A satellite image has revealed an enormous pile of discarded clothing that is so big it’s visible from space.
The clothing pile, which contains everything from Christmas sweaters to ski boots, is located in the Atacama Desert—the driest non-polar desert in the world—near the municipality of Alto Hospicio in northern Chile.
The pile is spread out across a clearing in the desert terrain. One side of the pile measures more than 1,000 feet across.
Texas-based satellite imagery company SkyFi recently shared an image of the pile, revealing the true scale of the pollution problem created by the fashion industry.
Chile has long served as a hub for secondhand and unsold clothing—often manufactured in China or Bangladesh—that is imported into the country from Europe, Asia or the United States before being resold around Latin America, Agence France-Presse reported.
It is estimated that around 59,000 metric tons of clothing arrive at the port of Iquique, which is next to Alto Hospicio, every year. The port is part of the Iquique Free Trade Zone—a duty-free area that was established in an attempt to encourage economic activity.
Some of the clothing arriving at the port are bought up by merchants in the Chilean capital of Santiago, while large quantities are smuggled out of the country to other parts of Latin America. But at least 39,000 metric tons that cannot be sold end up at clandestine dumps in the desert, such as the one near Alto Hospicio.
SkyFi first found out about the huge clothing pile from an article in 2021 and was curious to verify whether it was true.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, and we often use satellite imagery as a primary data point, a source of verification,” SkyFi Growth Marketing Manager Tom Babb told Newsweek. “In the Earth observation community, this is referred to as ‘ground truth.'”
SkyFi says its aim is to make access to Earth observation data easier. The company has created a platform that serves as a marketplace for EO data.
SkyFi partners with satellite imaging, aerial imaging and drone providers that already have their own technology in space. The company then resells data from these partners on its platform, enabling people to purchase high-quality satellite imagery through a website and mobile app.
“Before us, there were few ways to actually access the imagery, as most of the satellite companies only work with governments or large corporations,” Babb said.
After finding out about the clothing pile, SkyFi staff went on Google Earth to find it. The company often uses Google Earth as a first step before purchasing an image from one of its partners on the SkyFi platform.
But when the staffers looked, they could not find the pile or locate its coordinates. So SkyFi reached out to its Discord community, where some individuals were able to help SkyFi locate the pile.
Afterward, the company looked on its platform to see if any partners had existing images of the pile and found some.
The image shown above, which has a “very high” spatial resolution of 50 centimeters, is one of those images. It was taken on January 7, 2022. Several more images on the SkyFi platform are more recent, but this one has the highest resolution.
“We were able to verify that there is indeed a pile of clothes in the middle of the desert in Chile,” Babb said.