Image of the Week - From Chile to Your Smartphone

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Detailed Description

This salt flat in Chile producing a large amount of the world's lithium, a critical resource in electronics and batteries.

At the USGS EROS Center, we study land change, operate the Landsat satellites, and maintain the longest, continuously acquired collection of images of the Earth's land surface.

USGS EROS Center (


Date Taken:

Length: 00:00:57

Location Taken: Salar de Atacama, AN, CL


Landsat imagery of a
salt flat in Chile

shows the expansion
of lithium mining

operations from 
1991 to 2018.

This salt flat has
the planet’s largest

deposit of lithium, a
key ingredient in

rechargeable batteries.

The salt flat has

hard crusts of sodium
chloride. Lithium-rich

brine is pumped to the
surface and sent to

evaporation ponds.
The water evaporates in

the dry environment and
leaves behind

concentrated salts.

The ponds vary in color
because of varying amount

of salts in the water.
Brighter ponds contain more

concentrated salts. Deep
blue indicate more water.

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.