Salt flats in the Bolivian Andes •

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory  features salt flats in the Bolivian Andes, Salar de Coipasa and Salar de Uyuni. The photograph was captured by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

“Visible from low Earth orbit, the salt flats display stark white hues that contrast with the darker surrounding rock. Various volcanic cones are scattered through the image, such as Cerro Tetivilla, which divides the two salt lakes; Wila Pukarani, located within the Coipasa Salt Flat; and Paryani, on the northern edge of Coipasa,” said NASA.

“In recent years, Andean salt flats have been the subject of climate and space-based analog studies, serving as a proxy for Earth’s climate history and the Martian environment. Salt textures tell the story of the landscape’s climatic and geologic history, while saltwater brines and hydrated clays beneath the salt crust are of interest to both Earth and Mars scientists.”

Salt flats, or “salares” in Spanish, are expansive flat areas covered with salt and other minerals. They form in regions where water evaporates from a shallow lake or pond, leaving behind the salts. The most famous salt flat in the Bolivian Andes, and perhaps the world, is the Salar de Uyuni.

Located in southwest Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning over 10,000 square kilometers. It was formed as a result of prehistoric lakes evaporating over thousands of years. It’s a major tourist attraction and offers one of the most unique landscapes on Earth. 

When it rains, the surface becomes a giant mirror, reflecting the sky. The Salar de Uyuni also contains 50-70% of the world’s lithium reserves, which is becoming increasingly important due to the rise of electric vehicles.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

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