The hills and valleys of Earth's largest salt 'flat'

Nov 28, 2007

Using a new twist on standard Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, a team of scientists has found that Earth’s largest salt flat is rougher than expected, according to a new report led by Adrian Borsa of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and published in Geophysical Journal International.

Borsa and his team studied the salar de Uyuni in southwestern Bolivia, which is both a popular tourist destination and a potential calibration site for Earth-orbiting scientific instruments. It had never before been surveyed on this scale using modern techniques.

Although the salar appears to be perfectly flat to the eye, by applying an innovative method of error correction to their data, the team was able to identify broad features ranging in height from a few centimeters to half a meter and extending over distances of tens of kilometers or more.

Earlier maps do not show any surface relief on the salar de Uyuni. By mapping the surface to the accuracy of a few centimeters, the research team uncovered previously hidden features -- hills, ridges and valleys -- and opened the salar for use as a ground reference site for highly accurate satellite-based ranging instruments. “We had no idea these features existed,” said Dr. Borsa, “but they matter to anyone who uses the salt flat to calibrate satellite altimeters.”

The scientists' most unexpected finding was that the broadest topographic features on the salar correlate well with the increase in the strength of gravity at the surface that results from dense rock buried underneath salar sediments. Just as the ocean surface rises over denser seamounts, the salar surface also rises and falls to reflect the subsurface density variations. This effect has never before been observed on land.

Source: Wiley-Blackwell

Explore further: Scientists monitoring Hawaii lava undertake risks

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Golden retriever study sniffs for cancer clues

1 hour ago

(HealthDay)—Michael Court is a scientist and a dog lover, so he jumped at the chance to enroll his golden retriever in a nationwide study aimed at fighting cancer and other ills in canines.

Team makes scientific history with new cellular connection

1 hour ago

Researchers led by Dr. Helen McNeill at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute have revealed an exciting and unusual biochemical connection. Their discovery has implications for diseases linked to mitochondria, ...

First bill in Tesla deal sails through Assembly

1 hour ago

The Nevada Assembly has unanimously approved the first of four bills that make up a package of up to $1.3 billion in tax breaks and incentives the Legislature is considering to seal a deal to bring Tesla ...

Recommended for you

Scientists monitoring Hawaii lava undertake risks

4 hours ago

New photos from the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory give a glimpse into the hazardous work scientists undertake to monitor lava that's threatening to cross a major highway.

NASA sees Odile soaking Mexico and southwestern US

15 hours ago

Tropical Storm Odile continues to spread moisture and generate strong thunderstorms with heavy rainfall over northern Mexico's mainland and the Baja California as well as the southwestern U.S. NASA's Tropical ...

NASA sees Tropical Storm Polo intensifying

15 hours ago

Tropical storm warnings now issued for a portion of the Southwestern coast of Mexico as Polo continues to strengthen. Infrared imagery from NASA's Aqua satellite showed powerful thunderstorms around the center ...

User comments : 0