Land Remote Sensing

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December 28, 1991
January 4, 2018

From Chile to Your Smartphone

If you like being connected to the world everywhere you go with a smartphone or other device, then you have a desolate salt flat in northern Chile to thank.

The Salar de Atacama salt flat has the planet’s largest deposit of economically recoverable lithium, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries. Landsat imagery shows the expansion of the lithium mining operations from 1991 to 2018.

Located in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the salt flat has hard crusts of sodium chloride. Lithium-rich brine is pumped to the surface and sent via canals to evaporation ponds. The water evaporates efficiently in the dry environment and leaves behind concentrated salts.

The ponds vary in color because of varying amount of salts in the water. The brighter ponds contain more concentrated salts. The deep blue ponds indicate more water content.

Images created from Landsat data help monitor changes taking place on the Earth’s surface, along with the effects that resource extraction has on the local environment.

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December 28, 1991
January 4, 2018