Rain Devastates Atacama Desert After Waiting 500 Years

The Atacama Desert, the driest and oldest desert on Earth, located in northern Chile, hides a hyper-arid core in which no rain has been recorded during the past 500 years. (Image: Carlos González Silva)
The Atacama Desert, the driest and oldest desert on Earth, located in northern Chile, hides a hyper-arid core in which no rain has been recorded during the past 500 years. (Image: Carlos González Silva)

The Atacama Desert, the driest and oldest desert on Earth, located in northern Chile, hides a hyper-arid core in which no rain has been recorded during the past 500 years. But this situation has changed in the last three years: For the first time, rainfall has been documented in the hyper-arid core of the Atacama and, contrary to what was expected, the water supply has caused a great devastation among local life.

This is the main conclusion of an international study published in Scientific Reports entitled “Unprecedented rains decimate surface microbial communities in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert,” directed by researchers from the Center for Astrobiology (CAB), a mixed center of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA).

These recent rains are attributed to changing climate over the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Alberto G. Fairén explained:

From Atacama to Mars

This study represents a great advance to understanding the microbiology of extremely arid environments. It also presents a new paradigm to decode the evolutionary path of a hypothetical early microbiota of Mars, since Mars is a hyper-arid planet that experienced catastrophic floods in ancient times. Fairén said:

Mars eventually lost its atmosphere and its hydrosphere, and became the dry and arid world we know today. However, Fairén explained:

In addition, this new study notes that large deposits of nitrates at the Atacama Desert offer evidence of long periods of extreme dryness in the past. The nitrates were concentrated at valley bottoms and former lakes by sporadic rains about 13 million years ago, and can be food for microbes.

The Atacama nitrates may represent a convincing analog to the nitrate deposits recently discovered on Mars by the rover Curiosity (and reported in a 2015 study entitled “Evidence for indigenous martian nitrogen in solid samples from the Curiosity rover investigations at Gale Crater,” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Earlier this year, Fairén and colleagues discovered that short-term wetter environments in early Mars, occurring sporadically in a generally hyper-dry early planet, explains the observed martian mineralogy. This study, entitled “Surface clay formation during short-term warmer and wetter conditions on a largely cold ancient Mars,” was published in Nature Astronomy. Fairén concluded:

Provided by: Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

Like this article? Subscribe to our weekly email for more!     

World’s Most Powerful Computer Mimics the Human Brain
Exciting Google AI Applications in the Real World
#article-ad-block-->