Lithium Mining in Salar de Atacama, Chile
The Salar de Atacama in Chile is a large, dry salt flat surrounded by mountain ranges and is one of the driest places on Earth. Parts of the Atacama Desert have gone without rain for as long as people have been keeping track, but water rich in dissolved salts lies beneath this flat surface. The Salar is particularly rich in lithium salts.
Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries. With increased use of smartphones, mobile computers, and electric cars, there is higher demand for the soft, silvery metal.
Brines from beneath the salty crust are pumped to evaporation ponds, visible as the blue rectangles in these Landsat images. The extremely dry and windy conditions here result in an efficient process. The concentrated salts are left behind after evaporation from which lithium carbonate and other materials can be extracted.
The lithium mining activities in the Salar de Atacama have expanded over the years, as can be seen in these Landsat images acquired in 1993 and 2015. Landsat imagery can help study worldwide land change effects from a variety of mining types.