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Ischigualasto / Talampaya Natural Parks, Argentina


Ischigualasto Provincial Park/
Talampaya National Parks are located in northwestern Argentina, between the cities of La Rioja and San Juan. This desert park houses the Ischigualasto-Villa Union Triassic basin, a sedimentary basin containing plant and animal fossils, including the Triassic (the world's most complete continental fossil record). 
La Rioja, Argentina, is the closest city to Talampaya National Parks with recorded weather data. The information provided varies slightly from the actual data of the Natural Parks.

(UNESCO World Heritage Center)

Weather and Climate
Annual Temperature Range:
The average annual temperature is 68.1°F.  The average annual high temperature is 82.5°F with an average annual low of 56.3° F. (2)
Below is a chart of the daily high and low temperatures throughout the year:


Annual Precipitation:
La Rioja receives an average of 12.9 inches of precipitation annually. The average annual number of days with precipitation is 46.4 days. The largest amount of average precipitation occurs in January with 3.2 inches; the smallest average amount occurs in June and July with 0.1 inches. (3)


Humidity Ranges
The average annual relative humidity is 61.8%.  The average morning relative humidity is 74% and the average evening relative humidity is 47%.  The highest relative humidity occurs in April with 71% while the lowest relative humidity occurs in October with 49%. (3)


Wind Directions and Global Wind Patterns:
The predominant wind direction is Southeast and East. The global wind patterns that affect this location are the tradewinds. The winds come from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the Equator, moving towards the East. The direction of the wind only changes for two months, otherwise, it is pretty consistent and continues to move east. (4) (5)

Air Masses:
Maritime tropical (mT) masses affect the parks in the summer, and maritime polar (mP) masses take effect in the winter months.

(UNESCO World Heritage Center)

Weather Systems And Severe Weather:
Because Ischigualasto is primarily desert, it does not get much severe weather. Flooding generally occurs from March through October along with droughts during the dry season in the winter. In addition, the area is subject to high wind speeds and rainy summers. These annual patterns are due to the fact that the park lies in the rainshadow of the Andes mountains which prevents large amounts of rainfall.  However, because the climate is so dry, when it does rain it causes flash flooding. (6) (7)
Temperature and Precipitation Regimes:
The site tends to have extreme temperatures, with highs from December to March and lows from April to October, having to do with its inland location relative to the continent, and the hemispheric location as well. (8)

Climate Types and Characteristics:
 The park has a dry subtropical climate mainly consisting of desert area. It faces wet summers and dry winters with little rainfall and relatively low humidity. Also, the area is prone to prevailing winds, concentrated solar radiation and high evaporation. (9)

This region is a subtropical to temperate warm desert in western Argentina. It is bounded in the west by the Andes, in the north by the high, arid Puna, in the south by the cold Patagonian steppes, and in the east by the arid–semi arid woodlands of the Chaco and Espinal. (17)

Climate & Plants:
Very few plants stand out in this region, but a few, such as Purslane or Pig-weed, have adapted to the climate of this area. The main type of vegetation in this region consists of bushes and shrubs. Our location experiences a large range of temperatures, with very high heat during the day, and lower temperatures come nighttime. The more severe weather conditions that our region faces are floods and windstorms. Plants in this region have little cover from intense direct sunlight and are usually drought-resistant or drought-evasive. We see many adaptations with these plants that involve reducing their amount of water loss. Some plants have little to no leaves, and this absence of leaves helps reduce the water lost during photosynthesis. Other plants have large leaves that help to shade the plant itself, or they have leaves that are able to turn throughout the day, only exposing a small surface area to the heat. Some plants have also adapted for life at night. Certain types of flowers open at night to lure the pollinators who are more active during the cooler night weather in this region. The "jarillal" is the most characteristic community of the Monte ecoregion developing in pockets on plains of sandy or rocky-sandy soil. (10) (11) (12) (15)

Pig-weed, a plant that has adapted by growing along the ground surface with stems rising at the tips.

Pursane, a plant that has adapted to the climate through its thick stem.

Climate & Animals:
The severe desert climate of the region has caused the animals to evolve through adaptations accordingly. Most of the animals found in the  region are nocturnal, meaning the are awake during the evening when it is cooler out. Secondly, the animals have developed specific brown and gray coloring to blend in with the surrounding environment. In addition, the animals are generally smaller in stature. Some of these animals include the south american grey fox, pink fairy armadillo and a wide variety of rodents such as the highland gerbil mouse and different bats including the vampire bat. (16)

The South American Grey Fox, clearly shown here in a different ecoregion, also inhabits the Argentine Monte.

The European Hare is another example of a small animal that inhabits Talampaya.

Our location is found in the Neotropical Montane Grasslands and Shrublands ecoregion and the desert biome. In general, climatically, deserts are influenced by descending air currents which limit the formation of precipitation, and consequently, most desert areas have less than 250 millimeters of precipitation annually (around 9 inches). However, this location, as mentioned before, receives approximately 12 inches of rainfall per year. Some characteristics of this ecoregion include its high elevation and low annual rainfall. This ecoregion is also located in parts of Chile and Bolivia. (13) (14)

A photo of the desert landscape at Talampaya.

    The Ischigualasto/Talampaya National Park, along with a few other protected areas, represent less than 2% of the surface area of this ecoregion. Most of the other national and provincial protected areas are located in the southern and central areas of the ecoregion. This amount of land is not nearly enough to provide for all the other species in the ecoregion to complete their life cycles. (15)

Topography & Distribution:
The variations in topography, climate, precipitation, and vegetation of this particular (monte) desert proves that desert ecoregions can be very heterogeneous. The Monte desert has gradually declining topographic relief and a north to south transition from primarily summer precipitation to a less seasonal pattern.
    Two major ecoregions compose the Monte Desert:
        -The northern Monte, dominated by mountains and closed basins (between 24 degrees S and 32 degrees S)
        -The southern Monte, with plains and plateau (between 32 degrees S and 37 degrees S)
    Despite the absence of a major barrier between these 2 ecoregions, they share only 36% of a total of 46 mammal species. This between habitat diversity among ecoregions underscores the large spatial variation in the mammal assemblages of the Monte along its latitudinal extension. 

    Major landscape mosaics include the dominant Larrea shrublands, Prosopis woodlands along gullies and basins, sand dunes, rocky outcroppings, and an extensive piedmont desert, with several species of cacti and bromeliads. The importance of a landscape mosaic of grazed and ungrazed areas for maintenance of small and medium-sized mammal diversity. Monte Desert mammals include a diversity of niche types, involving differences in diet, use of surrounding/habitat, and way of life. The small mammals here can cope with desert environments through morphological, behavioral, and physiological traits by using major adaptations similar to those found in other deserts, such as long tails, countershading coloration, foot pads, and nocturnal activity. (17) (15)

Factors influencing vegetation and wildlife:
The factors (aside from climate) that influence vegetation and wildlife in Northern Argentina include Parent Material, Landscape position, Time, Latitude, longitude, and Elevation.

    Parent material
refers to organic (such as fresh peat) and mineral material in which soil formation begins. Mineral material includes partially weathered rock, ash from volcanoes, sediments moved and deposited by wind and water, or ground up rock deposited by glaciers. The material has a strong effect on the type of soil developed as well as the rate at which development takes place. Soil development may take place quicker in materials that are more permeable to water. Dense, massive, clayey materials can be resistant to soil formation processes. Bedrock such as limestone, sandstone, and granite break down into residuum (residue) through the weathering process. It is this residuum that becomes the parent material of soil and imparts some of the parent characteristics into the resulting soil profile.

    Landscape position
causes localized changes in moisture and temperature. When rain falls on a landscape, water moves downward through the soil or across the surface to a lower elevation. Drier soils at higher elevations may be quite different from the wetter soils where water accumulates. Wetter areas may have reducing conditions that will inhibit proper root growth for plants that require a balance of soil oxygen, water, and nutrients.

    Steepness, shape, and length of slope
are important because they influence the rate at which water flows into or off the soil. If unprotected, soils on slopes may erode leaving a thinner surface layer. Eroded soils tend to be less fertile and have less available water than eroded soils of the same series.

is required for horizon formation. The longer a soil surface has been exposed to soil forming agents like rain and growing plants, the greater the development of the soil profile. Soils in recent alluvial or windblown materials or soils on steep slopes where erosion has been active may show very little horizon development. Soils on older, stable surfaces generally have well defined horizons because the rate of soil formation has exceeded the rate of geologic erosion or deposition. Latitude and longitude also plays an important role in the type of vegetation and animal life in our region. The Latitude of the region affects how close our region in to the equator as well as season patterns. Elevation affects the type of vegetation and wildlife in our region as well. Various altitudes present life for certain forms of life to exist. The elevation of this area varies as we travel across the region. (18)

Environmental Threats:
This ecoregion experiences severe threats due to human activity.  Examples of this are clear cutting for fuel and land clearing for mining, oil exploration, and agriculture.  The deforestation process began in the late 19th century.  It continues today, which is still disturbing habitats, biodiversity, many species geographic ranges. and  Other factors that affect the land are overgrazing by goats, sheep, and cattle.  Within this ecoregion, there is 2% of protected surface area.  The Ischigualasto / Talampaya Natural Parks are part of that 2%.  However, many other parts of the ecoregion aren’t protected, which affects the species within the region. (15)

This picture shows how dry the ecoregion is.  There is no longer a lot of trees or plants due to the deforestation and overgrazing of animals.

Rock Types:
Ischigualasto-Talampaya represent a combination of unique and valuable assets in the areas of geology, paleontology, archeology, biology and ecology. These two adjacent parks contain the most complete continental fossil record known from the Triassic Period (245- 208 million years ago). Six geological formations in the parks contain fossils of a wide range of ancestors of mammals, dinosaurs and plants revealing the evolution of vertebrates and the nature of environments in the Triassic Period. The boundaries of the nominated site encompass the the entire Triassic sedimentary basin. Therefore, it includes all key fossiliferous strata within the protected area. It is a preserved geological site containing an entire geosystem- continuous sequences of rock, erosion and  deposition features.

There are areas of metamorphic bedrock and Triassic sediments.

The red cliffs of Talampaya and Ischigualasto and the strange rock formations all form natural attractions. The parks have been preserved in their completely natural state, so they serve to attract tourists seeking an unaltered ecologic system that is both educational and interesting. Rock art, caves, and rock shelters have all been discovered within the parks territory, documenting the ancient cultures that occupied the territory. Some of the rock art sites cover entire sides of the red sandstone cliff faces. The metamorphic rocks of the mountains provided some opportunities for mining early settlements in the 1700s. All of these cultural artifacts make the park’s preservation that much more necessary, so that scientists can study this abundance of research material in the future.
The amount of fossils buried in the park is considered a scientific treasure.  According to current research, there are over 100 types of fossil plants, not to mention the entire fossil sequence of the Triassic period. At this point, only 40% of the park has been explored. (19)

This picture shows one of the many fossils found on the rocks at the National Park.

This is an example the popular red rock, which is one of the big attractions at the park.

Plate Boundaries:
This National Park is not located very close to a plate boundary.  However, there is the South American plate boundary that runs very close to West side of South America that causes many volcanoes closer to the plate boundary.  This affects most of Chile and other area closer to the coast.  The Talampaya National Park is too far East from the plate boundary to be affected by this plate boundary. It has only had one volcano within 10km which took place in 1990. (20) (21)

This shows the plate boundaries, which shows that our location is not on a plate boundary.

Weathering and Erosion:
The Ischigualasto-Villa Union Triassic Basin, consisting of continental sediments deposited by rivers, lakes and swamps over a period of time covering the entire Triassic Period. The river deposits include large areas of floodplains and crevasse splay sediments that indicate rapid flooding, probably after monsoon type storms. Lake and swamp deposits contain large amounts of fossil plants. Six geologic formations make up the Triassic basin, the earliest of which are the Talampaya formations, red sandstones that form the impressive cliffs of the Talampaya park. The remaining formations are composed of lake beds, swamps, river channels and floodplain deposits. Most of the fossil vertebrates are found in the flood plain deposits or at the margin of the lake beds. Within the sediments are frequent layers of volcanic ash, which contribute significantly to the mineral content of the sediments. The clay formed from the volcanic material tends to create a very hard layer just below the surface, which prevents plants from taking root, thereby creating the barren white surface characteristic of the Ischigualasto valley and giving it the popular name “Valley of the Moon”. (19)

Internal Processes for Landforms:
The Triassic period of continental breakup marks the establishment of new plants and animals. A series of Triassic strata can be found in Ischigualasto-Talampaya National Parks. It is considered to be one of the great scientific treasures of the world, since the park contains a full progression of the period through rock formations. Only three of the Triassic basin formations contain fossils, but keep in mind that 60% of the total park area remains unexplored due to lack of water resources. There are six formations in the Triassic strata: the Talampaya Formation, the Tarjados Formation, the Ischichuca-Chanares Formation, the Los Rastros Formation, the Ischigualasto Formation, and the Los Colorados Formation. 

The Ischichuca-Chanares Formation is said to mark the location of a lake bed and shallow beach area, existing during the early Triassic period. The plethora of fossils in this region indicate an environment dominated by carnivors and herbivores. Archiologists also claim that this area holds fossils from the remnants of the direct ancestors of dinosaurs (a group termed Archosauria)

The Los Rastros Formation is an area containing several sandstone deposits, indicating a history of climate changes and tectonic changes. The tectonic changes tie in with the breakup of Gondwana (a ‘supercontinent’ in the southern hemisphere believed to have derived from Pangaea) by the formation of rifts beside certain fracture zones in the earth ́s crust. Together with the river deposits are occasional coal seams that represent ancient swamps in the overflow areas of the rivers. 

The colorful sediments of the Ischigualasto Formation indicate a previous existence of stream channels and flash floods that proved fatal for certain species. The burial of several different plants and animals suggests a history of storms equal to the force of Monsoons in the east. 

The Los Colorados strata contains red cliffs that are known to contain a profusion of dinosaur fossils. The color of the cliffs points to the gradual environmental shift to a dryer climate with less vegetation and fewer streams. (19)

Cultural and Historical Significance:
The cultural importance of the parks is also of great significance. The study of rock art, artifacts and archeological sites has just recently begun. The Incans were said to have occupied parts of the Ischigualasto-Talampaya National Park. The highest peak in South America outside of the Andes, called Mount Famatina, is located near the parks and marks the area where the Incas apparently cultivated gold. Cultural artifacts date from approximately 600 BC to the time of the Spanish conquest. Ancient tribes and cultures like Diaguita, Huarpes, the Cultura de la Fortuna and the Cultura de la Aguada date from 600 BC up until the time of the Spanish conquest. Numerous sites of rock art, petroglyphs, camp sites, caves and rock shelters have been discovered in the parks. Most of the sites have not been made public due to the dangers of robbery. The cultural artifacts document the existence of very ancient cultures. Preservation and protection of the park areas is essential to preserve the cultural information of the areas of the parks which have yet to be discovered and predictably contain a wealth of research material.

This is an example of some of the cave art found at our location. It is very important to preserve this historical park because of art findings like this one.

Liquid Impact and Watershed:

After looking at the watersheds of South America, it appears that our location is not located in a watershed.  However, it does look like the Ischigualasto-Talampaya National Park is located about 100-200 miles south of the SA04 Paraná watershed.  

Our location is a very dry location that is mostly rock and dirt (often called the valley of the moon). There are no rivers found in our location, except for when there is a large rainfall.  After a large rainfall, the rain will gather in ephemeral rivers.  Sometimes, our location will have flash flooding from the large amounts of water because there is no vegetation for the water to be absorbed by. (22)

The now dried up Talampaya River that flowed through this region during the Triassic Period created the steep canyons located in the park.  These canyons can reach as high as 150 meters. (23)

This is not the Talampaya National Park, but it is an example of an ephemeral river after a large rain.

This is an example of the steep canyons.
Water Sustainability:
Our location does not have a sustainable water source. This is because of how dry the location is. We have ephemeral rivers that only appear after a large rain, but then quickly go away. Another contributing factor to not being having a sustainable water source is not being located in or near a watershed. (22)

This is a photo of an ephemeral river without any water in it.

Our location is a very warm and dry climate.  There are no glaciers in this area. However, our location is located very close to the Andes Mountain Range, which does have glaciers.

This is a map to show the location of the Andes Mountain Rage. It is located very close to our location, but the climates are very different.

This is an image of the glaciers located in the Andes Mountain Range.

Other Processes: 
Other processes that have effected the area are wind and erosion.  These processes have formed the rocks into many different shapes and sizes.  The Talampaya National Park is know for the large rock formations that have formed over the years. As mentioned previously, the now dried Talampaya River was also a large factor in creating the steep rock formations. (24)

1. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/966/#links)
2. (http://www.climate-charts.com/Locations/a/AG87217.php)
3. (http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weather.php3?s=71278&refer=&cityname=La-Rioja-Argentina)
8. (http://www.eoearth.org/article/Ischigualasto-Talampaya,_Argentina#gen6)
10. http://argentina.gotolatin.com/eng/attr/htm/Argentina-Talampaya.asp
11. http://www.ehow.com/facts_5869458_do-animals-adapt-subtropical-deserts_.html
12. http://www.mbgnet.net/bioplants/desert.html
13. http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/9k.html
14. http://worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt1001
15. http://worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0802
17. http://www.academia.edu/1175405/Mammals_of_the_Monte_Desert_from_regional_to_local_assemblages
18. http://faculty.msmary.edu/envirothon/current/guide/factors_of_soil_formation.htm
19. (http://www.talampaya.gov.ar/Ref%20966%20nominacion.pdf)
22. http://multimedia.wri.org/watersheds_2003/sa_index.html