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Extreme Climates 1: Driest Place

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There is a disagreement about the driest place on earth. Driest means little or no precipitation so a desert has to be at the top of the list, such as the Atacama Desert in Chile. However, the South Pole has also been named the driest place because cold air has little or no moisture. The only water that falls in the South Pole is in the form of snow. We can't leave out deserts so if we eliminate the South Pole, that leaves the Atacama Desert as the driest place on earth.

The Atacama Desert, a region in Chile is called the driest place on EarthThe Atacama Desert, a region in Chile is called the driest place on Earth

Ironically, the driest place in the world is next to the biggest body of water - the Pacific Ocean. Some areas of the Atacama Desert haven't had rainfall for 400 years. Normally, it rains every 100 years. Atacama is a desert but you'll still need to bring warm clothes when you visit. Oddly enough, the Atacama is a cold place with temperatures somewhere between 0 and 25 degrees Celsius.

You might think deserts never get any rain but think again. Once in a while a warming effect over the Pacific Ocean affects weather all over the world so even the driest places can be drenched by rainstorms. Atacama always has salt lakes, snow on the mountaintops and some underground water, regardless of how long it's been since the last rainfall.

Mudcracks in a dry riverbed, Pan de Azucar National ParkMudcracks in a dry riverbed, Pan de Azucar National Park

While you probably couldn't convince your parents to move to the Atacama Desert, there are animals, plants and even people who live in the bone dry region. Some plants have adapted to the environment by developing taproots that run extremely deep into the ground and collect water below. There is even a town called Calama which comes complete with motels, restaurants and shops. So far, the town hasn't seen rain yet. Otherwise, the desert is an empty, lonely place. There are a few dead bodies though. Because the area is so dry, buried Indians have been dried perfectly preserved, turning them into mummies. Egypt isn't the only place to have dried up bodies.

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