Where is the World’s Largest Salt Flat?

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Measuring an area of 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi), the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, is the largest salt flat in the world. Salar de Uyuni lies at the southern end of the Altiplano which is a high plain of inland drainage in the central Andes. Salar comes from the Spanish word for salt and Uyuni originates from the Aymara language (spoken in the Andes) and means a pen (enclosure);

About 40,000 years ago, this area was a large prehistoric lake called Lago Michin which eventually dried out about 15,000 to 10,000 years ago; the dissolved minerals within its waters left the enormous salt flat.  The surface of the Uyuni salt plain contains gypsum (calcium sulfate) and halite (sodium chloride).

Landsat image of Salar de Uyuni. Source: NASA.
Landsat image of Salar de Uyuni. Source: NASA, public domain.

Topography of Salar de Uyuni

The Salar de Uyuni is very flat, with a surface elevation variation of less than one meter.  In contrast, the surrounding terrain is very mountainous including the volcanoes of the Andes mountains forming part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Tourists and a tour bus parked on the salt flat. The picture gives an idea of how flat Salar de Uyuni is.
Tourists and a tour bus parked on the salt flat. The picture gives an idea of how flat Salar de Uyuni is. Photo: NASA, public domain.  

Radar Image of Salar de Uyuni

The Sentinel-1A satellite acquired an image of Salar de Uyuni on April 20, 2014.  This wavy pattern of the image in the area of the salt plain is a result of differing absorption rates from the radar; areas where the radar signal is absorbed appear darker, while areas where the signal is reflected back to the satellite appear lighter.

Radar image of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Source: ESA.
Radar image of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. Source: ESA.

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