Key Facts about Atacama Desert

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Researchers recently found microbes thriving 13 feet beneath the scorched surface of Chile's Atacama Desert, marking the deepest discovery of microbial life in the region to date.

About Atacama Desert:

  • It is located in northern Chile, nestled between the Andes Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.
  • It is the driest desert in the world. 
  • It forms a continuous strip for nearly 1,000 km along the narrow coast of the northern third of Chile. 
  • Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia border the Atacama Desert. 
  • It shows a unique combination of environmental extremes (extreme dryness, the highest UV radiation levels on Earth, and highly saline and oxidizing soils).
  • Previously part of the Pacific Ocean seabed, the Atacama Desert landscape consists of caked salt deposits called playas, which stretch for miles and can be up to 1.6 feet thick in some places. 
  • It also hosts 12 volcanoes, mainly located in the western outliers of the Andes.
  • Climate:
    • Average rainfall in this region is about 1 mm per year. Some locations within the desert have never had any rainfall whatsoever.
    • This is due to its location between the Andes, which blocks the humid airfrom the Amazons, and the Coastal Mountain range. 
    • To the west, the upwelling of cold waterfrom deep in the Pacific Ocean promotes atmospheric conditions that hamper the evaporation of seawater and prevent the formation of clouds and rain.
    • Temperatures are comparatively mild throughout the year. The average temperature in the desert is about 63 degrees F (18 degrees C).
  • This region has the largest natural supply of Sodium Nitrate, which can be used for producing fertilizers and explosives, amongst other things. 
  • Soil samples from this region are very similar to samples from Mars; for this reason, NASA uses this desert for testing instruments for missions to the red planet.
  • Chinchorro Mummies: The oldest artificially mummified human remains have been found in the Atacama Desert. 

It is one of the few locations on the globe with 300+ days of clear skies in a year, along with no light pollution.

Q1: What is UV radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of non-ionizing radiation that is emitted by the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds. While it has some benefits for people, including the creation of Vitamin D, it also can cause health risks. It covers the wavelength range of 100–400 nm, which is a higher frequency and lower wavelength than visible light.

Source: Hidden 'biosphere' of extreme microbes discovered 13 feet below Atacama Desert is deepest found there to date