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 Ten-year anniversary of the Neumayer Station III
18.01.2019 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht The pace at which the world’s permafrost soils are warming
16.01.2019 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Ten-year anniversary of the Neumayer Station III

The scientific and political community alike stress the importance of German Antarctic research

Joint Press Release from the BMBF and AWI

The Antarctic is a frigid continent south of the Antarctic Circle, where researchers are the only inhabitants. Despite the hostile conditions, here the Alfred...

Im Focus: Ultra ultrasound to transform new tech

World first experiments on sensor that may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles

The new sensor - capable of detecting vibrations of living cells - may revolutionise everything from medical devices to unmanned vehicles.

Im Focus: Flying Optical Cats for Quantum Communication

Dead and alive at the same time? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have implemented Erwin Schrödinger’s paradoxical gedanken experiment employing an entangled atom-light state.

In 1935 Erwin Schrödinger formulated a thought experiment designed to capture the paradoxical nature of quantum physics. The crucial element of this gedanken...

Im Focus: Nanocellulose for novel implants: Ears from the 3D-printer

Cellulose obtained from wood has amazing material properties. Empa researchers are now equipping the biodegradable material with additional functionalities to produce implants for cartilage diseases using 3D printing.

It all starts with an ear. Empa researcher Michael Hausmann removes the object shaped like a human ear from the 3D printer and explains:

Im Focus: Elucidating the Atomic Mechanism of Superlubricity

The phenomenon of so-called superlubricity is known, but so far the explanation at the atomic level has been missing: for example, how does extremely low friction occur in bearings? Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institutes IWM and IWS jointly deciphered a universal mechanism of superlubricity for certain diamond-like carbon layers in combination with organic lubricants. Based on this knowledge, it is now possible to formulate design rules for supra lubricating layer-lubricant combinations. The results are presented in an article in Nature Communications, volume 10.

One of the most important prerequisites for sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility is minimizing friction. Research and industry have been dedicated...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Our digital society in 2040

16.01.2019 | Event News

11th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Aachen, 3-4 April 2019

14.01.2019 | Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Additive manufacturing reflects fundamental metallurgical principles to create materials

18.01.2019 | Materials Sciences

How molecules teeter in a laser field

18.01.2019 | Life Sciences

The cytoskeleton of neurons has been found to be involved in Alzheimer's disease

18.01.2019 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>