Salt is a valuable commodity for many industries, but did you know that there are some very large salt fields out there? The largest of these can be found in China, the Linao Salt Field in China. It is a massive clay-salt flat situated about 1,000 miles northwest of Shanghai and covers an area roughly equivalent to Rhode Island. Since ancient times, the “white gold” produced here has been prized by Chinese and foreign merchants alike. The process of harvesting it requires more than 2 million workers! With such an enormous operation, this company is able to produce 25% of the world’s table salt. They also produce 40% of all salt consumed by humans on Earth!
To produce this much salt, they need 120 million tonnes of brine each year! The natural evaporation ponds at the Linao Salt Field cover more than 10,000 square miles (25,900 sq. km), and workers flood them with water drawn from wells up to 1 mile deep (1.6 km). Then they let the sun and wind evaporate the water until they are left with a two-inch (5 centimeters) layer of salt crystals. It takes seven to nine months for the brine to dry out completely, and each year yields more than 200 million tonnes of edible salt.
You can find these salterns as far back as 500 BC, but the modern industry took off in the 1970s when China’s economy opened up to foreign trade. Since then, China has pumped huge amounts of capital into this area, building roads and other infrastructure to support the harvest.
The Linao Salt Field is so large that it can be seen on satellite images! And by carefully controlling water levels, they are able to create many colors. The salt field has proven to be so large and so productive that private companies have invested in the site, transforming it into a money-making machine!