The Humboldt Current and the climate of Chile

The Humboldt current controls the climate of Chile kind of like the Gulf Stream which affects the climate of the UK by warming it. The Humboldt current keeps the southern part of Chile cool. Even when the sun is blazing away in the summer, the cool southerly breeze keeps the temperature down so it’s cool in the shade and warm in the sun. These southerly breezes also bring a lot of rain in the winter creating the lush vegetation of the Valdivian rain forest though not a lot of snow as the temperatures are moderate ranging around 40F in winter to 60F in summer.

The Pacific Anticyclone, a semi-permanent high pressure zone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, shown in both maps as an open circle in the middle of the ocean (above) and as a high pressure circle in the map below, in conjunction with the mountain coastal range of Chile and the Humboldt Current make for one of the driest deserts in the world, the Atacama, in the north of Chile. And sandwiched in between the desert and the rainforest is the Mediterranean climate of central Chile which is mild and perfect for agricultural pursuits.

The Humboldt Current  also helps create one of the world’s most productive marine ecosystems. The  current of cold Antarctic water of the Humboldt  Current flows up the coast of Chile and Peru to move surface water offshore, and causes upwelling of deeper, nutrient rich waters.These conditions help sustain extraordinary numbers of marine birds, mammals, and fish.

The Humboldt Current is slow, shallow, and cold. When the climatic phenomenon El Nino comes to the area every few years, the ocean grows warmer and the surface layer of water becomes thicker. It is then difficult for the Humboldt Current to maintain its typical upwellings, and the water becomes less nutrient-rich. El Nino this year,2014, brought an extra amount of rain causing some local flooding. The winter was warmer with northerly winds bringing the rain.

 

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La Campanilla or Foxglove

Not indigenous to Chile, this plant has become naturalized over much of this region. I can only imagine it was brought over by the German immigrants in the 1860’s as they also brought blackberries which have become naturalized as well. We have found several plants growing in the woods on our farm but they can also be seen growing along fence lines. La campanilla is spanish for bells.??????????

This plant has many charming old names from the British Isles like “bloody fingers”, “deadman’s bells” (probably referring to the deadly nature of the poison found in these delicate blossoms), “fairy-folks-fingers” and “lambs tongue leaves”. Foxglove is probably a corruption of folksglove.

 

 

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All parts of the plant are poisonous containing a cardiac glycoside known as digitoxin which causes cardiac arrest. The plant was used by doctors before the advent of modern medecine but there was a fine line between a dose to cure and a dose to kill.

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The plant is biennial meaning it grows leaves only the first year and then flowers and set seeds the second year.

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Patagonian Gray Fox

Also known as zorro or chilla in spanish, this fox has been a regular visitor since we have been here.  We used to feed him food scraps and sometimes he would show up with his mate but never the kits. Well, that was fun until we got the chicks and ducks and yesterday he almost helped himself to duck but all he got was a few tail feathers. Very close call!

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So after we put the ducks and chicks up, we saw him lounging around the front yard just waiting.

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Lycalopex griseus is a distinct species of fox different from those of North America. His range is throughout Chile and Argentina, not much in the Andes mountains but on both sides of it. He is usually under 10 lbs.  Its diet consists of small rodents, eggs, berries, and insects along with an occasional duck or chicken when he can get it! They breed in the fall (March) and after 2 months produce a litter of 2-4 kits.  This guy is not in the least shy and hangs around for free handouts.

Larger mammals are not common in Chile because of its isolation surrounded by the driest desert in the world (Atacama) in the north, the Andes on the east, the Pacific to the west, and Antarctica to the south. The only larger native mammal would be the puma or mountain lion. There supposedly is one living in our area but I have yet to see him.