Students hard at work on the "Mangrove Challenge"! (Sierpe River, SW Costa Rica)
In order to understand these mountain ranges better you must look at the orogenesis of the ranges or how they were formed. There are two plates, the Cocos
Plate and Caribbean plate, in which the subducting is occurring. The subducting causes both the uplift of rock and sediment but also volcanic activity. (Bradley, 2003) The oceanic tectonic plate (Cocos Plate) slides underneath the countries continental plate resulting in the melting of it. (Bradley, 2003) “The resulting magma is less dense than the surrounding rock, so it rises up toward the surface where it collects in magma chambers.” (classzone.com) Once the magma gets to the chambers it triggers a volcanic eruption. (classzone.com) This process happens over millions and millions of years causing the formation of mountains on top of the plate. (classzone.com) Although Costa Rica has not had a catastrophic event since prehistoric times, it is said that one will occur within the next few hundred thousand years. (Bradley, 2003) The damage that a volcano can do are done mainly by their pyroclastic flows which “are high-speed avalanches of hot ash, rock fragments, and gas that race down the sides of volcanoes during explosive eruptions or when the steep edge of a dome breaks apart and collapses. These pyroclastic flows, move at over 100 km per hour, knocking down and burning everything in their path with scorching matter at more than 500 Celsius.” (Bradley, 2003) In the central plateau of Costa Rica, it is home to more than half of the countries population which is surrounded by a few large volcanoes that are still active. (Bradley, 2003) Even though there is no immediate threat for the next few hundred thousand years Costa Rica is never the less a perfect set up for such a catastrophic event.
Within these volcanic and mountainous ranges lies some of the most lush and life thriving forests in the world. The increase in elevation creates forests known as cloud forests. A cloud forest is “a mountain forest that exists in perpetual mist, characterized by stunted trees with an abundance in epiphytic growth.” ( Kricher, p.391) Due to the high altitude of the forests it is much cooler than the standard tropical forest and other tropical ecosystems. (cloudforestalive.org) As mentioned earlier in the paper, Costa Rica is home to the Monteverde Cloud Forests which is a host to a large number of plants and animals. It has 425 bird species with a significant amount of insects as well. (cloudforestalive.org) The occurring problem of global warming however is a growing concern for these cloud forests. Global warming is causing the clouds in the forest to rise leaving it warmer and dryer. (cloudforestalive.org) This geographic marvel not only benefits the things that live in it but around it as well. They are a huge part of the hydrological processes of the surrounding area. (cloudforestalive.org) They retain and filter water that drains into rivers and surrounding peoples of the area. (cloudforestalive.org)
In much of the tropics such as the Amazon Basin, the soils are very old and poor in nutrients. (Kircher, p.52) In Costa Rica though, the soils are much younger due to the volcanic activity of the area. (Kircher, p.52) This provides for much more nutrient rich soils which are great for farming. Such kinds of soils found in the region are entisols and inceptisols. (Kircher, p.52) They are “young soils of recent origin, rich in minerals near the surface, with higher pH (still acid but closer to neutral).” (Kircher, p.52) At the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, it said that bout one third of all soils there are inceptisols and entisols which are very fertile because of its recent organic origin. (Kircher, p.52) The rest of the soils found are much more acidic, older, and less fertile and are ultisols. (Kircher, p.52)
It’s clearly seen that both geography and geology have an important role throughout Costa Rica. It affects not only the species of the forests but the people who live in the country. Its geographic landscape makes for some of the most beautiful scenery but at the same time can erupt into a relentless force of pyroclastic destruction. These aspects will always for thousands and thousands of years have an adverse effect on the surrounding region. It is important though that we remember our role in preserving it as well. The benefits of Costa Rica’s landscape and life far out weigh the reasons for destroying it.
Kricher, John A Neotropical Companion. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1997.
Richard Garrigues 1996.
The Geography of Costa Rica
Rara Avis 1995.
Time to Worry?
David Bradley 2003
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