“It hadn’t rained in over a year when I was there doing research,” Glaser said. “So this has to be an active process; otherwise, water would have diffused out of the soil.”

Combined with computer modeling and laboratory research, this work provides field evidence for a small but daily input of water into the soils of one of Earth’s driest environments.

“The Atacama Desert is roughly 100 times drier than Phoenix, Arizona,” Glaser said. “So this input of water, although small, is likely crucial. It appears there may be more water than we thought in this extremely dry desert.”

Glaser, who will soon graduate with his PhD, was recently awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship to work on exoplanet habitability modeling at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Sciences in New York.

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences