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article imageFlowers bloom in the Earth's driest place — The Atacama desert

By Karen Graham     Nov 3, 2015 in Environment
Atacama - Something spectacular has happened in South America this year. The Atacama desert of Chile, known as the driest non-polar place in the world, erupted in bloom, not once, but twice over the past year, a phenomenon never before seen.
The normally barren landscape of the Atacama region, the oldest continuously arid place in the world has been transformed this year, a gift from El Nino. Even though the cyclical warming of the El Nino weather phenomenon may be causing droughts and floods in other parts of the world, it has displayed a softer side.
View of the Pan-American Highway (Route CH-5) which runs for about 1000 km along the Atacama Desert ...
View of the Pan-American Highway (Route CH-5) which runs for about 1000 km along the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The terrain in this region has been compared to that on Mars.
“The Atacama region was punished, but also blessed by the phenomenon of a flourishing desert, something that happens only after the rains, this time brought about by El Niño and climate change,” Daniel Diaz, National Tourism Service director in Atacama, reports
Today, if you look across what is usually a barren landscape, your eyes will be assaulted with a kaleidoscope of colors. Reds, yellows, purples and white, the normally pale valleys run in a river of color. There are violet-and-white Chilean bell flowers, or "countryside sighs" (Nolana paradoxa), red "lion claws" (Bomarea ovallei), and yellow "añañucas" (Rhodophiala rhodolirion). There are over 200 species of fauna in the region.
Ecstasy rare bloom season in the Atacama desert
Ecstasy rare bloom season in the Atacama desert
Discovery Natural
CTV News quotes Raul Cespedes, a desert specialist at the University of Atacama: "This year has been particularly special because the amount of rainfall has made this perhaps the most spectacular of the past 40 or 50 years."
Cespedes explains the unusual occurrence and the beautiful results. He points out the El Nino weather pattern is cyclic, hitting once every two to seven years, but this year it has been particularly strong. In March of this year, El Nino produced extremely heavy rains in Northern Chile, causing destructive mudslides and flooding. Over 28 people lost their lives.
Carrera Avenue in Copiapo  Chile after the March 2015 floods.
Carrera Avenue in Copiapo, Chile after the March 2015 floods.
Leone 1600
The rains caused dormant flower bulbs and rhizomes, underground stems that grow horizontally, to bloom. "When you think of the desert, you think of total dryness, but there's a latent ecosystem here just waiting for certain conditions to arise," said Cespedes. And those conditions were met. The desert has bloomed not once, but twice this year.
"This is a very unusual phenomenon. Because of the floods in March there was an exceptional winter bloom, which had never before been recorded... and then there was another bloom in spring," said Diaz. "Two flowerings a year is very unusual in the most arid desert in the world, and that's something we've been able to enjoy this spring, along with people from all over the world. There's a lot of interest in seeing it," he added.
The blooming desert has been a Godsend for the battered region with tens of thousands of tourists flocking to the Atacama to see the Atacama in bloom for themselves. The region has seen a 40 percent increase in tourism this year.
More about Atacama desert, wildflowers blooming, El Nino, twice this year, massive flooding
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