The Atacama Desert Chile (in Spanish: Desierto de Atacama) is a plateau covering 1,000 kilometers in N-S direction from Peru’s southern border into Chile in South America. The desert is narrow and elongated with a width of only 100 kilometers.
The driest desert on Earth
Atacama desert Peru is considered to be the driest place on Earth and is classified as a hot desert. The world’s driest cold desert is Antarctica.
Why is Atacama so dry
The reason for the very dry conditions is the specific place between the high peaks of Andes, which shadows for rain showers forced by the west going wind system. The cold ocean current along offshore the west coast of South America also affects the weather conditions. The cold water often induces fog which tend to move inland moisturizer leaves and vegetation. This sparse moisture from fog is actually the main reason for that life is possible in the Atacama desert. One of the biggest animal in the desert is the llama which is endemic to South America. It is assumed that there are spots where rain never has been recorded. A natural result of the low annual rainfall is a very low human population and the flora as well as fauna is very sparse.
Atacama Geysers: Tatio Geyser
In the Atacama Desert in an altitude of 4,320 meters you will also find some impressive geysers of Taito Geyser which means the “Grandfather”. Taito Geyser is actually one of the world’s largest geysers and among the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world. Thus, it is major Chilean tourist attractions. El Tatio consists of 80 geysers. The visitors mainly visit the Tatio geyser at sunrise where the geothermal activity is greatest. Tatio Geyser is truly a must-see destination when traveling to Atacama Desert Chile.
Largest Copper Mine in the World
The Atacama desert Chile occupies 105,000 square kilometers composed mostly of salt lakes, sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes. The arid climate results in a high concentration of minerals in the area. The desert offers many mineral resources including copper and sodium. The largest copper mine in the world named Chuquicamata is located in Atacama in an altitude of 3,000 meters. A copper mineral, atacamite, is named after the desert.
Read also: Salar de Uyuni – World’s Largest Salt Flat
Chilean mine accident
Another mine in Atacama desert is the Copiapó mine, which is a gold and cobber mine. Back in 2010, a major accident happened in this mine. Due to tectonic movements in the subsurface the mine collapsed and as a result 33 mining workers were captured approximately 700 meters below the surface. Miraculously, they all survived 69 days within the mine which is a world record.
In Atacama Desert Chile, the composition of the sand is very similar to the sand found on Mars. Therefore, Atacama is an important site for scientists who want to simulated the physical conditions on Mars. The scientists are also interested in the huge meteor crater of Monturaqui, which has a diameter of 370 meter. More than 25 different types of iron meteorites have been found in Atacama. Due to the arid climate conditions and the common exploration geology, Atacama desert Chile is a favorable site for hunting meteorites.