An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photo of the Tunupa volcano, located on a peninsula between two of Bolivia’s largest salt flats, Salar de Uyuni and Salar de Coipasa. These salt pans have variable sediment cover and microbial populations, resulting in darker and lighter surface tints in their areas.
The Tunupa volcano is located in the center of the southern Altiplano, or Andean plateau, and rises up to 5.3 kilometers (3.3 miles) above sea level. The volcano is a composite cone – a large complex volcano that is often covered with lava flows, pyroclastic deposits and mudflows and domes. Last active around 1.4 million years ago, Tunupa is now thought to be dormant.
The sides of the volcano’s cone are incised by valleys that have been eroded by ancient glaciers and waterways. Lava domes and 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.
Salars are usually bright white when viewed from orbit. But during Bolivia’s rainy season, rivers can carry microbial-rich sediments and dark-colored volcanic minerals onto the plains. (Such an event was in progress at the time of this photo.) Uyuni and Coipasa are remnants of saline paleolakes that dried up thousands of years ago. Today they appear as dry lake bottoms encrusted with salt.
Photograph of astronaut ISS066-E-13923 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 Observation Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at Johnson Space Center. Image was taken by an Expedition 66 crew member. Image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station program supports the lab as part of the ISS National Laboratory to help astronauts capture images of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to render those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed on the NASA/JSC Gateway to Earth Astronaut Photography. Caption by Sara Schmidt, GeoControl Systems, JETS contract at NASA-JSC.