Image Courtesy of Carlye Calvin

From: Brigitte Baeuerle
Arica, October 26, 2008

Environment of Extremes


This picture was taken from the air before landing in Arica. The first time I came to Chile I was wondering what possessed me to come to such a desolate place. While the Pacific Ocean in this part of the world holds a great biodiversity of marine fauna due to ocean upwelling, the Atacama Desert is the exact opposite - extremely arid, almost barren, and potentially deadly.

Relatively few plants and animals have adapted to this arid environment. So it is actually quite surprising that more than a million people live in the Atacama today. They have settled in coastal cities, isolated mining compounds, small fishing villages, and the occasional hidden oasis. Determined farmers like Ester make their living by growing olives and tomatoes with the help of irrigation systems, paying monthly for a small amount of water from aquifers. In the altiplano, the descendants of the region's indigenous people herd llamas and alpacas and grow crops with water from snowmelt streams.

What you may not know is that astronomers from all over the world are constant visitors to observatories on the Atacama's coastal range. The cloudless skies offer perfect conditions to explore million of stars during the quiet night hours.


Postcards from the Field: Climate Science from the Southeast Pacific

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