Framework for Remote Sensing and Modelling of Lithium-Brine Deposit Formation
Catapult Co-Authors: Cristian Rossi and Maral Bayaraa
Abstract: The demand for “green” metals such as lithium is increasing as the world works to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. More than half of the world’s lithium resources are contained in lithium-brine deposits, including the salt flats, or “salars”, of the Andean region of South America, also known as the Lithium Triangle. The genesis of lithium-brine deposits is largely driven by the leaching of lithium from source rocks in watersheds, transport via groundwater systems to salars, and evaporative concentration in salars. The goal of this research is to create a consistent and seamless methodology for tracking lithium mass from its source in the watershed to its greatest concentration in the nucleus. The area of interest is in and around Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. We explore how Li-brine deposits form, where the water and solute come from, how the brines are formed, and how abstraction affects the mass balance inside the salar. To support the entire system, open-source Earth observation (EO) data are analysed. We found that by constructing a flexible and repeatable workflow, the question of how lithium reaches the Salar de Uyuni can be addressed. The work demonstrated the importance of groundwater flow to the river network and highlighted the need for flow data for the main river supplying the salar with both water inflow and lithium mass.