Minimize Chile's salt flat

The Sentinel-2A satellite takes us to the diverse landscape of the eastern Atacama desert in South America in this image from 8 March 2016. The region pictured lies around 200km east of the Chilean city of Antofagasta on the Pacific coast (not pictured), and is virtually devoid of vegetation.

At the top of the image we can see part of Chile's largest salt flat, the Salar de Atacama. With an average elevation of some 2300 m above sea level, it is formed by waters flowing down from the Andes, which, having no drainage outlets, are forced to evaporate, leaving salt deposits.

It is the world's largest and purest active source of lithium, containing some 30% of the world's lithium reserve base, and providing almost 30% of the world's lithium carbonate supply.

The bright turquoise rectangles and squares visible along the top part of the image are evaporation ponds. Subsurface salt brines are pumped from beneath the saline crust in two different areas. In one of them, extracted salt brines have unrivalled concentration levels of potassium and lithium. In the other, the brines obtained contain high concentrations of sulphate and boron.

In the lower right part of the image we can see the Socompa stratovolcano, known for its 'debris avalanche deposit' where the land collapsed on its western rim some 7000 years ago. The area has since been partially filled by lava, and we can see dark lava flows around the volcano.

View the full resolution image.

Credit: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016) / processed by the European Space Agency (ESA)

Atacama desert


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