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Evolution of the Surface Area of Critical Lagoon Systems in the Salar de Atacama

Abstract

The Salar de Atacama in northern Chile hosts the biggest lithium reserves globally. However, concerns have arisen regarding the environmental impact of lithium extraction on its basin; in particular, the possible drought of its lagoons that sustain unique natural ecosystems. This investigation implemented an image processing and statistical methodology to assess the area evolution and dynamic behavior of these main water bodies between 1986 and 2018. Results showed that these lagoon systems have not presented significant changes despite increasing lithium production, even for the years of large brine extraction. The analysis indicated that the total surface area of the lagoons varied within a restricted range at 95% confidence level: on average, of the total area covered by these systems 0.03% could have been lost or 0.01% could have been gained per year. Moreover, a multivariate analysis indicated that brine extraction did not have a negative impact on the evolution of the surface areas of the lagoons during the last three decades.

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Correspondence to José Joaquín Jara.

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The authors declare that this research was partially funded by SQM. José Joaquín Jara declares that he does not have any competing financial or any other interest in this research and he did not received support from any company or organization to finance his participation in this research.

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Ignacio Guzmán, J., Retamal, C., Faúndez, P. et al. Evolution of the Surface Area of Critical Lagoon Systems in the Salar de Atacama. Nat Resour Res (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11053-022-10070-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11053-022-10070-7

Keywords

  • Lithium
  • Normalized difference water index
  • Salar de Atacama
  • Lagoons
  • Area evolution