The driest desert (second to Antarctica), Atacama desert, covers the north-western area of Chilean coast in South America. The irony is that being a neighbor of the Pacific Ocean it is still a desert. The physical feature includes rocky landmasses, rugged valleys and gulfs and mountains. Like most deserts, even Atacama is unfit for inhabitation, but lively regions can be found in the heart of the place.
Location Of Atacama Desert
Being 1600kms long, it covers a total distance of 105000 square kilometers. It covers continuous land that stretches from Peru (18°24′ S) to La Serena (29° 55′ S).
Topography Of Atacama Desert
The Atacama plateau is guarded by Andes Mountains in the east and is bordered by The Pacific in the west. The Atacama is 610 meters above the sea level with a less than 100kms of average width.
The rocky mountains of the desert are formed of sediments which are further made up of limestone and sandstone. Dry salt basins can be found in a series in the desert.
What All Can Be Found??
Sodium nitrate(used in the manufacture of fertilizer and explosives) can be found in abundance in the desert along with huge copper deposits. But sadly the soil of Atacama is unfit for plant growth as it has very low levels of nitrogen and carbon.
Weather And Climatic Conditions
Unlike most deserts, Atacama has a cold temperature, ranging between 0 to 25 degree Celsius. Apart from extreme temperature it has almost negligible precipitation that is 0.6 millimeters annually. The desert had never witnessed even a drop of water in the last 400 years barring once that was in 2015 when it experienced flash floods.
The guardians of the east that is the Andes Mountains cast its rain shadow effect leading to a lack of moisture causing low and dry temperatures.
Flora And Fauna Of The Region
Plants and animals are a rare sight. Cacti: Eulychnia Iquique NSIS and Copiapoa app are the only species found and that too only in certain parts of the northern coastal area. The height of few shrubs found in the region varies between 990 and 1100 meters. Loma is another plant category found in the area. The reason it flourishes is fog and moisture.
Fauna that can be spotted in the region is llamas, bat species, the Elegant Fat-tailed Opossum, species of mouse and much more.
Birds can also be spotted in the clear sky of Atacama. Seagulls, pelicans dominate the coastal areas, Hummingbird species visit the Lomas. Other species are the Rufous-collared Sparrow, the Blue-black Grassquit, Tamarugo Conebill, Chilean Woodstar, Cactus Canastero, White-throated Earthcreeper, Slender-billed Finch, and the Thick-billed Miner. South American Leaf-toed Gecko is the only reptile that is found in Atacama desert in southern Peru and Chile. Streams and Oasis are the areas around which it is found.
Culture And People Of Atacama Desert
San Pedro de Atacama, which is located in the heart of the Atacama, has a rich and deep history dating back to 11000 years ago. The evidence of the San Pedro De museum show that inhabitants of the deserts and other areas practiced fishing, pottery, metallurgy and much more.
This largest town is a popular tourist spot because of its beautiful landscapes , views, and sceneries and therefore gives a boost to the hotel industry, resorts and restaurants. People have devised new and innovating ways of fetching water.
Mining is also practiced often due to copper, silver abundance in the region. For transportation of these minerals some cities which are along the Pacific Ocean act as ports. Apart from this Atacama serves as the place of experimentation for organizations like NASA and European Southern Observatory. This is due to its cloudless nights and similarity of soil quality with Mars.