El Tatio Geyser
El Tatio is a geyser field located in the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 4,320 metres (14,170 ft) above mean sea level. Various etymologies have been proposed for the name "El Tatio", which might mean "oven" or "grandfather". It is the third-largest geyser field in the world and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
El Tatio lies at the western foot of a series of stratovolcanoes, which run along the border between Chile and Bolivia. This series of volcanoes is part of the Central Volcanic Zone, one of several volcanic belts in the Andes, and there are no recorded historical eruptions at the Tatio volcanoes. El Tatio is also part of the Altiplano–Puna volcanic complex (APVC), a system of large calderas and associated ignimbrites, which have been the sources of supereruptions. Some of these calderas may be the source of heat for the El Tatio geothermal system.
El Tatio is a geothermal field with many geysers, hot springs, and associated sinter deposits. These hot springs eventually form the Rio Salado, a major tributary of the Rio Loa, and a major source of arsenic pollution in the river. The vents are sites of populations of extremophile microorganisms and have been studied as analogs for the early Earth and possible past life on Mars.
The field is a major tourism destination in northern Chile. It was prospected over the last century for the potential of geothermal power production, but development efforts were discontinued after a major incident in 2009 in which drilling well blew out, creating a steam column.
The geothermal field El Tatio is populated by various plants, microbes and animals. The vents are an extreme environment, given the presence of arsenic and the large amount of UV radiation that El Tatio receives.
Hot springs have characteristic microbial communities associated with them that leave characteristic fossil traces in the spring deposits; environmental conditions on the early Earth resembled these of hot springs with potentially high UV radiation exposure, as the ozone layer did not yet exist and life probably developed within such conditions. In addition, microbial metabolism of arsenic influences its toxicity and the effects of arsenic pollution.
El Tatio is a tourism destination, with substantial numbers of travelers both from Chile and other countries. This tourism is an important economic resource for the region, and the site is administered by the local Atacameno population. In 2009, there were more than 400 daily visitors of the geysers, about 90 percent of all tourism of San Pedro de Atacama from where El Tatio can be reached. Aside from viewing the geysers, bathing in the hot water and watching the natural scenery are other activities possible at El Tatio. Environmental impacts such as pollution and vandalism of geothermal landforms has been documented.
El Tatio displays some typical hazards of geothermal areas. Exposure to the hot gases and water can result in burn injuries, and both sudden eruptions of geysers and fountains and fragile ground above vents and above boiling water, concealed beneath thin covers of solid ground, increase the risk to unwary travelers. The site lies at high altitude, frequently leading to altitude sickness, and the cold dry climate creates further danger. The Chilean government recommends that tourists take warm clothing, sunscreen and mineral water.
In 2010, the El Tatio area was declared to be a protected area, with a surface area of 200 square kilometres (20,000 ha). It was not clear at that time what the exact status would be, with the regional Secretary of Agriculture proposing that it should become a national park.
*Location: 1,260 Km north from Santiago.
*Duration: 4 Hours.
*Best time: October-December & March-May.
*Website: El Tatio.