Polygon-like honeycomb patterns occur in many salt deserts, including Death Valley in California and the Salar de Uyuni in Chile . For a long time, scientists suspected that the salt crust of the desert dries up and forms cracks around which patterns grow. Another hypothesis suggested that the salt crust continuously grows and bends due to lack of space, leading to the formation of patterns. However, neither explanation made it clear why the elements of the pattern always have a constant size – from one to two meters – and also did not clarify why the honeycombs are so even and periodic.
Now American scientists were able to capture the formation of these structures on video, conducted a series of laboratory experiments and eventually revealed the secret of their formation. The driving mechanism for pattern formation is the circulation of salt water in the soil under the salt crust. The salt flats in which these patterns occur are not really dry: very saline groundwater often reaches the surface, lying just below the salt crust.