Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Exploring one of the largest salt flats in the world

27.07.2016

UMass Amherst researchers find Chilean salt flat drains a surprisingly vast area

A recent research report about one of the largest lithium brine and salt deposits in the world in Chile's Atacama Desert by geoscientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the first to show that water and solutes flowing into the basin originate from a much larger than expected portion of the Andean Plateau.


UMass Amherst graduate student Lilly Corenthal making notes at one of the largest lithium brine and salt deposits in the world, a deposit 3,900 feet thick in Chile's Atacama Desert, with the Andes Mountains in the background. The basin drains a surprisingly larger area of the Andean Plateau than geoscientists had expected.

Credit: UMass Amherst

The astonishingly massive evaporite deposit, 3,900 feet (1,200 m) thick, appears to be draining an area far larger than a map-based or topographic watershed would suggest, says lead hydrologist David Boutt.

The brine volume present, contrasted with the relatively small surface drainage in such an arid area, poses fundamental questions about both the hydrologic and solute budgets at plateau margins, that is the relationship between input and accumulation, the authors say. Their answers should aid understanding of the water and mineral resources in one of the world's driest regions.

As Boutt explains, "The amazing finding is the fact that most of the water is originating from outside the topographic watershed, on the Andean Plateau, and it's draining an area four or five times bigger than the watershed. There is no outlet to this basin and it is capturing an unbelievably huge volume of water in an otherwise extremely arid environment." Details appear in a recent early online edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

Boutt and first author Lilly Corenthal, his former graduate student, say the physical and chemical connections between active tectonics, slopes, discharge zones and aquifers are not well characterized. In fact, they do not yet understand the conditions under which the massive evaporate deposit formed. Thus, the Chilean salt flat, Salar de Atacama, provides "a unique case-study to investigate questions about sub-surface fluid flow on the margins" of the Central Andean Plateau and others like it where mountain building forces are still active, they point out.

A drainage area that is several times larger than the topographic catchment is more common than people think, Boutt notes. "You can't assume that the surface catchment and ground water catchment are the same, and it tends not to happen in humid areas. But in dry areas--his is the driest non-polar desert in the world--the difference can be extensive, as it is in this case. And, this water is very, very old," he adds. In such closed basins, high concentrations of mineral deposits, in particular lithium brine, represent an increasingly important resource in high global demand.

The researchers collected 300 samples of freshwater and brine to analyze how much sodium is entering the basin. Boutt says, "knowing something about how much sodium is there now can help us reconstruct how much water must have been coming in over the 7 to 10 million years as the Andes plateau uplift was taking place. The high elevation regions of the Andes are like wicks pulling water out of the atmosphere and putting it into the basin," he adds.

They also used satellite precipitation data to "backsolve" the brine's origins using sodium concentrations, oxygen and hydrogen isotopes, as the isotopic composition of water reflects the condensation temperature and precipitation rate over time. The main controls are source of the moisture and condensation temperature, and whether or not the water has experienced evaporation, Boutt notes.

Media Contact

Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@umass.edu
413-545-0444

 @umassscience

http://www.umass.edu 

Janet Lathrop | EurekAlert!

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA examines Peru's deadly rainfall
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Steep rise of the Bernese Alps
24.03.2017 | Universität Bern

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>