January 08, 2002
Provided by: NASA/GSFC Landsat Program
Summary authors & editors: Jim Foster
The Atacama Desert of northern Chile is probably the driest location on Earth. Even though it's less than 100 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in some places, rain hasn't fallen in decades, and in one locale it hasn't rained in centuries! The photo above shows only sand and rocks - there's hardly any vegetation. The Atacama is in a nearly perfect rain shadow. A ridge of mountains to the west (on Chile's coast) intercepts the meager rainfall that moves inland from the Pacific, and to the east, the towering Andes Mountains blocks any precipitation coming from the Atlantic Ocean. The deep blue sky and the sharp shadows indicate that the air above the Atacama is nearly devoid of water vapor. Orographic clouds in the background form when what moisture is available rises and cools over the mountains. Not only is it dry, but it's a high desert as well - elevations are generally above 8,000 feet.