In March 2015 unusual ocean and atmospheric conditions produced many years' worth of rainfall in a ~48 h period over northern Chile's Atacama Desert, one of Earth's driest regions, resulting in catastrophic flooding. Here we describe the hydrologic and geomorphic drivers of and responses to the 2015 Atacama floods. In the Salado River, we estimated a flood peak discharge of approximately 1000 m3/s, which caused widespread damage and high sediment loads that were primarily derived from valley-fill erosion; hillslopes remained surprisingly intact despite their lack of vegetation. In the coastal city of Chañaral, flooding of the Salado River produced maximum water depths over 4.5 m, meters thick mud deposition in buildings and along city streets, and coastal erosion. The Atacama flooding has broad implications in the context of hazard reduction, erosion of contaminated legacy mine tailings, and the Atacama's status as a terrestrial analog for Mars.
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- urban flooding