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Mexico - Enviornment

Mexico Environment

Covering almost two million sq km (800,000 sq mi), Mexico follows a northwest to southeast curve, narrowing to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec then continuing to the Yucatán Peninsula. On the west and south the country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, with the Gulf of California lying between the Baja California peninsula and the mainland. Mexico's east coast is washed by the Gulf of Mexico, while the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula meets the Caribbean Sea. Mexico shares borders with the USA (to the north), and Guatemala and Belize (to the southeast).

Mexico is a mountainous country with two north-south ranges framing a group of broad central plateaus known as the Altiplano Central. In the south, the Sierra Madre del Sur stretches across the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. From the isthmus, a narrow stretch of lowlands runs along the Pacific coast south to Guatemala. These lowlands are backed by the Chiapas highlands, which merge into a steamy tropical rainforest area stretching into northern Guatemala. The flat, low Yucatán Peninsula is tropical savanna to its tip, where there's an arid, desert-like region.

Bridging temperate and tropical regions, and lying in the latitudes that contain most of the world's deserts, Mexico has an enormous range of natural environments and vegetation zones. Its rugged, mountainous topography adds to the variety by creating countless microclimates. Despite the potential for great ecological diversity, human impact has been enormous. Before the Spanish conquest, about two-thirds of the country was forested. Today, only one-fifth of the country remains verdant, mainly in the south and east. Domesticated grazing animals have pushed the larger animals, such as puma, deer and coyote, into isolated pockets. However, armadillos, rabbits and snakes are common, and the tropical forests of the south and east still harbor (in places) howler and spider monkeys, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, anteaters, peccaries (a type of wild pig), deer, macaws, toucans, parrots and some tropical reptiles, such as the boa constrictor, though these habitats too are being eroded.

Mexico's climate varies according to its topography. It's hot and humid along the coastal plains on both sides of the country, but inland, at higher elevations such as Guadalajara or Mexico City, the climate is much drier and more temperate. The hot, wet season is May to October, with the hottest and wettest months falling between June and September over most of the country. The low-lying coastal areas receive more rainfall than elevated inland regions. December to February are generally the coolest months, when north winds can make inland northern Mexico decidedly chilly, with temperatures sometimes approaching freezing.

Mexico has suffered more than its fair share of climatic and environmental disasters, though it escaped Hurricane Mitch, which devastated several Central American countries in late 1998. Hurricane Pauline caused 300 deaths and great damage in the Pacific coastal states of Guerrero and Oaxaca in October 1997. Lower than usual rainfall in the 1997-98 winter (blamed on that year's strong El Niño current across the Pacific Ocean) brought a drought and thousands of forest fires around Mexico in the first half of 1998. Tropical storms and torrential rain along most of the Pacific coast and parts of central Mexico in September 1998 had their worst effects in Chiapas, where many people perished and the road system was badly damaged. This was Mexico's worst natural disaster since the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

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