An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph of Laguna Ojo de Liebre while in orbit over the Baja Peninsula on December 16, 2022. Located along the Pacific Ocean, the coastal lagoon is a large salt producer and a destination for ecotourists.
Several evaporation ponds used for salt production occupy much of the area shown in the photograph. Salt is produced by channeling saltwater from the lagoon into the ponds. Sunlight and wind promote evaporation, leaving behind a salty brine, which is then moved to neighboring ponds with dikes for additional evaporation. Salt crystallization is the last step of the process.
While the ponds often appear green, many of the ponds appear red here. Salt evaporation ponds can range in hue between red, green, and blue depending on the time of year, water conditions, and the mixture of microorganisms in the water.
The lagoon and surrounding desert are a part of the larger El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve. The lagoon’s shallow waters make this area favorable for gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) during calving. Each year, whales migrate south from summer feeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest to overwinter near the Baja Peninsula. Although the coastal waters surrounding the peninsula were once used for whaling, they are now a popular destination for whale watching.
The evaporation ponds and Laguna Ojo de Liebre also support numerous species of shorebirds, including Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) and Western Sandpipers (Calidris mauri). The coastal wetlands also provide habitat for raptors. A recent population study of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) identified the shoreline of the Laguna Ojo de Liebre as one of the main breeding areas in the Baja Peninsula, where the number of nesting pairs has doubled since 1998.
Astronaut photograph ISS068-E-30097 was acquired on December 16, 2022, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a focal length of 290 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 68 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Cadan Cummings, Jacobs, JETS Contract at NASA-JSC.