Salar de Atacama

Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile.[1] It is located 55 km (34 mi) south of San Pedro de Atacama, is surrounded by mountains, and has no drainage outlets. In the east it is enclosed by the main chain of the Andes, while to the west lies a secondary mountain range of the Andes called Cordillera de Domeyko. Large volcanoes dominate the landscape, including the Licancabur, Acamarachi, Aguas Calientes and the Láscar. The last is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile. All of them are located along the eastern side of the Salar de Atacama, forming a generally north-south trending line of volcanoes that separate it from smaller endorheic basins.[2]

Salar de Atacama
Salar de Atacama, in the background the volcano Licancabur


Salar d'Atacama hé
Atacama's rugged landscape

The salt flat encompasses 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi),[3][4] is about 100 km (62 mi) long[1] and 80 km (50 mi) wide, which makes it the third largest in the world, after Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (10,582 km2 (4,086 sq mi)).[5] and Salinas Grandes in Argentina (6,000 km2 (2,300 sq mi)).[6] Its average elevation is about 2,300 m above sea level.[1] The topography of the core portion of the salar exhibits a high level of roughness, the result of evaporation and ephemeral surface water,[7] unlike the most other salt flats, as for example the Salar de Uyuni, which is periodically covered with shallow water.

Some areas of the salt flat form part of Los Flamencos National Reserve. The Laguna Cejar is a sink hole lake in the Salar de Atacama, 18 km from San Pedro, Chile. It has a salt concentration that ranges from 5 to 28% (50 to 280 parts per thousand), producing at the higher end of the range an effect of floating like the Dead Sea.[8]

Tectonic setting

Salar de Atacama is part of a larger depression hosting other salt flats.[9] This depression, called "La gran fosa" by Reinaldo Börgel is bounded by north-south structures.[9] At present this larger depression conforms a subsiding sedimentary basin. Comparing with neighboring areas of the Andes the depression is a major topographical anomaly thought to be caused by a lithospheric block that due to its high density has remained at lower position than the rest of the Andes. The high density would derive from the times the Salar de Atacama depression was a westward rift arm of the Salta Rift Basin located further east in Argentine territory.[10]


Salar de Atacama basin is bordered on the north by the Salado River basin,[11] which is a sub-basin of the Loa River basin. To the east, the drainage divide approximately coincides with the international border with Bolivia until the Portezuelo del Cajón. The dividing range includes the volcanoes Cerros de Tocorpuri, Sairecabur, Curiquinca, Licancabur and Juriques.[11] Going southward, the water divide runs along a chain of volcanoes that lie entirely in Chilean territory. To the west, the Cordillera Domeyko separates the Salar de Atacama basin from arheic areas.

Its main tributaries are the San Pedro and Vilama rivers, which originate to the north of the salt flat.[11]

The volcanoes east of Salar de Atacama may be responsible for contaminating the incoming streams with salts.[9]

Lithium production

Salar de Atacama is the world's largest and purest active source of lithium,[12] containing 27% of the world's lithium reserve base,[13] and as of 2017 provided about 36% of the world's lithium carbonate supply,[14] followed by China with 23%.[12][13] High lithium concentration in its brine (2,700 parts per million), a high rate of evaporation (3,500 mm per year), and extremely low annual rainfall (<30 mm average per year) make Atacama's finished lithium carbonate easier and cheaper to produce than from the neighboring Salar de Uyuni, which is estimated to have half of the lithium reserves in the world. Salar de Atacama's evaporation rate is the highest in the lithium industry, followed by Puna de Atacama, Argentina (2,600 mm per year), and the Salar de Uyuni (1,300–1,700 mm per year).[15] Extraction of lithium-rich brines is causing conflict with water use by local communities and is damaging the ecosystem, including the Andean flamingo.[16]

In the Salar di Atacama, boron is also extracted from brines as boric acid (up to 0.85 g/l as B). The natural removal of boron and lithium from present-day brines possibly occurs as ulexite and lithium-sulfate, this latter as double and/or triple salts.[17]


ALMAs OSF An Oasis in the Desert

Photograph was taken from 4660 meters above sea level

Laguna Cejas

Laguna Cejar

Andean flamingos

Andean flamingos

Tramonto sul Salar de Atacama.jpeg

Sunset over Salar de Atacama

Salar de Atacama, Chile - NASA Earth Observatory

Nasa photograph

Salar de Atacama

Salar de Atacama, 2300 meters above sea level


  1. ^ a b c "The Optical/Infrared Astronomical Quality of High Atacama Sites" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  2. ^ Cade-Idepe, Consultores in Ingenieria. "Cuenca Salar de Atacama. Diagnostico y clasificacion de los cursos y cuerpos de agua segun objetivos de calidad" (PDF) (in Spanish). Gobierno de Chile, Ministerio de Obras Publicas. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  3. ^ Díaz del Río, Bonilla Parra & Peralta Toro 1972.
  4. ^ Alonso & Risacher 1996, pp. 113–122.
  5. ^ "Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia". NASA Earth Observatory. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
  6. ^ Conrado Juan Rosacher (September 2002). "Áreas Naturales Protegidas. Salinas Grandes de Córdoba, Aspectos Ambientales" (PDF) (in Spanish). Argentina.
  7. ^ Kampf et al., pp. 236–252.
  8. ^ Crespo, Julio E. (2002). "Artemia in Chile: Genetic Characterisation by mtDNA RFLP Analysis". Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. p. 6. Retrieved 4 February 2013. (Called Laguna Cejas in this document.)
  9. ^ a b c Börgel Olivares, Reinaldo (1983). Geografía de Chile (in Spanish). Tomo II: Geomorfología. Instituto Geográfico Militar. pp. 59–62.
  10. ^ Reutter, Klaus-J.; Charrier, Reynaldo; Götze, Hans-J.; Schurr, Bernd; Wigger, Peter; Scheuber, Ekkehard; Giese, Peter; Reuther, Claus-Dieter; Schmidt, Sabine; Rietbrock, Andreas; Chong, Guillermo; Belmonte-Pool, Arturo (2006). "The Salar de Atacama Basin: a Subsiding Block within the Western Edge of the Altiplano-Puna Plateau". In Oncken, Onno; Chong, Guillermo; Franz, Gerhard; Giese, Peter; Götze, Hans-Jürgen; Ramos, Víctor A.; Strecker, Manfred R.; Wigger, Peter (eds.). The Andes: Active Subduction Orogeny. pp. 303–325. ISBN 978-3-540-24329-8.
  11. ^ a b c Niemeyer, Hans (1980). "Hoyas hidrográficas de Chile. Segunda Región" (PDF) (in Spanish). Ministerio de Obras Públicas. Dirección General de Aguas. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  12. ^ a b Fletcher 2011.
  13. ^ a b Brendan I. Koerner (November 24, 2008). "The Saudi Arabia of Lithium". Forbes. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
  14. ^ Sherwood, Dave (2018-10-18). "A water fight in Chile's Atacama raises questions over lithium mining". Reuters. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  15. ^ Fletcher 2011, pp. 186–187.
  16. ^ Gutiérrez, Jorge S; Navedo, Juan G; Soriano-Redondo, Andrea (2018). "Chilean Atacama site imperilled by lithium mining". Nature. 557 (7706): 492. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-05233-7. PMID 29789737.
  17. ^ Boschetti, Tiziano; Cortecci, Gianni; Barbieri, Maurizio; Mussi, Mario (2007). "New and past geochemical data on fresh to brine waters of the Salar de Atacama and Andean Altiplano, northern Chile". Geofluids. 7: 33–50. doi:10.1111/j.1468-8123.2006.00159.x.


  • Gerardo Díaz del Río; Ramiro Bonilla Parra; Fernando Peralta Toro (1972). Geología de superficie, sub-superficie y geoquímica del Salar de Atacama (in Spanish). Chile: CORFO. Departamento de Recursos Hidráulicos.
  • Seth Fletcher (2011). Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 978-0-8090-3053-8.
  • H. Alonso; F. Risacher (1996). "Geoquímica del Salar de Atacama, parte 1: origen de los componentes y balance salino". Revista Geológica de Chile (in Spanish). 23 (2).
  • Stephanie Kampf; S. Tyler; C. Ortiz; J. F. Muñoz; P. Adkins (2005). "Evaporation and land surface energy budget at the Salar de Atacama, Northern Chile". Journal of Hydrology. 310 (1–4): 236. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2005.01.005.

External links

Coordinates: 23°30′S 68°15′W / 23.500°S 68.250°W


Caichinque is a volcanic complex lying between Salar de Talar and Salar de Capur, in the high Andean plateau of the Antofagasta Region, in Chile. It is located southwest of the Salar de Atacama, directly S of Cerro Miñiques and SE of Cordón Puntas Negras forming part of the main branch of the Andean volcanic chain in this area.

Route CH-23 is an approach road to the volcano area.


Colachi is a stratovolcano in the Antofagasta Region of northern Chile. It was built on a basement of ignimbrites. A 7 km² silicic lava flow lies on the saddle between the volcano and Acamarachi.Colachi is part of a chain of stratovolcanoes stretching along the eastern side of the Salar de Atacama, the most active of which being Lascar.

Cordillera Domeyko

The Cordillera Domeyko is a mountain range of the Andes located in northern Chile, west of Salar de Atacama. It runs north-south for approximately 600 km, parallel to the main chain. The mountain range marks the eastern border of the flat parts of Atacama Desert.

Cordillera Domeyko was named after Ignacy Domeyko and is the world's lowest humidity mountain range.

Kunza language

Kunza a.k.a. Cunza, also known as Likanantaí, Lipe, Ulipe, or Atacameño, is an extinct language isolate once spoken in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile and southern Perú (specifically in Peine, Socaire (Salar de Atacama), and Caspana) by the Lickan-antay people, who have since shifted to Spanish.

The last Kunza speaker was found in 1949, although some have been found since according to anthropologists. There are 2,000 Atacameños (W. Adelaar).

Kaufman (1990) found a proposed connection between Kunza and the likewise unclassified Kapixaná to be plausible; however, when that language was more fully described in 2004, it turned out to be an isolate.

Kunza contains a typical 5-vowel inventory: /a, e, i, o, u/. All vowels have long counterparts, and Kunza displays contrastive vowel length.

Laguna Verde (volcano)

Cerro Laguna Verde is one of the many stratovolcanoes that integrate a 180 km (112 mi)-long chain east of the Gran Salar de Atacama in Chile's II Region. The mountain is located 6 km (4 mi) west of Acamarachi (also known as Cerro de Pili) and 12.5 km (8 mi) north of the Aguas Calientes (Simbad) and Lascar stratovolcanoes.

The age of the volcano, which rises 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above the surrounding terrain is not known for certain. Earlier it was considered Pleistocene-Holocene. At some point in the past, the northern flank of the volcano collapsed. The resulting debris avalanche formed a lake in the Quebrada Portor from water dammed by the debris. The edifice has an estimated volume of 16 cubic kilometres (3.8 cu mi).

Lechevalieria deserti

Lechevalieria deserti is a bacterium from the genus of Lechevalieria which has been isolated from soil from Salar de Atacama in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Los Flamencos National Reserve

Los Flamencos National Reserve is a nature reserve located in the commune of San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region of northern Chile. The reserve covers a total area of 740 square kilometres (290 sq mi) in the Central Andean dry puna ecoregion and consists of seven separate sections.

Minsal Airport

Minsal Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto Minsal, (ICAO: SCSM)) is a high elevation airport serving the mineral salt mining operations on the Salar de Atacama salt flat, in the Antofagasta Region of Chile.

Miscanti Lake

Miscanti Lake (Spanish: Laguna Miscanti) is a brackish water lake located in the altiplano of the Antofagasta Region, in northern Chile. Miñiques volcano and Cerro Miscanti tower over this lake. This heart-shaped lake has a deep blue color. The western shoreline of the lake is separated by less than 1 km from the drainage divide between the lake and the Salar de Atacama basins. Laguna Miscanti basin also has a common boundary with Salar de Talar basin.A lava flow from an eruption of Miñiques separated Miscanti Lake from Miñiques Lake.The lake is part of one of the seven sectors of Los Flamencos National Reserve.

Monturaqui crater

Monturaqui is a meteorite crater in Chile. It lies south of the Salar de Atacama and was formed less than a million years ago by an iron meteorite. It is about 455 metres (1,493 ft) wide and contains a salt pan.

Pular (volcano)

Pular is a massive stratovolcano located in the Antofagasta Region of northern Chile, about 15 km west of the border with Argentina, which in this area is a straight line between the summits of Socompa volcano and Cerro del Rincón. Pular, along with Cerro Pajonales, forms a high volcanic ridge, which runs in a generally north-east to south-west direction for 12 km (7 mi). Southward, following the same direction as the ridge, lies Socompa volcano. The ridge's crest forms a drainage divide between Salar de Atacama basin and Salar de Pular basin. This latter is a bowl-shaped basin enclosed on the east by Aracar volcano.

In the Kunza language Pular means "The Eyebrow".

Puna de Atacama

The Puna de Atacama or Atacama Plateau is an arid high plateau, in the Andes of northern Chile (15%) and Argentina (85%). Geomorphologist Walther Penck based his Grossfalt landform association on Puna de Atacama.

Salar de Atacama Airport

El Salar Airport (Spanish: Aeropuerto El Salar, (ICAO: SCSL)) is a high elevation airport serving the mineral salt mining operations on the Salar de Atacama salt flat, in the Antofagasta Region of Chile.

(In several databases the airport has the incorrect ICAO code SCSI.)

Salar de Talar

Salar de Talar is a 46 square kilometres salt flat located in the high puna of northern Chilean Andes, at an altitude of 3,950 m. It is part of a series of salt lakes and salt flats located at the foothills of a chain of volcanoes stretching along the eastern side of the much greater Salar de Atacama.

The closed drainage basin of Salar de Talar encompasses about 476 km² and is adjacent to other endorheic basins, including Laguna Miscanti, Laguna Tuyajto and Salar de Capur basins. It was once filled by a 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi) large lake connected to Salar Purisunchi.The salty flat is bordered on the west by Caichinque and on the east by Cerro Medano. This latter is a mountain with striking shades of grey and brown, which contrast nicely with the sparkling white of the salt flat's surface. On top of that, colorful ponds fringe its shores. An important lava flow from the Caichinque volcanic complex formed two lobes which advanced into Salar de Talar. Salt deposits in the salt flat have polygonal shapes.The climate of the area is arid, with an average annual precipitation of about 150 mm. Salar de Talar is a part of the Central Andean dry puna ecoregion, which in this zone is characterized by tussock grass vegetation.

San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama is a Chilean town and commune in El Loa Province, Antofagasta Region. It is located east of Antofagasta, some 106 km (60 mi) southeast of Calama and the Chuquicamata copper mine, overlooking the Licancabur volcano. It features a significant archeological museum, the R. P. Gustavo Le Paige Archaeological Museum, with a large collection of relics and artifacts from the region. Native ruins nearby now attract increasing numbers of tourists interested in learning about pre-Columbian cultures.


Socaire is a village located 100 km (62 mi) southeast of the town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the San Pedro de Atacama province of Chile's northern Antofagasta Region. It offers views overlooking the Salar de Atacama.

The local economy is dominated by agriculture and non-metallic mining. Ancient agricultural terraces are part of the landscape of the area.

Streptomyces bullii

Streptomyces bullii is a bacterium species from the genus of Streptomyces which has been isolated from soil from the Atacama Desert in Salar de Atacama in Chile.

Streptomyces leeuwenhoekii

Streptomyces leeuwenhoekii is a bacterium species from the genus of Streptomyces which has been isolated from hyper-arid desert soil from Salar de Atacama in Chile. Streptomyces leeuwenhoekii produces chaxalactins and chaxamycins.


Toconao is a village 38 km (24 mi) south of San Pedro de Atacama in the San Pedro de Atacama province of Chile's northern Antofagasta Region. It lies at an elevation of 2,485 m (8,153 ft) above sea level, close to the northeast margin of the Salar de Atacama.

The most notable building in Toconao is its church. The bell tower is separated from the main church structure and dates from 1750.


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