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Environment International Nature Society

It hasn’t rained there for 400 years, but people do live

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The Chilean Atacama Desert is known worldwide. Trapped between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, this is one of the most ruthless places on our planet.

It is very hot, dry here and survival is very difficult. But not impossible.

See 8 amazing facts about this harsh and inhospitable place.

1. The driest desert on Earth

The Atacama stretches along the Andes mountain range for 1,000 kilometers. Its area is larger than that of Austria or Portugal. And in all this space there are no signs of life.

The reason for this is that there is no rain here at all. There are areas in the desert where in the entire history of world meteorological observations (which is about 400 years) not a drop of rain has fallen.

Sometimes at the edges of the desert it happens to fall – “as much as” 50 mm per year.

According to scientists, the reason for this prolonged drought is the Peruvian current off the coast of Chile, which cools the lower atmosphere, thus creating a temperature inversion that prevents precipitation over the Atacama. And the mountain system of the Andes does not allow subtropical air to enter the Atacama from the east, from the shores of the Amazon.

2. People live here

Although the registered humidity in the Atacama is zero, people still live here. The total population is about 1 million people.

On the edge of the desert are two of the largest ports in Chile: Arica and Iquique. It is easy to guess that most of life is concentrated on the Pacific coast, where the climate allows one to live and survive.

But in the depths of the desert, in places where rain is very rare, there are already far fewer inhabitants, mostly the indigenous people of the desert – the people of the Atacamenyo.

The population is due to the fact that the Atacama, despite its dry inhospitability, is surprisingly rich in minerals. There are large deposits of honey, as well as large reserves of sodium nitrate – nitrate, which was developed very actively until the 50s of last century.

3. Extract water from the fog

Because there are often fogs in the desert, the people who live there have built facilities that look like cacti. Human-sized cylinders for fog that condenses on nylon walls, and water droplets flow into a gap.

This way you can extract about 10-18 liters of water every day.

4. Flora and fauna are very scarce

Some areas of the desert can be called sterile – except for sand and stones, there is nothing here, not even a blade of grass.

Vegetation is still found, although it is very small. These are mostly cacti, of which there are 160 species here, and some of them do not grow anywhere else on the planet.

As for animals, they, like humans, live mainly in coastal areas. These are fluffy alpacas, llamas and wild foxes. There are many birds on the shore. However, you will not find animals in the driest parts of the Atacama. Understandably, there are no animal species that can live permanently without water.

5. This place is closest to imitating the surface of Mars

Unusual desert landscapes make the Atacama a popular place for filming. For example, in the movie “Spectrum of Consolation” there are several episodes with the landscapes of this desert.

They also serve as a natural setting for the filming of the series “Space Odyssey: Journey to the Planets.”

NASA scientists also prefer this place. In the driest part of the Atacama, called the Moon Valley, due to its resemblance to the surface of Mars, the first tests of rovers were conducted in 2003.

6. The desert is rich in minerals

Large deposits of honey and nitrate have long been discovered in the depths of the desert. In the past, these deposits were developed very actively, mainly by hand.

That’s why there are many ghost towns left by humans in the Atacama. More precisely, towns and villages. Initially, they develop around the deposits, but sooner or later they are all abandoned by people either due to extreme living conditions or simply due to depletion of the deposits.

7. An unusual monument is placed here

It is called the “Hand of the Desert” and is a human palm that seems to protrude from the sand three-quarters of its length. The 11-meter-high monument is made of reinforced concrete and, according to the author’s idea, embodies the longing, loneliness and helplessness of man before nature.

The palm attracts tourists like a magnet and is constantly painted with all kinds of graffiti. But volunteers clean it periodically.

8. It’s snowing here

Despite the natural conditions, in 2010 real snow fell in the desert, which paralyzed all road communications. And the landslides that formed as a result of the melting of this snow significantly damaged some inhabited settlements.

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