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Minas Gerais - Geography

Despite being close to the coast, Minas Gerais has no contact with the Atlantic Ocean (see map).
There are a few mountain chains in the State: Serra do Espinhaço, Serra da Canasta, Serra da Mantiqueira, Serra dos Aimorés; more than 90% of Minas Gerais is at altitudes over 300 m, and about 25% are between 600 m and 1500 m, making Minas the State with highest mean altitudes in Brazil.
Serra da Mantiqueira, which defines borders between Minas, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, is also referred to as Serra do Mar (particularly in São Paulo); these mountains mark a clear separation between the coast and the inner highlands, and were a major factor, during colonial times, to refrain the Portuguese from exploring São Paulo.
The Serra do Espinhaço has mountains which peak about 300 m high; the chain stretches from Minas Gerais to the north of Bahia. This chain concentrates much of the mineral resources of the State, including reserves of iron, manganese, bauxite and gold.
The São Francisco, one of the most important Brazilian rivers, begins in Minas and flows northwards; it cuts through the mountain chains, creating a valley around it. Because of the altitudes, the São Francisco has a large hidroelectric potential, which explains the building of several hidroelectric plants along its course.

Climate. Minas Gerais can be divided in three different climatic regions.
The areas at lower altitudes (closer to the coast, the São Francisco valley) see wet summers and dry winters; temperatures average 23 degrees Celsius, and pluviosity is around 1300 mm per year.
In the areas at higher altitudes (on and around the chains), an effect on the temperatures can be felt; mean temperatures range from 17 to 20 degrees.
The other areas have a transitional climate between the other two.

Vegetation. The eastern part of the State used to be covered by the Atlantic Forest; much of the original forest was devastated, either to explore the wood or to clear spaces for cities or farms. Some areas of the forest are still preserved in the mountain chains. Click the link to read more about devastation and preservation of the Atlantic Forest.
In some parts of the north, there are areas with caatingas, associated with the drier climates.
Most of the State (all the area which was not coverd by the Atlantic Forest) is today occupied by cerrados. Because the soil of cerrados are poorer in nutrients, the area was historically used for extensive creation of cattle and other livestocks, practice largely adopted until today; technology has provided means to increase productivity of the cerrados, so, a more intensive use of the cerrados to cultivate grains (particulary soy beans) is already seen in other States, and is an expected trend of Minas.

Rivers and basins. Three basins cover the State.
To the north, the basin of river São Francisco; this river flows northwards, into the dry lands of Brazilian northeast; several projects have been discussed about the possibility of divert the court of this river, to as to benefit areasa severely hit by drought.
To the south, the basin of river Paraná; the Paraná itself is entirely out of Minas, but the rivers Paranaíba and Grande are important tributaries; the Paraná flows southwards, eventually reaching Paraguay and Argentina.
The oriental parts of Minas have rivers which flow into the Atlantic, like the Rio Doce and the Rio Jequitinhonha.
Because of the altitudes of Minas, the profiles of the rivers show steep gradients, which, if make them useful for the generation of hidroelectricity, make them also hard to navigate. There is a stretch of the São Francisco which is used to transport cargo and passengers.

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