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A primary cause for aridity in the Atacama Desert is its location at the eastern boundary of the subtropical Pacific. In that region, large-scale atmospheric subsidence produces dry, stable conditions and maintains a surface anticyclone over the southeast Pacific that hinders the arrival of mid-latitude disturbances (Takahashi and Battisti, 2007). The subtropical anticyclone drives equator-ward winds along the coast that, in turn, foster the transport of cold waters from higher latitudes (i.e. the Humboldt or Chile-Peru surface current). The upwelling cold Humboldt Current inhibits the moisture capacity of onshore winds by creating a persistent inversion that traps any Pacific moisture below ~1000 m above sea level (Houston, 2006a; Rutllant et al., 2013) and leads to the formation of a persistent deck of stratus clouds (Cereceda et al., 2008a; Rutllant et al., 2003; Takahashi and Battisti, 2007). These factors result in a marked regional cooling of the lower troposphere that is compensated by enhanced subsidence along the Atacama coast (Takahashi and Battisti, 2007) further drying this area. Finally, the pronounced rain shadow effect of the Andes to the East effectively inhibits moisture transport from the East (Houston and Hartley, 2003; Rech et al., 2010; Takahashi and Battisti, 2007). The high evaporation potential in most sections of the Atacama (Houston, 2006a) provides the finishing touch to the hyperarid conditions.

Project A1


Modern and past climate: Investigation of atmospheric water supply to the Atacama desert (Chile) from combined in-situ, ground-based and satellite remote sensing observations

Research areas: Atmospheric Science and Oceanography

Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Susanne Crewell, Dr. Ulrich Löhnert

The extremely dry regions of northern Chile pose a challenging environment for vegetation and fauna in respect to moisture supply. The meteorological situation is complex due to ocean-atmosphere-land coupling under the strong influence of orography and (anthropogenic) aerosol.

Project A2


Paleoclimate Proxies: Miocene to Recent Precipitation History of the Atacama Desert

Research areas: Geology and Paleontology

Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Martin Melles, Dr. Volker Wennrich

The primary goal of this subproject is to provide continuous long-term (Quaternary-Miocene) information concerning the climatic/environmental history of the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert (Fig.1 in Sect. 1.2) that is currently lacking. To achieve this goal we want to core and investigate sediments from endorheic basins in the Coastal Cordillera, which cover the last >10 Ma. Most of these basins were formed by blocking of drainage by fault movement, and thus have recorded the tectonic history of the study area (C05).

Project A3


Aeolian transport: Statistical-dynamical modelling of aeolian processes in the Atacama Desert over geological time scales and their implications to life at the dry limit

Research areas: Atmospheric Science and Oceanography

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Yaping Shao

Aeolian processes on geological time scales are closely related both to climate change and bio-ecological evolution. In the Atacama Desert where fluvial/glacial processes are non-existent, aeolian processes virtually govern the evolution of the land surface and the proxies of planetary geomorphology.

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Prof. Dr. Tibor J. Dunai
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne
Zülpicher Str. 49b | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2634 | tduanai@uni-koeln.de
Dr. Maximilian Müller
Institute of Geography | University of Cologne

Otto-Fischer-Str. 4 | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2241 | maximilian.mueller@uni-koeln.de
Deputy Speaker:
Prof. Dr. Martin Melles
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 49a | 50674 Cologne
+49-(0)221-470 2262 | mmelles@uni-koeln.de
© 2017 CRC1211 - Earth - Evolution at the Dry Limit

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