The Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert

What do you think the Atacama desert sounds like? What do you think are the reasons for those sounds?

Are these statements True or False?

  • The cracking sounds are because of movements in the earth.
  • There is life in the Atacama desert
  • Watching the night sky in the Atacama helps with your problems.

What are the sounds where you go on holidays? How do you feel when you are there?

Part 2: Why do you think the Atacama desert is useful for finding out about life on Mars?

  • What is Gabriel’s work focussed on?
  • How dry is the Atacama desert?
  • Where was Gabriel born?
  • How has has life adapted to life in the desert?
  • What will happen by 2020?

Discussion: Why do you think Gabriel likes his work? How important do you think investing in science is for our society?



This is a picture //of a sunset on Mars// taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover //in 2013. Mars //is a very cold planet, //flooded with high levels of UV radiation// and extremely dry.// In fact, //Mars is considered //to be too dry //for life as we know it.
I’m an astrobiologist. I try to understand the origin of life on Earth and the possibilities of finding life elsewhere in the universe. People sometimes ask me, how can you be an astrobiologist if you don’t have your own spaceship?
Well, what I do is that I study life in those environments on Earth that most closely resemble other interesting places in the universe. All life on Earth requires water, so in my case I focus on the intimate relationship between water and life in order to understand if we could find life in a planet as dry as Mars. But since I do not have the 2.5 billion dollars to send my own robot to Mars, I study the most Martian place on Earth, the Atacama Desert.

Stressing important words

In another cave, we found a different type of microalgae. This one is able to use ocean mist as a source of water, and strikingly lives in the very bottom of a cave, so it has adapted to live with less than 0.1 percent of the amount of light that regular plants need. These type of findings suggest to me that on Mars, we may find even photosynthetic life inside caves. And by the way, that’s me.

Intonation and pauses for jokes

  • How do I know this? Well, because I was born and raised in the Atacama.
  • We may find even photosynthetic life inside caves. And by the way, that’s me.
  • You already know the answer. Because I was born and raised in this desert.

Activity: Give a small speech on a subject you know about. Try to use chunking and intonation appropriately.

Part 3: Lithium Mining

What problems could there be about mining Lithium in the Atacama?

  • How much of the world’s lithium is found in the Atacama desert?
  • Where is Lithium used?
  • What does CORFO do? What did it do recently? What is it planning to do?
  • What groups would like to use the water in the area?
  • What does Christie say about the water?
  • What does Garces say about the lithium?
  • What is the relationship between water and brine?

Use these words to complete the sentences

Use these words to complete the sentences:
map, extraction, salt flats, manages, water rights

  • But for many years, the Chilean government approved water ____________ rights with little consideration for their effect on the environment.
  • SQM and Albemarle say they have all ______________ the they need and do not expect new limits to affect their current or future production of lithium.
  • New companies like Wealth Minerals, New Energy Metals, and Lithium Chile have also announced projects in the _______________.
  • Past governments did not correctly _____________ how much water is available.
  • Environmental officials act on requests for permits of brine, but the water authority _______________ freshwater pumping.

Check your answers here.

Discussion: How can we best manage water around the world?

Part 4 Indigenous people and Lithium

What is the Indigenous life like in the Atacama desert? What deals have the companies made with them?

What does the audio say about:
– Lithium
– The indigenous
– The contracts
– Water
– Panasonic

Who said these things?

  • Toyota
  • Luisa Jorge, a leader in Susques
  • «We know the lithium companies are taking millions of dollars from our lands,The companies are conscious of this. And we know they ought to give something back. But they’re not.”
  • «we will ask our suppliers to take actions to avoid using certain materials if there is a concern about the source.”

Where do the following things happen? Match the events with the places.

13,000 feet above sea level
creation of hundreds of jobs and investments of hundreds of millions of dollars
mountain-ringed desert about 25 miles from Argentina’s northwest border with Chile
potable water trucked in
beneath their ancestral landall six of the indigenous communities
Pastos Chicosmodern-day Silicon Valley treasure
one of Argentina’s poorest regions
They herd llamas and goats on arid land.

Check your answers here.

Discussion: How do you think indigenous needs can be balanced with the those of mining companies?

Part 5: San Pedro de Atacama

What things do you think will be interesting for these tourists in San Pedro?

Which sentences are true/false?

It’s a large town.
There’s a lot to do
Caracoles is the main street of the town.
It’s quite far from Argentina.
There are ice creams shops in the main plaza.

Finish these sentences.

We’ve seen…
It’s actually quite…
This place is pretty…
You can see…
This is where you can find…
It’s a ____________ place to ________
You can also go to__________, which is….
So come here,…..

Activity: How would you describe your own town, or a place you have visited?

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