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Atacama Desert: Why Are Rare Flowers Blooming In the Earth's Driest Place?

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 Experts are amazed when desert rains caused blossoms of malva, or mallow flowers, which were previously observed to only bloom once every few years, to fill the wide stretch of the arid Atacama Desert.

A wave of rainfall last March besieged the Atacama Desert in Chile, causing floods and mudslides that killed more than 25 people and left thousands homeless but in the aftermath also caused a bit of good: it brought flowers in the normally dry desert region.

The National Tourism Service in Atacama described the events connected to the rainfall as both a blessing and a curse to the region, as rain and flowers in the desert are so rare.

"The intensity of blooms this year has no precedent, and the fact that it has happened twice in a same year has never been recorded in the country's history," said Daniel Diaz, director of the National Tourism Services in Atacama.

Experts believe that the floods and the subsequent blossoming of more than 200 species of fauna in the desert were brought about by the El Niño, a period of extreme heat, and climate change.

Normally, the Atacama region only experiences an average of 0.13 inches of rainfall a year but due to climate change, Chile's Antofagasta town had 0.9 inches of rain in March. While it may not seem much, the dry land of the Northern Chile region cannot handle that much rain.

"As a result (of the desert not being able to adapt to the rainfall), the terrain is hard and rocky...without soil and plant cover to help absorb rainfall, it just runs off instantly as torrents of water," meteorologist Nick Wiltgen explained.

Along with the intense floods came the intense blossoming of purple and pink mallow flowers, which were so rare that they only bloom once every five to seven years.

Despite the tragedies that hit their region, locals are grateful to be blessed with the rare sight, and tourists are flocking the desert to get a glimpse of the wonderful flowers, which are expected to last up to November this year.

"For us, it was a miracle because in several years, I believe, based on my age and the time I have been here, I had never seen what the grass looks like until now," said Ramon Cortes, a resident in Vallenar, Chile.

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