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Chile’s Atacama Desert is a graveyard for the world’s junk – and it’s threatening science

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Chile’s Atacama Desert is a barren landscape that has develop into a graveyard for the world’s garbage, and the mountains of garments, cars and shoes could hinder scientific advances in space.

That is one in every of the Earth’s driest regions, but scientists have found microorganisms adapting to the near waterless world that would provide clues on find life on similar planets, specifically Mars.

This research is endangered because Atacama is a hub for secondhand and unsold clothing from the US, Europe and Asia – greater than 46,000 tons of garments were dumped within the desert last yr.

Used cars also flood the country from the free trade zone only to be stacked within the desert, while piles of abandoned tires are scattered across the landscape.

‘We are not any longer just the local backyard, but reasonably the world’s backyard, which is worse,’ Patricio Ferreira, mayor of the desert town of Alto Hospicio, told AFP.

The Atacama Desert is drowning on this planet’s garbage. There are mountains of unsold or secondhand clothes piled up across the dusty landscape

Used cars also flood the country from the free trade zone only to be stacked in the desert. Scientists are not only concerned about the damage to the environment, but the trash could destroy research

Used cars also flood the country from the free trade zone only to be stacked within the desert. Scientists are usually not only concerned concerning the damage to the environment, however the trash could destroy research

The Atacama Desert is nestled between the Andes and the Chilean Coast Range, which blocks moisture from traveling inland from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

And even though it is one in every of the driest places on Earth, a million people call the desolate landscape home.

But Chile’s massive Atacama Desert is a novel and fragile ecosystem that experts say is being threatened by piles of trash dumped there from world wide.

The fast fashion industry is a primary perpetrator within the mountains of garments sprawling over the once barren hills.

Filled with chemicals and taking on to 200 years to biodegrade, activists say the clothing pollutes the soil, air and underground water.

‘The fabric is extremely flammable. The fires are toxic,’ said lawyer and activist Paulin Silva, 34, who has filed a grievance on the country’s environmental court over the damage brought on by the mountains of trash and clothing.

‘It seems to me we want to search out those responsible,’ she said, standing amid the discarded items which she said were ‘dangerous, an environmental risk, a danger to people’s health.’

There are microorganisms that have adapted to the harsh environment, and scientists believe these lifeforms could help them find life on Mars, which has a similar landscape. But the thousands of tires could suffocate any life in the desert

There are microorganisms which have adapted to the cruel environment, and scientists imagine these lifeforms could help them find life on Mars, which has an analogous landscape. However the 1000’s of tires could suffocate any life within the desert

Pictured is lawyer and activist Paulin Silva, 34, who has filed a complaint at the country's environmental court over the damage caused by the mountains of trash and clothing. Here she is, rummaging through a dusty mountain of clothes

Pictured is lawyer and activist Paulin Silva, 34, who has filed a grievance on the country’s environmental court over the damage brought on by the mountains of trash and clothing. Here she is, rummaging through a dusty mountain of garments

This research is endangered because Atacama is a hub for secondhand and unsold clothing and shoes from the United States, Europe and Asia - more than 46,000 tons of clothes were dumped in the desert last year

This research is endangered because Atacama is a hub for secondhand and unsold clothing and shoes from the US, Europe and Asia – greater than 46,000 tons of garments were dumped within the desert last yr

Combined with the heaps of cars and tires, the environment is drowning in trash.

Ferreira lamented a ‘lack of worldwide awareness, ethical responsibility and environmental protection’ from ‘the unscrupulous of the world.’

‘We feel abandoned. We feel that our land has been sacrificed,’ she said.

The driest part is the Yungay district in the town of Antofagasta, and while plants and animals are scares, scientists have found microorganism thriving.

These tiny life forms have evolved to adapt to an absence of water, high levels of solar radiation and nearly no nutrients. 

To the typical person, their ability to survive might not be interesting, but to scientists, these life forms could harbor secrets to evolution and survival on Earth and other planets.

NASA considers the Yungay district Earth’s most similar landscape to Mars and uses it to check its robotic vehicles.

'We are no longer just the local backyard, but rather the world's backyard, which is worse,' Patricio Ferreira, mayor of the desert town of Alto Hospicio, told AFP

‘We are not any longer just the local backyard, but reasonably the world’s backyard, which is worse,’ Patricio Ferreira, mayor of the desert town of Alto Hospicio, told AFP 

Chile's massive Atacama desert is a unique and fragile ecosystem that experts say is being threatened by piles of trash dumped there from around the world

Chile’s massive Atacama desert is a novel and fragile ecosystem that experts say is being threatened by piles of trash dumped there from world wide

In 2017, the American space agency tested an early model of its Perseverance rover, which is currently looking for ancient signs of life on the Red Planet.

Since the landscape is comparable to Mars, the drilling capabilities of the rover were tested within the desert to make sure they’d work on the Martian planet. 

And the UV exposure within the Atacama can also be closely matched to what the rover is enduring. 

While the desert doesn’t receive much rain, large banks of fog roll across the desert, allowing some plants — and a number of the world’s hardiest lichens, fungi, and algae –to grow.

Scores of brightly coloured wildflower species bloom when it gets above-average rain in a spectacular display that happens every five to seven years, most recently in 2021.

It’s an ecosystem that’s ‘very fragile because any change or decrease within the pattern of precipitation and fog has immediate consequences for the species that live there,’ said Pablo Guerrero, a researcher on the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity and expert in desert cactus.

‘There are cactus species that are considered extinct’ resulting from pollution, climate change, and human settlement.

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