The vast Gran Chaco plain sprawls across South America covering an area larger than France.
This semi-arid lowland region covers roughly 650,000km² of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.
It is part of the Rio de la Plata river basin, South America’s second largest drainage basin that serves the world’s widest river.
As part of the La Plata basin, the Gran Chaco is laced with rivers and streams that make areas of the plain extremely fertile.
This is because the moving water deposits minerals across the La Plata basin, enriching the soil.
The watercourses cut across the flat landscape that was once a large depression in the Earth’s surface; gradually the water deposited sediment in the depression, filling it and levelling the landscape.
The Gran Chaco can be divided into three main climatic zones –
semi-arid, transitional and humid – based on the levels of annual rainfall which increases from west to east.
In the drier semi-arid zone the wind has shaped the landscape, sculpting rows of undulating sand dunes.
The wetter humid zone was once covered in forest, though many of the trees have been replaced with farmland.
Its fertile soil has led to the Gran Chaco becoming predominantly used for agriculture, in spite of the varied and sometimes unpredictable climate.
Frequent droughts sometimes transform the semi-arid region to desert, while torrential rains can flood the humid zone; these extreme weather systems earn the Gran Chaco the nickname “Green Hell”.
As a result of the varied climates, agriculture is roughly divided throughout the region, with hardier crops grown in the semi-arid zone, and the transitional and humid zones utilised for livestock raising.