Atacama salts detected from orbit

Mark Claire
Friday 16 December 2016

I have a long-standing interest in salts in the Atacama Desert, and some day promise to unleash a flurry of publications onto the world on such awesome topics as quantitative rainfall paleoproxies, geochemical and biological heterogeneity across the rainfall gradient, and on finding the driest place on Earth. In the mean time, this super-cool study will have to suffice. Jen Harris is a whiz at remote sensing, and this project was aimed at seeing if the amazingly high (atmospheric) salt contents seen in the hyper-arid core of the Atacama could be detected from orbit. She made XRD measurements of soils I had sampled in 2012, and compared these to estimates made from orbit using the Hyperion satellite and quantified against mineral spectral databases. Jen was able to quantitatively determine sulfate concentrations from orbit, but had a harder time with nitrate and (much lower abundance) perchlorates. Really cool stuff, with relevance to both future work in the Atacama and other deserts, as well as Mars.

The paper is available here: