Salar de Atacama, Chile – December 10th, 2008
The Andes Mountains clearly mark the border between Chile, left, and Argentina, right.
Chile has a hugely varied climate, ranging from desert in the North to a Mediterranean climate in the center, to a snowy Alpine climate in the South. The Atacama desert, visible here, is the world’s driest desert.
The large white area in the desert at the top left is the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile and the second largest in the world. The salt flat encompasses 3,000 km², and is about 100 km long and 80 km wide. Its average elevation is about 2,300 m asl.
It is surrounded by mountains and has no drainage outlets. The topography of the core portion of the salar exhibits a high level of roughness, which is due to that the surface of this area is permanently free of water, unlike most other salt flats, which tend to be periodically covered by shallow water.
The region of Argentina visible, however, is much less arid. It has several parallel mountain ranges, some of which have peaks higher than 20,000 feet (6,000 m). They are cut by fertile river valleys, the most important being the Calchaquí Valleys in the provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán, and Salta.