The Salar de Coipasa, located in the Altiplano region of western Bolivia, covers an area of approximately 2,500 square kilometers (960 square miles). The word “salar” describes arid, closed basins in which evaporation of mineral-rich waters leads to the formation of thick, flat salt deposits. Salar de Coipasa is located to the southwest of the saline Lake Poopo and northwest of the largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni. At Coipasa, a crust composed of halite—common table salt—provides the brilliant white coloration characteristic of the Altiplano salars.
While the environment of Salar de Coipasa is arid, it does receive constant water from the Lauca River flowing in from the north. The Lauca feeds Lake (Lago) Coipasa, which covers the northern end of the basin with shallow water. However, the water flow can drop off sharply during periods of drought.
The waters of Lake Coipasa, and the white salt crust of the salar, also serve to highlight dark river sediments flowing into the basin along the northeastern shore. Dark volcanic rocks contrast sharply with the surrounding salt crust at image left. While the western Andes mountains contain many active volcanoes, the nearby Tata Sabaya volcano (not shown) has not been historically active.
Astronaut photograph ISS033-E-6202 was acquired on September 20, 2012, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 400 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 33 crew. It 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 William L. Stefanov, Jacobs/ESCG at NASA-JSC.
The largest salar (salt flat) in the world, Salar de Uyuni, is located within the Altiplano of Bolivia in South America. This astronaut photograph features the northern end of the salar and the dormant volcano Mount Tunupa (image center). This mountain is high enough to support a summit glacier, and enough rain falls on the windward slopes to provide water for small communities along the base. The dark volcanic rocks comprising Mt. Tunupa are in sharp contrast with the white, mineral-crusted surface of the salar. The major minerals are halite (common table salt) and gypsum (a common component of drywall).