TA1 Facility 5 – Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
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TA1 Facility 5 – Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana

Average visit: 1 week

The Makgadikgadi pans of Botswana represent the largest inland evaporitic basin in the world. The pans provide different environments that vary from the playa lake with the ephemeral spring to the fossil dunes field. 

The Makgadikgadi is fed by surface runoff and by groundwater upwelling that give rise to flood channels, ephemeral springs, layered morphologies and evaporite deposits. These peculiar layered morphologies are easily identified from remote sensing and can be compared with those observed in the equatorial region of Mars, for instance. 

The flat surface of the pan is wiped by hundreds of dust-devils that, at the end of the rain season, can be several tens of meters high. This wind-wiped surface is ideal for testing instruments and techniques in preparation for future missions. 

The surface of the pan is dry for 8 months, from April to November, and is characterised by precipitation of layers of authigenic clays and evaporites such as gypsum and halite. Within this crust the microbial communities of extremophiles including bacteria, algae and fungi are thriving providing good ground for astrobiological research of extreme environments.

Understanding functional metagenomics and metabolism of the saltpans gives valuable information on the molecular adaptation and resistance of these extremophiles to extreme environmental conditions.


Fulvio Franchi, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), Private Bag 16, Palapye, Botswana. franchif@biust.ac.bw

Main facility webpage

Report summaries of TA visits to facility

TA1.6: Microbial carbonates, partially exposed, Laguna Negra (Catamarca, Argentina)
21-EPN-FT1-018: Assessing analogues to early Earth environmental conditions in high-altitude...
20-EPN-24: Spectral investigation of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans as planetary analog for ancient...
20-EPN-28: Microbial adaptation in the hypersaline environment of Sua Pan Evaporator Ponds in...
Preservation of Organic Matter in Paleo-Mega Lakes: Implications for Martian Biosignatures
20-EPN2-85: Preservation of Organic Matter in Paleo-Mega Lakes: Implications for Martian...
Fluorescence image showing cyanobacteria of various morphologies. Excitation at 488 nm; Emission from 650-700 nm. Scale bar, 40 μm.
20-EPN-61: Life in extreme environments: Distribution and importance of far-red light driven...
View of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Credit: E Luzzi
Looking for clues about water circulation on Mars in the remote Makgadikgadi salt pans of Botswana
Constraining the movement of groundwater and fluid expulsion within playa environments on Mars. Credit: E Luzzi and G Schmidt
20-EPN2-121: Constraining the movement of groundwater and fluid expulsion within playa environments...
Characterising dust lifting events at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Credit: Daniel Toledo
Dust Devil Diary
20-EPN2-065: Characterising dust lifting events using ground-based Mars-2020 and ExoMars radiometers

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