The Sechura desert, also known as the Peruvian Desert or the Peru-Chile Desert, is a large stretch of desert extending north from the Atacama Desert along the northwestern South American coast. Most of the desert is located on the western coast of Peru, with small parts in Chile near the Atacama Desert.
Location and Naming
The desert occupies a strip along the northern Pacific coast of Peru south of Piura region, extending from the coast 20-100 km inland to the secondary ridges of the Andes Mountains. At its northern end near the city of Piura, the Sechura desert transitions to the Tumbes-Piura tropical-dry forests egoregion (an area that also covers eastern Lambayeque) composed of equatorial dry forests. The total area of the Sechura desert is 188,735 km².
Within Peru the Sechura Desert name is confined to the most northwestern portion of the country (Piura and Lambayeque regions). Foreign sources, such as the World Wildlife Fund, define it as the whole stretch of coastal desert from the northwestern tip of Peru to parts of northern Chile, bordering the Atacama Desert. Because of this and the fact that the strip of desert between the Atacama and the northwestern coast of Peru would otherwise be nameless, the entire arid region of the coast of Peru shall be hereby referenced as the Sechura Desert.
The name sechura derives from a culture that developed called the SEC, around the year 400 B.C. In 1728 the old Sechura town was destroyed by a tsunami and moved to its current location. During El Niño years, flooding is not uncommon; in 1998 the runoff from the floods poured into the coastal Sechura Desert. Where there had been nothing but arid hardscrabble waste for 15 years, suddenly, amazingly, there lay the second largest lake in Peru: 90 miles (145 kilometers) long, 20 miles (30 kilometers) wide, and ten feet (three meters) deep, with occasional parched domes of sand and clay poking up eerily from the surface.
Geography and Climate
The Peruvian Desert has a very low temperature range due to the moderating effect of the nearby Pacific Ocean, but because of the upwelling of cold coastal waters and because of subtropical atmospheric subsidence, the desert is one of the most arid on Earth. This should not be surprising considering its proximity to the driest place in the world, the Atacama Desert.
Summer (December through March) is warm and sunny with temperatures that average over 24 °C. In summer it ranges from 25º to 38º. The Winter (June through September) is cool and cloudy with temperatures that vary from 16º C during the night and 24º C during the day.
The numerous short rivers that cross the Sechura have supported human settlements for millennia. A number of urban cultures have flourished here, including the Moche, the Moche thrived on fish, guinea pigs, squash and peanuts. The Sican Culture (c.800-1300) succeeded the Moche, and are known for their lost wax goldsmithing. The rivers still support intensive irrigated agriculture on their fertile bottomlands. Two of Peru's five largest cities, including Piura,and Chiclayo, lie within the region.