ATACAMABy Claire

Last Monday, I told you all about a really great documentary I had watched on Sunday about the Mariana Trench. It just so happens that yesterday I was also bored and channel surfing and managed to catch the next episode in the series.

Yesterday’s episode was on “The driest place on Earth” – the Atacama Desert in Chile. The Atacama Desert gets only an average of 1mm of rain each year. (By comparison, the Sahara Desert can get up to 100mm of rain in some places). 

Not only is the desert incredibly dry now, but in places, it hasn’t rained for 23 million years! The Atacama Desert is in a really interesting climatological setting, with the cold Humboldt current to the west and the Andes and Amazon rainforest to the east.

It is the oldest known desert on the planet, dating back to 150 million years!! The documentary does a really great job of explaining the history of the desert, starting out as a shallow ocean, but uplifted up out of the water by the action of plate subduction.

What’s most interesting is the implications that the study of the Atacama Desert has on finding life on other planets. Even in the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth – life can be found. Study of these bacterial life forms and the ingenious methods they use to survive provide clues as to possible locations for finding life on Mars.

I highly recommend checking out the documentary on ABC’s iview here. It was a really interesting (and educational) way to spend a Sunday arvo.