The Atlantic

When Water Dooms Life

On Earth or on Mars, flooding can spell destruction for flourishing communities of microbes.
Source: Ivan Alvarado / Reuters

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on Earth, a parched rockscape whose inner core supports zero animal or plant life. Only a few hearty species of lichen, algae, fungi, and bacteria can survive there—mostly by clinging to mineral and salt deposits that concentrate moisture for them. Still, it’s a precarious life, and these microbes often enter states of suspended animation during dry spells, waking up only when they have enough water to get by.

So when a few rainstorms swept through the Atacama recently, drenching some places for the first time in recorded history, it looked like a great opportunity for the microbes. Deserts often bloom at such times, and the periphery of the Atacama (which can support a. A similar blossoming seemed likely for the microbes in the core: They could drink their fill at last and multiply like mad.

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