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Cool, arid area, north-central Chile. Extending north from the city of Copiapó, the area runs from north to south for a distance of some 600 to 700 mi (1,000 to 1,100 km) and covers most of the Antofagasta region and the northern part of the Atacama region. Because of its location between low coastal mountains and a higher inland range, the region is meteorologically anomalous. Despite its low latitude, summer temperatures average only about 65 °F (18 °C), and, though heavy fogs are common, the desert is one of the driest regions in the world. Some areas receive heavy rain only two to four times a century. For much of the 19th century, the desert was the object of conflicts between Chile, Bolivia, and Peru; after the War of the Pacific (1879–83), Chile emerged with permanent ownership of sectors previously controlled by Peru and Bolivia. For years before the development of synthetic methods of fixing nitrogen, the desert was a chief source of the world's nitrates.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Atacama Desert, visit Britannica.com.