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Modeling the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia as an Equipotential Surface of Earth's Gravity FieldThe salar de Uyuni is a massive dry salt lake that lies at the lowest point of an internal/drainage basin in the Bolivian Altiplano. Its topography is remarkable for its extraordinary flatness over almost a full degree of latitude and longitude. We surveyed a 54 x 45 km region of the salar with kinematic GPS in September, 2002 and found a topographic range of only 80 cm over the entire surveyed area. Furthermore, the survey revealed distinct surface features with several dominant wavelengths and orientations. Some of these appear to be aligned with orographic features that intersect the salar, leading us to conjecture that they are the surface expression of high-density mountains that have been buried by low-density basin sediments. Over the oceans, a similar correspondence between basin bathymetry and surface topography is exploited to map the seafloor using sea-surface satellite altimetry measurements, with the sea surface following geoid undulations due to the underwater mass distribution. On the salar, annual flooding creates a shallow lake whose surface also lies on a equipotential surface shaped by the distribution of underlying mass. The link to the actual salar surface is via the dissolution and redeposition of salt by the lake waters, which appears to push the system to an equilibrium of constant water depth and the coincidence of the shapes of the lake surface and bottom. To test our hypothesis about the origin of the surface features on the salar, we compare our GPS survey elevations with the equipotential surface generated from local gravity measurements in conjunction with gravity and potential values from the EGM96 global geopotential model. 50% of the variance of the GPS elevations can be explained by equipotential surface undulations from the EGM96 model alone, and an additional 40% is explained by the shorter-wavelength equipotential surface derived from local gravity. We examine the unexplained 10% of elevation variance from the standpoint of errors in the equipotential surface calculation and possible unmodelled surface processes.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Borsa, Adrian (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Bills, Bruce (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
August 22, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2004
Subject Category
Meeting Information
Fall AGU Meeting
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.