Welcome back to Earth from Space.
This week, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission
takes us over part of Chile’s Atacama Desert.
Bound on the west by the Pacific
and on the east by the Andes
the Atacama is considered one of the driest places on Earth.
There are some parts of the desert where rainfall has never been recorded.
In this image, a specific area in the Tarapacá Region,
in northern Chile, is featured
where some of the largest caliche deposits can be found.
It is here where nitrates, lithium, potassium and iodine are mined.
Iodine, for example,
is extracted in a process called heap leaching
which is widely used in modern large-scale mining operations.
Leach piles are visible as rectangular shapes dotted around the image,
although the exact reason for the different shades of colour is uncertain.
Some leach piles could appear lighter or darker
owing to the varying water content
or soil type concentration.
The geometric shapes in the right are large evaporation ponds.
Brine is pumped to the surface through a network of wells into the shallow ponds.
The dry and windy climate enhances the evaporation of the water
and leaves concentrated salts behind
for the extraction of lithium
which is used in the manufacturing of batteries.
The bright, turquoise colours of the evaporation ponds
are in stark contrast with the surrounding desert landscape
making them easily identifiable from space.
Distinctive black lines visible in the image
are roads that connect to the various construction sites.
Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission
to supply the coverage and data delivery needed for Europe’s Copernicus programme.
This false-colour image was processed by selecting spectral bands
that can be used for classifying geological features.