending to the South Pole, delimited by the 25° West and 74° West meridians and the 60° South parallel. This region overlaps the British and Chilean claims in Antarctica. The Antarctic Treaty Secretariat being based in Buenos Aires.

Yaghan people

The Yaghan, also called Yagán, Yahgan, Yámana, Yamana or Tequenica, are one of the indigenous peoples of the Southern Cone, who are regarded as the southernmost peoples in the world. Their traditional territory includes the islands south of Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, extending their presence into Cape Horn.

Tolhuin Town in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Tolhuin is a town in the province of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. It has 2,949 inhabitants as per the 2010 census [INDEC]. It is located on the eastern shore of Lake Fagnano, in the southern part of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. It is the third largest settlement on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego after Ushuaia and Río Grande.

The region of the Beagle Channel, explored by Robert FitzRoy in the 1830s, was one of the last to be colonized by Chile and Argentina. The cold weather, the long distances from other inhabited regions, and the shortage of transport and subsistence, kept it far from the governmental task.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands sovereignty dispute

The sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is disputed by United Kingdom and Argentina. The United Kingdom claimed South Georgia in 1775, annexed the islands in 1908, and has exercised de facto control with the exception of a brief period during the Falklands War in 1982 when the islands were partially controlled by Argentina. The dispute started in 1927 when Argentina claimed sovereignty over South Georgia, and subsequently was expanded in scope with Argentina claiming the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. The islands have no indigenous population, and currently only have about 30 inhabitants.

Augusto Lasserre

Commodore Augusto Lasserre (1826-1906) was an officer in the Argentine Navy. He was born in 1826 in Montevideo. Lasserre was promoted to the rank of captain on the 11 June 1852. Later he was promoted to Commander of the Argentine Navy.

National University of Tierra del Fuego

The National University of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands is an Argentine national university in Tierra del Fuego Province. The campus university is located in the city of Ushuaia. The institution was founded through National Law 26.559, enacted by Congress on November 14, 2009, and was formally established on December 28, 2010.

Governor of Tierra del Fuego

The Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica and South Atlantic Islands is the highest executive officer of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego. The Governor is directly elected by the people of the province for a four-year term. The Lieutenant Governor is elected at the same time and can assume office in the absence, death or suspension of the Governor.

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Tierra del Fuego National Park is a national park on the Argentine part of the island of Tierra del Fuego, within Tierra del Fuego Province in the ecoregion of Patagonic Forest and Altos Andes, a part of the subantarctic forest. Established on 15 October 1960 under the Law 15.554 and expanded in 1966, it was the first shoreline national park to be established in Argentina.

Thomas Bridges (Anglican missionary)

Thomas Bridges was an Anglican missionary and linguist, the first to set up a successful mission to the indigenous peoples in Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago shared by Argentina and Chile. Adopted and raised in England by George Pakenham Despard, he accompanied his father to Chile with the Patagonian Missionary Society. After an attack by indigenous people, in 1869 Bridges' father, Despard, left the mission at Keppel Island of the Falkland Islands, to return with his family to England. At the age of 17, Bridges stayed with the mission as its new superintendent. In the late 1860s, he worked to set up a mission at what is now the town of Ushuaia along the southern shore of Tierra del Fuego Island.

Tierra del Fuego gold rush

Between 1883 and 1906 Tierra del Fuego experienced a gold rush attracting many Chileans, Argentines and Europeans to the archipelago, including many Dalmatians. The gold rush led to the formation of the first towns in the archipelago and fueled economic growth in Punta Arenas. After the gold rush was over, most gold miners left the archipelago, while the remaining settlers engaged in sheep farming and fishing. Indigenous Selk'nam populations declined sharply during the rush.


  1. "Censo 2010 Argentina resultados provisionales: mapas". Archived from the original on 2012-09-01. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  2. "Información para el desarrollo sostenible: Argentina y la Agenda 2030" (PDF) (in Spanish). United Nations Development Programme. p. 155. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  3. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tierra del Fuego § Inhabitants"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 946.
  4. "Yahgan & Ona – The Road to Extinction" Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine , Cultural Survival Quarterly
  5. "La Patagonia Trágica", Argentine Schools curriculum
  6. Anne Chapman (11 November 1982). Drama and Power in a Hunting Society: The Selk'nam of Tierra Del Fuego. CUP Archive. pp. 11–. ISBN   978-0-521-23884-7.
  7. Bridges, E. L. (1948) Uttermost Part of the Earth : Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1948; republished 2008, Overlook Press ISBN   978-1-58567-956-0
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Clima" (in Spanish). Gobierno de Tierra del Fuego. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  9. 1 2 3 4 "Tierra del Fuego: Clima" (in Spanish). Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
  10. World Wildlife Fund; C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Magellanic subpolar forests. Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  11. "El déficit consolidado de las provincias rondará los $11.500 millones este año" (in Spanish). Instituto Argentino para el Desarrollo de las Economías Regionales. Retrieved 10 July 2015.

Coordinates: 54°21′43″S67°38′17″W / 54.362°S 67.638°W / -54.362; -67.638