Science & Technology
Mystery behind hexagonal patterns in world's salt flats has been solved
By T.K. Randall
March 8, 2023 · 9 comments
How does this hexagonal pattern form ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.0 Pedro Szekely
Scientists have determined what causes a distinctive honeycomb pattern to form on the surface of natural salt pans.
If you have ever set foot on the salt flats of Badwater Basin in California's Death Valley or Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia you will likely have cast your eyes over the surface of the pans and noticed a distinctive hexagonal honeycomb-like pattern set into the crust.
For years, the precise processes responsible for this phenomenon had left scientists scratching their heads, but now a team of physicists believe that they may have finally found the answer.
"The fantastic landscape demands an explanation," said Lucas Goehring of Nottingham Trent University in the UK.
"What we've shown is that a simple, plausible explanation is there, but hidden beneath the ground."
The answer, as it turns out, is all to do with the groundwater that exists beneath the salt crust.
According to the study, layers of salty and less salty water circulate up and down and are squeezed together in such a way so as to form these hexagonal patterns on the surface.
"The surface patterns reflect the slow overturning of salty water within the soil, a phenomenon somewhat like the convection cells that form in a thin layer of simmering water," said Goehring.
Source: Live Science
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