The Atacama Desert is a desert plateau in South America covering a 1000-km strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains.
In geology and earth science, a plateau, also called a high plain or tableland, is an area of highland, usually consisting of relatively flat terrain that is raised significantly above the surrounding area, often with one or more sides with steep slopes.
South America is a continent located in the western hemisphere, mostly in the southern hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the northern hemisphere.
The Andes or Andean Mountains are the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America.
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The Atacama desert is one of the driest places in the world, as well as the only true desert to receive less precipitation than the polar deserts.
Polar deserts are the regions of the Earth that fall under an ice cap climate.
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According to estimates, the Atacama Desert occupies 105,000 km2, or 128,000 km2 if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included.
Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes, sand, and felsic lava that flows towards the Andes.
Sand is a granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles.
The desert owes its extreme aridity to a constant temperature inversion due to the cool north-flowing Humboldt ocean current, and to the presence of the strong Pacific anticyclone.
The most arid region of the Atacama desert is situated between two mountain chains of sufficient height to prevent moisture advection from either the Pacific or the Atlantic Oceans, a two-sided rain shadow.
In the field of physics, engineering, and earth sciences, advection is the transport of a substance or quantity by bulk motion.
A rain shadow is a dry area on the leeward side of a mountainous area.