What Is the Climate of the Atacama Desert?

climate-atacama-desert Credit: Igor Alecsander/Moment/Getty Images

The Atacama Desert in Chile is the driest desert in the world. Average rainfall totals 0.59 inches per year, but some weather stations placed there have never received rain, and historical evidence suggests the desert may have experienced no rainfall at all from 1570 to 1971. Daytime temperatures average between 32 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and nighttime temperatures can drop to 10 to 15 degrees below zero.

The extreme aridity of the Atacama Desert affects all of the landforms within its borders. Even its mountains, which would usually have snow-capped peaks and glaciers at the highest altitudes, are mostly free of ice and snow. NASA has drawn parallels between the conditions there and those on Mars, and has used the Atacama to test probes and craft intended to explore the planet.

Despite the extreme lack of moisture, more than 500 plants call the desert home. The species that survive in the Atacama have all undergone radical adaptation to allow them to persevere in the harsh climate. There are a number of animal species that call the region home as well, although most of them are clustered around the edge of the desert nearest the Pacific Ocean to take advantage of the moisture that makes it inland from the sea.