Hyperaridity and the dry limits of life
Wikle, Thomas A. Department of Geography, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
- The Atacama and hyperaridity
- Life in the Atacama
- The Atacama as Mars analog
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Hyperaridity refers to extreme dryness. Locations on the Earth's surface that experience hyperaridity have high rates of evaporation and plant transpiration and extremely low annual precipitation. On a global scale, hyperarid landscapes cover about 7.5% of the planet's land surface. Life forms on Earth are remarkably adaptable. Living organisms have been found in Siberian permafrost, hypersaline conditions in Antarctica, and deep hydrothermal ocean vents with temperatures up to 122°C. Organisms are also capable of survival in environments dominated by highly toxic elements and compounds, including arsenic, carbon monoxide, mercury, and cyanide. Because all life requires water, scientists have focused much attention on the survival of organisms in hyperarid conditions with the hope of discovering the dry limits of life. This article explores hyperaridity and the dry limits of life in South America's Atacama Desert, considered by geologists to be Earth's oldest desert and the most arid place outside of Antarctica's Dry Valleys. See also: Antarctica; Desert; South America
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