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: Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

16 minutes ago

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

White House updating online privacy policy

43 minutes ago

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

46 minutes ago

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Six Nepalese dead, six missing in Everest avalanche

47 minutes ago

At least six Nepalese climbing guides have been killed and six others are missing after an avalanche struck Mount Everest early Friday in one of the deadliest accidents on the world's highest peak, officials ...

Recommended for you

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

19 hours ago

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.