An astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS) shot this photograph of the Tunupa Volcano, which is situated on a peninsula between two of Bolivia’s largest salt flats, Salar de Uyuni and Salar de Coipasa. These salt flats have variable sediment cover and microbial populations, leading to darker and lighter surface hues across their areas.
Tunupa Volcano is located at the center of the Southern Altiplano, or the Andean Plateau, and rises as high as 5.3 kilometers (3.3 miles) in elevation. The volcano is a composite cone—a large, complex volcano that is often covered by lava flows, pyroclastic and mudflow deposits, and domes. Last active about 1.4 million years ago, Tunupa is now considered dormant.
The flanks of the volcano’s cone are incised by valleys that were eroded by ancient glaciers and stream flows. Domes and lava flows appear on the eastern side of Tunupa, and the volcano is adjacent to other eroded volcanic fields and craters, including Jayu Khota and Titivilla.
The salars are typically a bright white color when viewed from orbit. But during Bolivia’s rainy season, rivers can carry sediment rich in microbes and dark-colored volcanic minerals onto the flats. (Such an event was underway at the time of this photo.) Both Uyuni and Coipasa are remnants of saline paleolakes that dried up thousands of years ago. Today they appear as dry lake floors encrusted with salt.
Astronaut photograph ISS066-E-139823 was acquired on February 5, 2022, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 200 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 66 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Sara Schmidt, GeoControl Systems, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.