El Tatio is a geyser field located within the Andes Mountains of northern Chile at 4,320 meters above mean sea level. Its name means the grandfather. It is among the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world. El Tatio has over 80 active geysers, making it the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world. Its geysers erupt to an average height of about 75 centimetres, with the highest eruption observed being around 6 metres.
The site is a major tourist attraction. Visitors generally arrive at sunrise when each geyser is surmounted by a column of steam that condenses in the cold air. The steam plumes disappear as the air warms up. It is also possible to bathe in the hot geyser water in a small pool.
There is wreckage at the site from an old project for harnessing geothermal power. The idea has recently been revived by the Chilean government and is meeting with heavy public resistance due to the touristic value the geyser field represents.
2009 prospection controversy
In 2008 the company Geothermal North - consortium ENAP (Chile's state-owned), the mining company Codelco and the Italian company Enel Green Power- began exploration in the field of "quebrada El Zoquete", near El Tatio in Region II, for the construction of a geothermal plant of 40 MW of installed capacity. In mid-September 2009, a 200-foot permanent steam column was noticed. After months of exploration, in September 2009 operating malfunctioned originates in well No. 10, causing an artificial fumarole 60 meters high. Once this incident occurred, The company proceeded to stop exploratory operations and took actions to stop the release of vaporized material, according to protocol.
- Glennon, J.A., and Pfaff, R.M., 2003, The extraordinary thermal activity of El Tatio Geyser Field, Antofagasta Region, Chile, Geyser Observation and Study Association (GOSA) Transactions, vol 8. pp. 31–78. (article available from GOSA)
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- Google Maps location
- El Tatio Geyser Field
- Geyser Observation and Study Association
- World Geyser Fields
- Page dennouncing the damage done by prospection
- Virtual Tour on 360° of El Tatio Chilexplora.com