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Atacama Desert Facts and Information

Geography | 7-14 yrs | Interactive

What is the driest place on earth?

Not all dry places are completely dry. Rated among the three most dry places on earth, the Atacama Desert is the most driest. Situated at an altitude of about 4 km above sea level and covering an area of 40,500 sq miles, it experiences an average rainfall of 1 mm per year.

Why is the Atacama desert so dry?

Since it is a part of the Andes Mountain Ranges Volcanic Belt, ground water storage is low, due to extremely high temperatures below the ground. It is also one of the oldest deserts, probably from the Triassic period, atleast 3 million years old. The aridity of the Atacama desert occurs because of its placement between two mountain chains – The Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. These high altitude barriers prevent moisture from the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans to penetrate.

How many countries of South America does the Atacama desert cover?

The Atacama Desert spreads over Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

Is it possible for any life to exist in the driest place on the planet?

The Atacama Desert is sparsely populated, with pockets of inhabitations. However it is interesting to note that the oldest mummies in the world have been found in archeological sites dating back to 7020 BC. Which shows that human life has been resilient to survive such extreme conditions even so long back.

Temperatures across various parts of the desert vary and can range from around 40 degrees Celsius to -5 degrees in some places.Though temperatures are moderate, the Atacama Desert remains an extreme environment, due to water scarcity. Only cactuses and tough grasses can survive in the desert, though bromeliads flourish in zones prone to fogs.

Only a few hardy mammals live here, including the Viscacha, the South American Grey Fox and Darwin’s Leaf-Eared Mouse.
Birds are in abundance, from Humboldt Penguins along the coast to Andean Flamingos, which feed on algae and vascular plants in the salt lakes. Some rarities such as the Tamarugo Conebill, Chilean Woodstar and Slender-billed Finch can be spotted in vegetation prone areas.

6 Interesting facts about Atacama desert

  1. The Atacama Desert is so dry that there are very few bacterias which survive.
  2. The region is rich in Copper and Sodium Nitrate. It was one of the world’s largest suppliers of Sodium Nitrate in the 1940s. Some abandoned townships found around Atacama are largely due to this boom. Post the 1940s, synthetic ways of Nitrate manufacture has reduced mining requirements, though Copper is still mined.
  3. Although the Atacama Desert is the driest place in the world, it has snow on its peaks. This is due to the high altitudes.
  4. Due to an almost constant skyline through out the year, without much change in weather, also that it is uninhabited, with no air pollution, or artificial light sources, the Atacama Desert has become one of the most favoured astronomy observatories of the world. The world’s largest telescope, ALMA is situated at the Atacama Desert.
  5. The Atacama Desert plays host to three different kinds of Flamingoes at it’s fragile Soncor Ecosystem, a series of interconnected lagoons. It’s a very important ecosystem, as it is the Andean Flamingos breeding ground.
  6. The Humboldt penguins are the only penguins that live in the desert. To escape the heat, they swim in the Humboldt currents created in the coastal waters of Chile.
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