Interesting Atacama Desert facts abound. One such fact relate’s to climate. This desert region in northern Chile is the second driest region on the planet after the continent of Antarctica. Years can pass with no rainfall, and some weather stations in the region have never measured any rainfall at all. The arid air has much to do with the mountains of Chile’s Coast Range. The Atacama Desert lies in the rain shadow of these mountains.
Barren is a word that could be used to describe the Atacama Desert, and this has everything to do with the lack of rain. The Andes Mountains to the east essentially suck the moisture out of the air before it moves west, and even though the desert’s westernmost edge runs along the Pacific Ocean, moisture from the sea is hardly able to penetrate the region. As for another way to describe the Atacama region, it could be labeled as extensive. The Atacama Desert stretches some 600 miles north to south and covers more than 40,000 square miles when you add up its total terrain.
Atacama Desert weather is largely related to elevation. Most of this desert region is higher than 8,000 feet above sea level. This certainly affects the temperature. The Atacama Desert is classified as a cold desert. Average temperatures range from 32 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures can plummet at night, and as can be expected, the coldest time of year is the June to September winter period.
In terms of terrain, the Atacama Desert is largely made up of salt basins. Lava flows and sand are also in good supply, and among other things, visitors can either climb a volcano or watch geysers spray heated water high into the sky. Even though geysers are found in the region, it is still immensely dry. In fact, scientists have gone as far as determining that the Atacama Desert is at least 50 times drier than California’s Death Valley region.
As for other interesting Atacama Desert facts, no region in the world contains a larger natural supply of sodium nitrate. Also, soil samples from the area have proven to be quite similar to soil samples that were taken from the planet Mars. NASA actually uses the region for such things as testing instruments that might be used for future Mars expeditions. Atacama tours are a wonderful way to learn more about the area during a trip to Chile, including the fascinating Atacama Desert hand.