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This picture shows the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth. The average rainfall for a whole year in this desert is less than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) per year!
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Image courtesy of NASA.

Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. The Atacama is in the country of Chile in South America. In an average year, this desert gets less than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) of rain!

It is hard to survive in the Atacama Desert. Hardly any people, animals, plants, or even microbes live there. But there are some people and other creatures living in the Atacama.

The Atacama Desert starts in northern Chile. It runs about 1,000 km (600 miles) south from there. It has an area of 140,000 km2 (54,000 square miles). That is about the size of the state of New York in the U.S.A.

The Atacama is the driest hot desert in the world. There are some weather stations in the Atacama where there has never been any rain!

Why is the Atacama so dry? First, this desert is in between two mountain ranges, the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. The mountains keep out most rain clouds. Second, the winds near the Atacama are also very dry. A big air current in the area, called the Walker circulation, carries air downward. The air that is moving downward is very dry. Third, an ocean current called the Humboldt Current (or the Peru Current) carries cold water northward along the western coast of South America. This cold ocean current cools the air above it. Cold air can't hold as much water as warm air. This mix of mountains, winds, and ocean currents combines to make the Atacama incredibly dry.

Last modified October 27, 2008 by Randy Russell.

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