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The Atacama Desert Facts and Climate for Kids

Gathered these Facts
  • The Atacama Desert is a plateau in South America, covering a 600 mi strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains.
  • It is, according to NASA, National Geographic and other sources, the driest desert in the world.
  • The Atacama occupies 41,000 sq mi composed mostly of salt lakes (salares), sand, and felsic lava flows towards the Andes.
  • The Atacama Desert ecoregion, as defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), extends from a few kilometers south of the PeruChile border to about 30° south latitude.
  • To the north lies the Peruvian Sechura Desert ecoregion, whilst to the south is the Chilean Matorral ecoregion.
  • The National Geographic Society, by contrast, considers the coastal area of southern Peru to be part of the Atacama Desert.
  • The Atacama Desert is commonly known as the driest place in the world, especially the surroundings of the abandoned Yungay town (in Antofagasta Region, Chile).
  • The average rainfall in the Chilean region of the Atacama Desert is .004 inches per year, meaning it gets 4 inches of rain in a thousand years.
  • Periods of up to four years have been registered with no rainfall in the central sector, delimited by the cities of Antofagasta, Calama and Copiapó, in Chile.
  • Studies by a group of British scientists have suggested that some river beds have been dry for 120,000 years.
  • Geographically, the aridity can be explained by the following reasons: The desert is located on the leeward side of the Chilean Coast Range, so little moisture from the Pacific Ocean can reach the desert.
  • The Humboldt Current transports cold water from Antarctica towards the north the length of the Chilean and Peruvian coasts; this water that makes the western sea breezes cold, reducing evaporation and creating a thermic inversion—cold air immobilized under a cover of tepid air—prevents the formation of large, rain-producing clouds.
  • Owing to its otherworldly appearance, the Atacama has been used as a location for filming Mars scenes, most notably in the television series Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets.
  • In 2003, a team of researchers published a report in the journal Science in which they duplicated the tests used by the Viking 1 and Viking 2 Mars landers to detect life, and were unable to detect any signs in Atacama Desert soil.
  • The team duplicated the Viking tests in Mars-like Earth environments and found that they missed present signs of life in soil samples from Antarctic dry valleys, the Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru, and other locales.
  • Perchlorates are also found in the Atacama and associated nitrate deposits have contained organics, leading to speculation that signs of life on Mars are not incompatible with perchlorates.
  • It lies 8 mi to the west of the town, San Pedro de Atacama.
  • These oases have had little population growth and urban development, and have, since the 20th century, faced conflicts over water resources that are needed for the coastal cities and the mining industry.
  • The Atacama Desert again became a source of wealth from the 1950s onwards, owing to copper mining.
  • The European Southern Observatory operates two major observatories in the Atacama: The La Silla Observatory The Paranal Observatory, which includes the Very Large Telescope A new radio astronomy telescope, called ALMA, built by Europe, Japan, the United States, Canada and Chile in the Llano de Chajnantor Observatory officially opened on 3 October 2011.